Hoosiers looking at running back by committee

Indiana won’t be relying on a single running back this fall.

Instead, the Hoosiers’ hopes will lie on the shoulders of several ball carriers.

IU coach Tom Allen sees the Hoosiers following a “running back-by-committee” approach this fall after the early departure of back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher Devine Redding.

It was hoped that receiver-turned-tailback Camion Patrick would produce at the position, but after he took a medical hardship waiver this summer, his playing career is over. Even with Patrick, who dealt with various injuries during his two years with the program, Indiana would’ve needed further help at the position.

So now, with the start of fall camp less than a week away, Allen and the Hoosiers are preparing to evaluate their options.

“We have several that I like,” Allen said, having yet to commit on a long-term plan.

Indiana has at least a handful of backs who should factor into its offense this fall. Although none of those players are proven rushing studs, there is talent in the bunch.

Junior Mike Majette could be first to put the Hoosiers in his hands.

Majette appeared in 20 games spanning his first two seasons, averaging 4.8 yards across his 76 career carries. Majette flashed potential in short bursts while working behind Redding and Jordan Howard in recent years, and would’ve added to his stat line late last season if not for an ankle injury.

Majette appears to have the most well-rounded skill set of the bunch, with adequate speed and the dynamic ability to become a factor in the passing game, too.

Cole Gest is another speedster to watch. Gest was granted a redshirt last year after an ankle injury cut his freshman season short after three games. For Gest, the learning curve will include his ability to harness his speed more effectively. During his limited playing window last season, Gest resembled a pinball bouncing through IU’s backfield.

No one in IU’s stable of backs has an acceleration burst quite like Gest’s. If he can develop the appropriate pace, Gest can add a different dimension to Indiana’s running game.

So, too, could Devonte Williams. Another versatile athlete, Williams rushed for 147 yards on 48 carries last year, and also caught seven passes for 50 yards. Williams can fill a variety of roles for the Hoosiers, who can also use him as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.

In the current landscape, which will see IU lean on a handful of backs, Williams can add his own unique specialties.

“You’re gonna have to be able to be by committee, I think,” Allen said. “… The way it flows is good. Mike Majette is probably a guy that comes across as one that is the most complete guy back there. You got Tyler Natee, who’s a big back. Different style, completely. Devonte Williams, who is a scat back. Then you have Cole Gest, who is a little bit in between. There are four guys right there who all have a lot of talent and have different skill sets.”

Indiana also signed two running backs in its 2017 recruiting class, Ohio’s Morgan Ellison and Florida’s Craig Nelson. Ellison is particularly interesting, signing with IU after earning first-team All-Ohio honors from the Associated Press as a senior.

Ellison broke his left leg as a sophomore and his right leg as a junior, perhaps causing other programs to shy away. With a strong fall camp next month, Ellison could create a role for himself in IU’s running back race.

“I think he’s got tremendous upside,” Allen said on signing day. “Battled injuries during his career, missed his first couple years. Played his senior year, went 13-2 in those finals at Pickerington High School there in Ohio. (He’s) 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. We were looking for a big back in this class.”

Indiana has also been rewarded in recent years by the emergence of walk-ons such as Ricky Brookins and Alex Rodriguez. Both players have filled in admirably when called upon during their careers and add further depth to the position.

“You have a lot of depth, for sure,” Allen said. “You just don’t have that one guy who’s proven. I just know how this can go. Someone’s gonna step up and surprise you. That’s always gonna be the case. I’m anxious to see who that might be. We have several guys to pick from.”

14 comments

  1. “Indiana won’t be relying on a single running back this fall.” I don’t remember the last time IU relied on a single running back. Especially over the last five seasons, given the pace of Wilson’s offense, you had to have at least three running backs play in every game. Two seasons ago, IU had two 1,000 yard rushers.

  2. IU has a nuber of talented RBs and as coach Allen stated someone usually steps up and surprises people. UM was one example of a team last year ran three RBs, so it isn’t unusual for teams to rely on a number of RBs to have good running game. A lot of people are doubting our RBs right now but I think there are some special players in the group [at least coach Wilson thought a couple had special ability].

