In 2014, Tevin Coleman piled up over 2,000 yards on the ground and was replaced in 2015, mostly by necessity, with two guys: Jordan Howard and Devine Redding, who managed to each throw up 1,000 yards apiece despite recurring ankle issues (Howard) and early season ineffectiveness (Redding). Once Howard went down for good early on against Maryland, Redding morphed into an unstoppable ball of fire. In the ten games prior to Howard’s injury, Redding had carried the ball 145 times for 511 yards (3.52 YPC). In the three games after? 81 carries, 501 yards (6.19 YPC), raising his season YPC an entire yard in the process.
Heading into 2016, the Hoosiers are now tasked with replacing Jordan Howard. Devine Redding returns to the team as a member of the Doak Walker Award watchlist, but even if the staff is planning to hand Redding the ball 200-plus times again this season, that would likely leave almost 300 touches to be distributed around the roster. Here’s what the running back picture looks like to me, the amateur blog man.
Redding certainly has made his case to lead the Hoosiers in carries this season. He was the star of Indiana’s first bowl game since 2007, but Duke’s defense was missing a key player and was ranked 45th in Rushing S&P last season. Purdue (113th) would have struggled against most people carrying a football in their general direction and Maryland (33rd) represented a capable run-stopping unit that Redding shredded anyway.
Performances against Ohio State (30 carries, 45 yards) and Penn State (13 carries, 32 yards) raise concerns about Redding’s ability to be a consistent weapon against the Big Ten’s better defenses, but Redding also played both of those games largely without Nate Sudfeld at quarterback, giving defenses little reason to devote a large amount of resources to stopping a passing game that was struggling mightily without its senior signal-caller.
The staff clearly trusts Redding with the ball, as evidenced by how heavily they leaned on him in Jordan Howard’s absence last season. They know he can handle essentially an entire season’s worth of carries because he’s done it already. At 5’10", 208 lbs, Redding has the size and shape that you look for in Big Ten backs and also downhill-rolling boulders. Perhaps most importantly, Redding didn’t put the ball on the ground last season, making it even easier for the staff to hand him the starting job going into 2016.
It certainly seems like Redding will be given every opportunity to seize control of the bell cow role, with the rest of the Indiana running backs filling in as backups and specialists.
Majette didn’t get a ton of action last season, not even seeing the field until October and making glorified cameos in most games with the exception of the homecoming tilt against Rutgers. In the portion of the game that Indiana did not spend completely embarrassing themselves, Majette rushed for 83 yards and caught three passes, scoring a touchdown on a nifty slip screen early in the contest.
At 5’11", 207 pounds, Majette is a bit leaner than Redding and one could see an increased role on passing downs given the incredibly small sample size we’re working with. Mind you, Indiana didn’t throw to their running backs a great deal last year (Howard - 11 catches, Redding - 12 catches) but it seemed to be something they wanted to do with Majette when he was in the game. Indiana’s top three receivers all return, however, meaning Majette’s role is probably more likely to be a straight backup to Redding as opposed to any sort of defined role.
After Majette, the picture gets far murkier, and it’s anyone’s guess who will snag the touches that Redding and Majette don’t get.
The latest preseason darling here at TCQ, Natee made waves earlier this week when BTN visited Indiana’s practice and saw him taking snaps as an option quarterback. The freshman is listed at 6’0", 260 lbs but some people believe he’s closer to 280, and not in a bad way. He was a high school quarterback (!!!) and appears to be awfully fleet-footed for a fully grown man of his size.
For now, Natee is all potential, but it’s easy to see him come in for short-yardage situations as the Hoosiers’ battering ram, and depending on how good that arm is, he could have a few pages in the back of Wilson’s playbook dedicated to him.
Speaking of being "all potential", how about "all intrigue." Hoosier fans have been wondering about Camion Patrick for some time, whether he is actually a real player or just some fever dream we collectively had in the wake of Tevin Coleman leaving early. The former Tennessee commit signed with Indiana after a JUCO stint and was declared "the best player on the football team" by Kevin Wilson last December while picking up Scout Team Player of the Year as he sat out as academically ineligible. Since then, Patrick underwent knee surgery and is not expected back until conference play. But the question isn’t simply if he’ll contribute, but how he’ll contribute.
At 6’2", 225 lbs, Patrick’s frame prompts ideas of a wide receiver, which was his position when he committed, since then he’s split time at receiver and running back and is currently listed on the roster as the latter. Assuming he can get healthy and up to speed, Patrick is likely to come in as a sort of gadget player not unlike how Ohio State used a similarly-sized Braxton Miller last year, with Indiana using a variety of ways to get him the ball in space and letting him handle the rest.
Williams came to Indiana as a running back, moved to defensive back last season, suffered a season-ending injury, got a medical redshirt, and then switched back to running back during spring practice. His high school accolades include nearly 4,500 yards on the ground and 51 touchdowns, and if he could get on the field in a brand new position (prior to his injury), it’s easy to see him getting playing time back at the spot he’s spent most of his career at.
At 5’10", 180 lbs and the wheels to compete at defensive back, Williams could project as a third down weapon for the Hoosiers. As mentioned earlier, throwing to running backs isn’t something the Hoosiers did a great deal of last year, but Kevin Wilson has never shied away from tweaking the offensive identity to best suit the players on the roster.
The senior has spent his entire Hoosiers career as a linebacker (starting all 13 games last season) but is going to give the other side of the ball a shot in his final season in Cream and Crimson. At 6’1", 225 lbs, he gives Kevin Wilson another big bruiser to barrel through defenses with. He’s not quite as big as Natee (most non-linemen aren’t) and he brings a lot of experience to the college game.
You may remember Ricky Brookins from his 40-yard run against Purdue in last year’s Bucket Game. The former walk-on will likely be more of a factor on special teams returning kickoffs, which he did last season, but he’s got the explosiveness to reach the second-level and the wheels to separate, it just comes down to whether there’s enough backfield touches to go around. Brookins has been putting some work in with the wide receivers in camp to help compensate for the loss of J-Shun Harris.
Kiante Enis / Cole Gest
The incoming freshmen come into a crowded meeting room and will have to really impress the coaching staff to see the field in their first year with the program.
Enis, one-time Michigan commit chose Indiana after moving on from the Wolverines despite interest from Purdue, Michigan State, and Ball State. Enis is the 7th best player in Indiana according to 247Sports and his 6’2", 206 lbs frame combined with an upright running style are sure to remind Hoosier fans of Tevin Coleman, here’s hoping for similar results. Enis has also taken snaps at wide receiver in camp and his versatility could be the key to seeing playing time in year one.
Gest is a three-star recruit out of Ohio that leaves his high school, St. Edward HS, as its all-time leading rusher. At 5’8, 193 lbs, Gest may not have the size to be an every down back in the Big Ten, but with his explosiveness, he could be a major factor on third down and kick returns down the road.
Kevin Wilson hasn’t confirmed either way regarding a redshirt for either player, and could very well be waiting to see how things pan out with Camion Patrick’s recovery before making those decisions.
The walk-on played well when needed last season, contributing on special teams and even scoring a touchdown in the Pinstripe Bowl, making him the last A-Rod to score in Yankee Stadium (fooooooolks). His biggest contribution is likely to come on special teams, as there are an awful lot of mouths to feed in front of him.