The biggest theme to who will be behind QB for the Hoosiers this year is… who? There are eight running backs listed on Coach Kevin Wilson’s depth chart and at least four of them are capable of grabbing the majority of the snaps this season. The Hoosiers are returning starter from last year Darius Willis, but there are also the likes of sophomore Nick Turner who filled in admirably for Willis last year after his injury. Toss in Antonio banks who has the build of a bowling ball back to go with a spread offense and he could see a lot of snaps. Then of course there is Matt Perez and incoming JuCo transfer Stephen Houston looking to gain a large number of snaps. This could be a year of RB by committee, depending on the situation which could be very beneficial to the Hoosiers (it’s hard to game plan for 4 different backs) or it could be a detriment with the lack of consistency. I would venture to say that how the position of Running Back develops over the season could be very interesting to watch.
Darius Willis: Unlike with the quarterbacks we actually have some previous performance numbers to lean on when looking at a few of the backs on the depth chart this year. Willis was the number one back before injury in 2010 and was putting up some pretty good numbers for being in such a pass heavy offense. The dual-threat back had 11 receptions for 102 yards to go with his 4.3 yards per attempt (ypa) on the ground. Another key asset he brings to the game is his ability to pass block. Willis is a very physical back that can block very well. The only thing that has me so uncertain of his position on the team is the change in offense. I really don’t know what type of back Kevin Wilson prefers in his offenses. I’d imagine he’s the favorite coming out of the gates, but I can’t be sure because of guys like…
Nick Turner: The small shifty back that is Nick Turner would be a fantastic option at running back for an offense that has little confidence in their O-Line. At 6’ 187 lbs. he is far from the physical presence that most of our other options are so blocking is far from his strong point. What he does provide is a valve to release pressure on a pressured QB. Give Turner some space and he can break tackles. His 4.4 40 is also something that can be beneficial. When he turns on the burners he is tough to catch. Depending on what Wilson prefers in a back, Turner has some potential to get a lot of snaps if the offensive line struggles.
Matt Perez: Perez is one of those backs that can come in and really perform or he could spend a lot of time on the sidelines. He has the potential to bruise through lines and achieve good ypa. He is a downhill runner with good vision. When he finds an opening he is great at hitting it and hitting it hard. The big downside is unlike Turner he has next to no breakaway speed. He would be a great 3rd and short option for the upcoming year. Get him a hole and he’d likely get you a consistent 3-4 yards on a stacked line. Don’t look for him to break off a lot of big runs if he does get space though. Most defensive secondary players are going to be able to run him down.
Stephen Houston: The JuCo running back out of Alabama is certainly an enigma. Even Kevin Wilson has admitted to have not seen much of him. Wilson just felt that the Hoosiers need some more options at running back going into the season and went out and got Houston. The 5’11" 225 pounder has the potential to be another bruiser out of the backfield and I’d imagine that the staff would not have gone out to get him if not for his potential to contribute immediately. We will have to see how he pans out in the future but he seems to me to be another version of the many backs we already have.
Antonio Banks: Banks is the top of my list for depth but he also is very capable of competing for a starting position. It really says how much depth we have throughout the roster but also how much talent we lack at the top that there is no break away first option. Banks was a true freshman last year that showed some flashes of what he could do. Unfortunately there seems to be a trend among IU backs and knee injuries. His season was cut short along with Willis, Perez and Whitacker to a devastating knee injury. Banks has the ability to compete with the top four for some major time on the field but he’ll have to show that he is past the knee injury. His 26 carries for 90 yards before the injury showed that he certainly has the ability to do as much.
Xavier Whitaker: Whitaker is a similar back to Perez but has yet to show that he is back from the knee injury like Perez did in the Spring Game. Thus he falls into the depth category instead of potential starter. If he is completely back he will be a short yardage back in game situations. The guy is a bruiser and with his larger frame is, like Perez, capable of shedding some tackles at the line of scrimmage. Of course his durability is always going to be a concern last year’s knee injury wasn’t his first in his career as he suffered a similar one in high school.
D’Angelo Roberts: The Bloomington native is one of those running backs who will never wow you on the field. He is good in every facet of the game but not great in any of them. Depending on how he develops at the college level under Coach Wilson he has the potential to become one of those surprise recruits in later years but probably is nothing more than a very capable scout team back to start his career. He was super successful in college and it will be interesting to see how he grows at the college level. Keep him in the back of your minds, you are likely to see him in a major role sometime in the future.
David Blackwell: The Bloomington South graduate is a scout team back through and through. He is more than likely not going to see the field on Saturdays but he is still a major contributor to the team. He was named special teams scout player of the year in 2009 and in his two years at IU has been the scout team player of the week five times. He is one of those depth guys that gets underappreciated and is obviously a major contributor to this team. What he will contribute to the team more than anything will show up on Saturday not in his play but in the play of those forced to compete against him throughout the week.