    How well our RBs do will be more a function of how good our OL is this year. If an inexperienced group comes together as a solid unit and open up holes then our running game will be a major factor that helps open up the passing game.

  3. Translation: striving to be pretty average in running back game by big ten standards. Striving to be pretty average @ qb. V. yes, I agree 100% offense is a function of offensive line including rb’s, qb, passing game etc. I totally agree with T.A. mindset, however disturbingly I have heard pretty much the mindset from IU fb coaches in the past especially the new first year coaches for the program. Examples, Cam Cameron black helmets and uniforms, Sam Wyche slanted IU forward on fb helmets to signify positive team/program attitude attitude on and on it goes. The intangible motivational and inspiration talk has gotten IU in the big ten cellar, traditionally. Top programs with 4 and 5 star players get inspirational and motivational talks from their coaches also. Nevertheless, what is coach T.A. to do? He is to do what he is doing. More heist 3 star and 4 star recruits needed @ IU at all positions to get IU share of football wins against the middle and bottom part of league meaning consistently above 500 ball. (7 plus wins most seasons) With a rare year or two exception it will not happen consistently without a little higher rated recruits. Yes, you can schedule 2 or 3 cupcakes to give a couple wins which most teams do but that means winning at least 4 or 5 more games. Good luck IU fb. The good in all this IU in several ways is a veteran team. To me that is their ace in the hole biggest strength with a good high character coach. Reminds me a little of Utah fb which often has older players and they win against competition they play. However, like several teams who have winning programs in lesser leagues and competition they don’t win in SEC or Big Ten etc near as much and would struggle to play 500 ball.

  4. t, one thing coach Allen has going for him is his staff and him have recruited more high 3 and a few 4 star players this year. To get more 4 star players IU needs to have a season that is special for IUFB. IU can compete with older players while the top teams deal with competing with younger more talented players. That is the key to IU’s success, develop very good players that developed slower than the top HS players. Having those very good players grow and develop as jr and sr will be able to defeat top teams filled with younger players and that will be IU’s path right now to winning.

    As you pointed out with Utah there are teams that can win with older players and have to win that way because they can’t pull in 5 star players. IU needs to be one of those teams for now and maybe forever. No matter what IU has a way to be a factor in the B1G with the right coach and the right approach, which I think we have now.

  5. No obvious standout? Can’t decide which of these RBs gets to play? I’d go with the guy who loves to block people. Mr. MIller’s article had stuff about pass-catching threats and pinballs in the backfield, but didn’t read anything about the burning desire to flatten players wearing the wrong colored jerseys.

  6. very good observation “davis”…..the one thing that the most recent IU running backs (Houston, Coleman, Howard and Redding) had was they where fairly decent blocking running backs in the backfield. you better have a pretty good blocking RB, if you are going to send the TE out in pass patterns.

  7. Bomber, every Hoosier football fan knows about Coleman’s success, but two of IU’s backs still got plenty of carries that season. It was a silly first sentence to the article. So right now, there’s no stud in the running backs room. I think anyone paying attention knew that already.

  8. Thanks, IU79. Emmitt Smith may have carried for more NFL yards than Walter Payton, but blocking is why Sweetness was the better football player.

  9. V. I really don’t see any 4 stars signed even though IU tries to recruit them. K.W. used his creativity and did get a few commitments and even signed a few. However, only a couple of them maximized their potential. Yes, I agree about player development and age. However, I heard that philosophy for over 50 years at IU. What happens is yes 3 stars can become 4 stars and a special player can become a 5 star. However, a 4 star can become a 5 star. A 5 star can become a 6 star if there was one so it still puts a program like IU in its place over the long haul sharing with the bottom feeders and wishing for the for an occasional winning record here and there….and realistically, traditionally IU fb has not even reached that level of success.

  10. Sadly, t is correct. Kevin Wilson was landing a higher level of talent(albeit sometimes overlooked transfers, programs shutting down, etc). Time will tell if Allen can do the same.

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