Position Breakdown – Running Backs August 23, 2011
On to the running backs. This post will just cover the tailbacks – fullbacks will be included with the tight ends, just like they are at practice and on the field.
Aug. 22: Quarterbacks
Aug. 23: Running Backs
Aug. 24: Tight Ends/Fullbacks
Aug. 25: Wide Receivers
Aug. 26: Offensive Guards/Centers
Aug. 27: Offensive Tackles
Aug. 28: Defensive Ends/Bandits
Aug. 29: Defensive Tackles
Aug. 30: Linebackers
Aug. 31: Cornerbacks
Sept. 1: Safeties
Sept. 2: Kickers/Punters/Returners
Sept. 3: FOOTBALL. Football football FOOTBALL.
Starter: Jason Ford
Yes, I think Jason will lead us in rushing. No, I don’t think he gets anywhere close to Mikel’s record of 1,697 yards rushing in a single season. Yes, I think Ford will run several people over and find himself on a few highlight reels this fall. No, I don’t think he’ll get 65% of our carries like Mikel did. Yes, I’m already tired of discussions about his weight.
And yes, it’s totally unfair to compare him to Leshoure. But that will be the question he cannot avoid this fall. He arrived with Mikel, he competed for carries with Mikel, and now he has to follow in Mikel’s footsteps. Good luck, J.
As far as stats, I’ll set the goal at around 1,1oo yards. Which, compared with Mikel’s 1,697 (there’s that comparison again), seems small. But 1,100 yards would put Jason Ford 10th on the all-time Illini single season rushing list. He lacks Mikel’s top-end speed (seriously? again with the Mikel stuff?), so I don’t think he’ll have the 11 rushes for 30+ yards or the 17 rushes for 20+ yards. And I think he’ll share carries more, so that will keep his numbers down a bit, too. But at the end of the year, I’m expecting to look back and be very pleased with the numbers our #1 tailback provided.
One more thing: I really do think he will produce a few highlight reel run-overs. He looks stronger than he’s ever been, he’s trimmed down, and he’s running hard. As I mentioned at camp, there was one play where he got the corner and met Houston Bates one-on-one – there was no other player within 5 yards of them. Ford didn’t really lower his shoulder – he just ran straight into him (surprising Bates a little bit – I think he was looking for Ford to go low and drive into him). This knocked Bates backwards, wherein Ford continued moving forward by stepping on him as he went by. Sorry, went through. I think Ford does that one or two times this fall and finds himself on SportsCenter.
Back-ups: Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson, Troy Pollard
Here were the total carries from our tailbacks last year:
I’m going to assume that we hand the ball off 412 times again. And I’m also going to assume that we’ll spread the carries around a little more. I think Ford will be the feature back, and I think Petrino’s main goal will be to keep him fresh throughout the game so he’s ready to run some people over in the 4th quarter. That, and Petrino loves him some Donovonn Young. So here’s how I see it shaking out:
OK, that doesn’t look right. Will we really go 4-deep? Nobody goes 4-deep. Maybe we’ll bring Ferguson along slower than that.
That doesn’t look right either. When I talked to running backs coach Deandre Smith at Rantoul, he lit up when talking about Josh Ferguson. Said he was the first kid he recruited when he arrived in Champaign in early 2010 and that he knew he was special early on. They DID seem to use him a lot in the scrimmages. Maybe Young will be competing with Ford for power-back minutes and Ferguson will be competing with – and beat out – Pollard for scatback minutes.
Hmmm… looks like we go 4-deep again. You know what – maybe Pollard’s main duties will be on kick return. Keep him fresh throughout the game so he can return every kickoff and maybe even a few punts. I think that’s what I’ll go with. Ford is The Guy, Ferguson and Young get nearly the same number of carries backing him up, and Pollard is a kick-returner first and spot-duty tailback second.
Ford: 195 carries
Young: 107 carries
Ferguson: 86 carries
Pollard: 24 carries