Northwestern Running Back Preview
WNUR’s Nick Scoliard (@NickScols) previews the running back position for NU, and who to expect lining up behind Siemian.
Last month, Northwestern’s running back situation looked great. Venric Mark was returning after barely playing last season due to injury. Backups Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley all had significant carries last season, and looked to improve even more this season. Unfortunately, news hasn’t been as good since the beginning of August. First, Venric was suspended by the team for “violating team policy”, whatever that may mean. Speculation and rumors circled around until Venric announced he was transferring from Northwestern, hoping to get a waiver and walk on at Texas Tech or join a Division II school. What was supposed to be a continuation on his breakout 2012 season and a chance to show the NFL scouts what he was worth, turned into Venric looking for a place to play football, and his NFL chances all but squashed. In the aftermath, Northwestern is left with a trio of back up running backs and a boat load of untested running backs to deal with.
Starters: Green and Buckley
When Venric Mark was sitting out last season, Green took the brunt of the carries, as I suspect he will do again. Green finished last season with 137 carries for 736 yards and eight TDs, easily the best in every rushing category on the team, including yards per carry. Northwestern will also tend for a running back committee, so running back 1-b with most likely be Buckley. Buckley was fourth on the depth chart last year, but with Mark leaving, and Mike Trumpy the ball carrier graduating, Buckley will most likely be promoted initially, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he was pushed down as the season progresses, as there are 10 RBs on the roster. These two will most likely start the season as the main running backs, but that could change based on these next few players.
Waiting in the Wings: Warren Long
The only other RB to get a carry last year that’s hasn’t been mentioned is sophomore Warren Long. He was thrown in for only five games, garnering 14 carries for 56 yards, but that was mainly due to injuries to the entire running back depth chart it seemed last season. The former 3-star recruit looks to be a bigger part of the offense, and will be thrown in for different looks at the beginning of the season. At some point, he will undoubtedly be added to the committee or replace Buckley, and get a lot more reps.
Freshmen to Watch: Justin Jackson, Solomon Vault, and Auston Anderson
Venric’s transfer has put Fitz in a tough position; as someone who very much values redshirting freshman to gain experience, the short depth chart for running back has forced his hand. He will most likely have to give reps to some true freshman, and the best candidates are Jackson and Vault. Jackson is a local 4-star recruit was ranked as the 14th best running back of his class, and 156th best player in the country, one of Northwestern’s top recruits. He’s most likely the first choice for a starting freshman, but Fitz has two other choices to work with. Vault was recruited as an athlete, and has also lined up as a slot reciver, so his versatility might come in handy more as a route runner and receiver for Siemian to throw to. Anderson was just behind Jackson as 17th best running back in the country and got offers from a lot of notable programs, such as Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA and others. These three running backs could potentially all be ready to start, but I expect one of them to be redshirted, namely Anderson, with Jackson and Vault getting some reps. However, if this position is plagued by injuries as much as last season, expect Anderson to come out and stop the bleeding.
The Hopeful: Malcolm Bowman
Even if you followed the team’s recruiting, this name might have slipt by. Bowman, a RB for Dallas St. Mark, was recruited in his sophomore year by the likes of Oregon and Texas A&M, and Northwestern as well. However, his last two years were plagued with injury, and he received no offers. Nevertheless, Northwestern stayed in contact with him, and while they couldn’t offer a scholarship, they were able to offer him a walk-on spot if he was accepted to the university. Well, he was accepted and will now be walking on to the team, fighting for recognition. He’s still recovering from ACL surgery, but he is recovering very well, and could be ready for the season. While Fitz likes to stick with players that win him games instead of win him stories, Bowman might be a player who could get both. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that it would be amazing to see Bowman get a few carries by the season’s end, but we will see how the season unfolds.
Venric’s departure and Trumpy’s graduation left holes in what was thought to be a strength for the ‘Cats before the season started. Hopefully Fitz can plug those holes with his roster, but only time will tell.