In anticipation of this week’s spring game, WNUR’s Eric Klaus looks at some of the players who may see time at the running back position.
Sifting Through The Cluster at Running Back
Since Pat Fitzgerald took over as head coach back in 2006, the Wildcats have struggled to get consistent production from the running back position. Throughout his tenure, the ‘Cats have generally used a committee system at running back, and as a consequence have produced only one 1000-yard rusher (Tyrell Sutton in 2006) under Fitzgerald. Last season, Northwestern’s running attack was actually above average as they finished 45th in the country in rushing yards per game. However, the biggest contributor to this total was offensive utility man (and potential starting QB) Kain Colter who led the team in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns in 2011. Northwestern’s best running back a year ago was senior Jacob Schmidt who had 471 yards and 6 touchdowns.
With the graduation of Schmidt, the transfer of sophomore Adonis Smith, and the injury to Mike Trumpy (torn ACL), there are a number of questions about who will get the carries both in the spring game and during the regular season. For the short term, however, here are some players who should receive significant time during Saturday’s spring game:
As a freshman last season, Green saw a fair amount of playing time carrying the ball 97 times for 362 yards. He was third on team in each of these categories. His carries fluctuated greatly throughout the season, as he saw double digit carries against Eastern Illinois, Illinois, and Nebraska, but five or fewer carries against Michigan, Boston College and Texas A&M. His 362 yards were the most by a Northwestern Freshman since Tyrell Sutton had 1,472 in 2005. Green was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, and showed good speed and vision during his first year in Evanston. If Trumpy is still hurt at the beginning of the season, Green may very well receive the bulk of the carries in his absence.
‘Cats fans are probably most familiar with Mark from his time as the team’s main kick and punt returner over the past two seasons. However, midway through last season Mark began the transition to running back, and actually had 15 carries for 104 yards in the team’s final few games. Among the running backs competing for the starting job, Mark is by far the most electrifying, both in terms of speed and big-play ability (as evidenced by the 94 yard kick return touchdown he had against Wisconsin as a freshman). However, given his relative inexperience, as well as his incredible value on special teams, it may be hard for the coaching staff to give him the bulk of the carries on offense this season. Instead, he may be used at running back on a part-time basis, particularly on third downs.
Perkins is probably the least familiar name in this group, having redshirted as a true freshman a year ago. A three-star recruit from California, he originally committed to Stanford after a brilliant high school career that saw him rush for nearly 4000 yards. He was expected to compete for playing time as a true freshman last season, but was instead redshirted just before the season opener. Perkins is not a particularly big back, especially in comparison to Green and Trumpy, as he is listed at 5-11 and 180 pounds. However, he is known to have tremendous speed and playmaking ability, something that has been sorely lacking in the ‘Cats backfield of late.
On the whole, Northwestern seems to have more depth at the running back position than it ever has under Coach Fitzgerald, as there could be as many as five players vying for time in the upcoming season. The group is lacking in experience, but is full of potential. This will make the running back position one of the more compelling storylines come September. Hopefully Saturday will help to provide some more clarity, and even more importantly, confidence in the position.