Indiana football has had an, erm, interesting past few years at the running back position.
The program has marketed itself as “RBU” to some degree, and with past talents like Anthony Thompson, Jordan Howard, Tevin Coleman and Stevie Scott’s productive freshman season, it looked like they had a real point there.
The room belonged to Scott during his three years with the Hoosiers, he was the lead back with one other member of the room getting carries behind him as part of Mike Hart’s one-two punch system. That same system led Michigan past Ohio State for the first time under Jim Harbaugh this past football season.
But Scott left for the NFL Draft after 2020 and Indiana underwent a complete change in system with new (and former x2) running backs coach Deland McCullough. Indiana’s then-new system emphasized each individual back’s strengths with one lead back shouldering most of the carries.
That lead back was USC transfer Stephen Carr, who worked with McCullough during the latter’s time with the Trojans. Backs with jobs included Chris Childers, whose size allowed him to power past defensive linemen and Davion Ervin-Poindexter, who eventually started when Carr went down with an injury.
Now, all of the above are gone. McCullough was hired away by Notre Dame and multiple running backs with remaining eligibility hit the portal. To top that off, Indiana lost Gi’Bran Payne from the 2022 recruiting class.
Indiana’s new running backs coach, Craig Johnson, brings plenty of experience at both the college and NFL levels.
We don’t know too much about his style just yet and he’ll be coaching multiple new faces from the transfer portal. This’ll be one of the most interesting groups on the roster heading into the season and in the years ahead, so let’s get into what Indiana’s got.
Like we said above, there’s a lot of space to make up in the room in the wake of McCullough’s departure, and Indiana looked to the portal to do so.
The prize get and Indiana’s likely lead back heading into the season is Auburn transfer Shaun Shivers. Like Carr before him, Shivers saw a few starts at his prior school in a crowded room, and will now have the weight of carrying the room on his shoulders.
Shivers is a small back at 5-7, 190 lbs. but he uses that size to his advantage with quick cuts and blazing past larger defenders. But he also has enough mass to do *this*.
Shaun Shivers is transferring from Auburn, which means we should watch this play another 86 times.pic.twitter.com/mpyjBbu5wu— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) December 1, 2021
Behind Shivers is Josh Henderson, who joined the Hoosiers this offseason after two years at UNC. Much like Auburn, UNC’s running backs room was crowded and Henderson saw limited action, and now he’ll look to compete for carries behind Shivers.
Indiana also added Jaylin Lucas from the high school ranks, though he likely won’t see too many carries behind Shivers, Henderson and other backs that have been here longer. As for the future, Lucas can carve out a role as a speed back, but that’ll largely be filled by David Ellis in the present.
Those who stayed
Indiana retained a few members of the 2021 running backs group, but those who elected to stay saw few carries even as the room was hit with injuries down the stretch.
Ellis should not be included in the above since he was among those injured last season. Though he’s much more of a swiss army knife, do-it-all kind of player with abilities as a rusher, receiver and returner who’ll be used at all three positions.
There’s Trent Howland and David Holloman a pair of backs who redshirted this past season as freshmen and came to the program as three-star recruits per 247Sports. Howland is a larger back at 6-3 and could see carries in short yardage situations while Holloman is smaller, longer and faster and could provide an additional presence at receiver out of the backfield.
Then there’s two walk-ons in Charlie Spegal and Brett Wethington, both of whom had storied careers at the high school level in Indiana.