Summer Preview: Northwestern Running Backs
Photo Retrieved From Lake The Posts
During the past few seasons, Northwestern’s running backs have basically been the afterthought of the offense. In Offensive Coordinator Mick McCall’s spread system, the quarterback steers the ship. The majority of plays are passes and sometimes screens and slants are used essentially as running plays to pick up small chunks of yards. With mobile quarterbacks like Mike Kafka and Dan Persa in past seasons, and now with Kain Colter at the helm, the running backs do not get as many carries as they would in other systems since the quarterbacks are so involved in the running game. These quarterbacks have been called upon frequently in designed runs to assist in the rushing attack and this does not figure to change this season.
The Cats have not had a 1000 yard rusher since Tyrell Sutton in 2006. After Sutton’s graduation in 2008, NU’s leading rushers were as follows:
2009: Arby Fields, 302 yards
2010: Mike Trumpy, 530 yards
2011: Kain Colter, 654 yards
This is not to say the running backs aren’t important, however. With the spread offense’s emphasis on the short passing attack, the backs play a significant role catching screens and check-downs, as well as in pass protection. Additionally, the backs’ effectiveness on draws out of the shotgun can help the QB have more time for the passing plays that follow by slowing down the pass rush.
Northwestern’s past two leading rushers, Trumpy and Colter, both return for their Junior seasons. Trumpy was having a great start to last season before tearing his ACL in the October 1 game at Illinois. He had 182 yards and was averaging 5.2 yards per carry. It is always tough for running backs to come back from knee surgery but the Wheaton, Illinois native has worked hard to rehab in the offseason and should at the very least be an effective short yardage back this season. If he can return to a level near where he was last season, Trumpy should provide plenty of spark this season out of the Cats’ backfield.
To put it simply, Kain Colter is an athlete. He led the team in rushing with 654 yards last season and was third on the team with 466 receiving yards. With the departure of Dan Persa, Colter ascends to the number one quarterback job and one would assume that means he will be focusing more on passing this year and will not run as much. With his growth as a quarterback and his increased understanding of the offense, Colter will most likely find open receivers much better than last year which means he will be running with less frequency. With his athletic ability, though, he will certainly continue to make a number of plays with his feet when nobody is open.
Combining Colter’s new focus on passing with the graduation of Jacob Schmidt (the Cats second leading rusher from a year ago with 471 yards) and the transfer of Adonis Smith to UNLV (He was the fourth leading rusher with 266 yards), there is an opportunity waiting to be snatched by a young group of backs going into this season to seize control of the running back position. The question is who will take advantage of this opportunity and be that lead back that is so important to the offense?
Mike Trumpy- As mentioned previously, Trumpy was on his way to having a great season last year before a knee injury ended his season early. Out of all the positions on the football field, running back is the toughest to come back from this type of injury. Trumpy is a hard worker, though, and will certainly make an impact next season, even if he ends up only being a situational back.
Treyvon Green- Treyvon probably has the best chance to become the lead back out of NU’s returning RBs. He rushed for 362 yards and 4 TDs last season and could be in line for a breakout season this year. Green is a tough runner who can get those small chunks on the early downs to set up 3rd and shorts which can allow the offense a better chance to sustain drives. He struggled at times last season with finding his lanes, but with a year under his belt he will have a better understanding of the offense and should be much improved this season.
Venric Mark- Mark is known more for his returning acumen than his skills out of the backfield. He needs just 35 yards to become NU’s all-time leading return man and will be used again in this role this year. Mark is a great option for a change of pace back. He had 104 rushing yards last season, and will probably be used this year on reverses and outside sweeps. Every time Mark touches the ball, he has a chance to go the distance so the coaches are always trying to come up with ways to get the ball in his hands.
Jordan Perkins- Perkins was a highly touted recruit from California who redshirted last season. He is a speed back who is also tough enough to grind out yards on the inside. Along with Mark, Perkins has plenty of potential to be a big play back for the Cats. The first few games are going to be especially important for Perkins to establish himself as a reliable option if he’s going to have a chance to have an impact once NU starts going up against Big 10 foes.
The Freshmen- Coach Fitz added a boatload of depth to this position in the offseason, signing four new running backs to the program. While some will probably redshirt this season, look out for Malin Jones from nearby Naperville. Rated the 10th best running back from Illinois and the 26th best back nationally by Rivals.com, Jones could be a star in the making. He will probably not take a leading role this year but will certainly have his share of carries. Jones is the future of this running back core and could compete for the starting job as soon as next season.