Hoosiers still looking for clarity at running back

More than two weeks into fall camp, Indiana is still searching for clarity at running back.

With at least a handful of players expected to factor at the position this season, new IU running backs coach Mike Hart continues to evaluate his options.

And he has plenty to choose from.

“There’s a lot of guys that we have to take a look at,” Hart said. “There’s no one at the top of the food chain right now.”

With only one scrimmage in the books, Hart is hopeful he’ll have a clearer view of the hierarchy after IU’s next closed scrimmage this weekend. In the meantime, Hart has been evaluating a group that features, speed, power and versatility.

“Right now, what I’m trying to do is figure out who’s the best at what, who we can play in what situations, who can be the first-, second-, and third-down guy all the time,” Hart said. “The guy that’s most consistent is going to play.”

Hart’s stable won’t lack talent. That’s a view the former Michigan star explained to reporters this week.

Hart echoed IU coach Tom Allen in characterizing junior Mike Majette as the most well-rounded player in the bunch, while also praising the complementary skill sets of those around him.

During the windows of practice open to reporters, redshirt freshman Cole Gest has impressed with his speed and toughness. Sophomore battering ram Tyler Natee has trimmed weight, dropping 10 pounds from when he was listed at 270 pounds this spring.

Redshirt sophomore Devonte Williams continues to demonstrate his versatility as a scat back and walk-ons Ricky Brookins and Alex Rodriguez remain as serviceable depth in the backfield.

But one of the most impressive players to watch so far has been freshman Morgan Ellison, who has drawn comparisons to former IU running back Jordan Howard.

Although Ellison doesn’t quite pack the power of Howard — at least not yet — he runs hard and is built similarly to the former Hoosier. Ellison, who broke both of his legs during his high school career, still has plenty to grasp inside of IU’s offense, but he already looks like a player poised to push for playing time this fall.

“What we see is a guy that has the ability to make quick up-cuts and get the ball up the field whenver the defense stretches,” Indiana offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “We’ve seen that. He also does a really good job of leveling off. His shoulder pads are down and he levels off that way. He’s like a lot of freshmen. Their heads are spinning. We’ve gotten a lot of offense in (during) training camp right now so his head’s spinning a little bit. But overall, he’ll get there.”

One of the biggest teaching points for Hart this summer has been instructing pass protection.

If his backs don’t protect, they won’t play.

“That’s one of the hardest things from high school to college is pass protection,” Hart said. “Knowing who you have, knowing the calls, knowing the signals. It’s just repetition. You have to keep getting those guys reps.”

More than anything, Hart wants to reward his most consistent pupils with playing time. Hart said he won’t be wowed by chunk gains if players follow them up with mistakes.

The most talented Hoosiers will play, but how long they remain on the field will depnd on their consistency.

“Whoever is the most consistent to me is gonna play,” Hart said. “If a guy goes out there and has one big play and then messes up on two plays after, we can’t play him. I tell the guys all the time, ‘You have to be consistent.’ You have to be great all the time.”


  1. Are they even average running backs by big ten standards? Can any of them start or play a lot for half the big ten teams.

  2. Gest and Ellison will are for real. I fear we are missing Deland McCullough coaching the running backs more than we know.

  3. HC, what’s the basis for your fear? From everything I’ve heard a read, Hart is a very capable RB coach. McCullough was obviously a very good and effective coach, but Hart appears to have the experience and pedigree to be equally effective.

  4. Naturally his coaching pedigree falls short of DM’s. He’s younger. As stated by Coach Wilson, he nearly never interjected his opinions to Deland’s RB’s whether it be drills or meetings. No doubt USC observed and documented that and coveted that strength. I have 0 against Hart except he has not produced results to earn my respect as MuCoullough has. Few RB coaches could have gotten 2 1k yd. seasons at IU out of Devine Redding. Gest, Natee and Ellison give Hart an talent advantage DM did not have when he 1st came to IU. He is weaker in the RB room than Deland until he proves he isn’t. I wait to be convinced.

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