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Indiana football 2023 position preview: Running backs

Some old faces, some new

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

We’re a little over a month out from the start of the 2023 Indiana football campaign, which opens on September 2nd against Ohio State. While we don’t know exactly how the depth chart will shake out by then, looking at the roster as it stands today can probably give us a pretty good idea of how things might look. First up: the running backs.

The good news is that Indiana will be returning two of its three leading rushers in Josh Henderson and Jaylin Lucas. The bad news is that they lost the leading rusher from the second worst running game in the conference with the departure of Shaun Shivers.

Though Shivers had a bit of an up and down season, he was still undoubtedly the top back in last year’s rotation, carrying the ball more than Henderson and Lucas combined. From the first play from scrimmage last year, which uh didn’t go well, it was apparent that Walt Bell wanted to feature him in the offense.

Until Jaylin Lucas emerged as a breakout freshman, Shivers was arguably the most dynamic player in the backfield last year, so it’s no surprise that Bell wanted to get him the ball in space as frequently as possible. The problem was the lack of talent around him, allowing defenses to key on him and clog up running lanes.

Also returning from last season are David Holloman, who did not see any touches in 2022, and Trent Howland, who saw two carries for 12 yards in 2022. I don’t anticipate them seeing much more action this year, but they may be worth mentioning as the only guys in the running back room over 6’0 tall. Sometimes you just need some size.

The Hoosiers have added Christian Turner from the transfer portal, joining Indiana after two seasons at Michigan and two seasons at Wake Forest. Last year with the Demon Deacons was Turner’s most productive, notching 128 carries for 516 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Compared to Henderson and Lucas, Turner’s production is pretty limited to the running game. Turner has just ten receptions in his entire career, compared to 16 for Lucas as a freshman and 24 receptions last season for Henderson.

Quite frankly, it’s hard to find a reason to be excited about this group as an improvement over last year. According to PFF, Christian Turner is a very minor upgrade to Shivers overall, but worse as a runner and only marginally better as a blocker.

This group is particularly lacking explosive playmakers, with Lucas as the only player to have ever recorded a play for more than 50 yards from scrimmage out of this bunch.

The biggest question mark and potential bright spot could be the play of walk-on Sampson James, once a four-star recruit who rejoins the Hoosiers after a stint in West Lafayette and a break. James hasn’t played a snap of college football since he left Bloomington, but was the second back behind Stevie Scott in 2019, racking up 275 yards on 81 carries for three touchdowns as a freshman.

If the Hoosiers can climb their way out of being one of the worst running teams in the conference, a lot of it will depend on breakout years from James and Turner. As we saw last year though, running backs are very limited by the blockers they play behind, so it’ll take a minor miracle from Bob Bostad to give this group anything to work with in the first place.