If you’re wondering who will start at running back for Kansas State when the Wildcats take the field for their first game of the Chris Klieman era later this month you are focused on the wrong question.
Who will get the most carries? Who will run for the most yards? Who will catch the most passes? Who will help most as a blocker? And how fast will they all jell together in the backfield?
Those are the questions K-State football coaches are trying to answer during preseason camp as they evaluate Jordon Brown, James Gilbert and Harry Trotter. They want to play all three running backs evenly, instead of one exclusively.
“We are going to be by committee right now,” running backs coach Brian Anderson said earlier this week. “They all have good skill sets and we can do a lot of different things with them. I’m not worried about who is going to be the starter for Game 1 or who is going to be the starter for Game 3. We just have to get them better as a group.”
Klieman and new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham liked to spread carries around when they were together at North Dakota State, and they plan on doing the exact same thing here.
A year ago, Lance Dunn led the Bison with 160 carries, while Bruce Anderson handled 124, Ty Brooks had 104 and Adam Cofield touched the ball 82 times.
That’s quite a bit different from the way K-State distributed carries last season when Alex Barnes saw 256 rushing attempts and Dalvin Warmack ranked second at the position with 36.
“How many carries can one guy get and come out and play the next week just as efficiently and as explosively?” Messingham said Thursday. “That’s the thing we need to figure out here.”
K-State is so committed to its new approach that it will play multiple running backs at the same time this season.
Brown, Gilbert and Trotter could all theoretically start against Nicholls.
“Our offense is running back friendly,” Gilbert said. “They are going to have us doing a lot of things. They have packages where we have three running backs in the game, so we have got to run routes, block and run the ball.”
Which running back is best suited for each role?
Brown, a graduate transfer from North Carolina, seems ready to help on passing plays. He caught 46 passes out of the backfield with the Tar Heels, and seems like the most versatile of the group.
Gilbert, another grad transfer, from Ball State, knows more about the offense than anyone else at his position. Messingham says he’s to the point where he could coach his teammates.
Trotter is a balanced runner who “ripped off” three big runs during practice on Thursday.
“You can tell when they run the ball they have been there and had experience, which is great for us,” quarterback Skylar Thompson said. “It says a lot about our coaching staff and their effort and the way they are in recruiting. When Alex announced last year that he was leaving for the draft we had Harry Trotter and that was it. Now I feel like we have six running backs who are all capable of playing.”
Thompson is also high on freshman running back Joe Ervin. And coaches have mentioned Tyler Burns as another possible contributor.
Add their names to the committee.
“What is so special about them is none of them are selfish,” Thompson said. “They understand we are going to rotate running backs. Everyone is going to get their touches. It’s about doing the most with your opportunities.”