MANHATTAN – After leading Kansas State in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as a sophomore, it seems odd that Charles Jones is now fighting to retain his position atop the depth chart.
Jones, a junior from Mandeville, La., acknowledges this. With Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon, a pair of redshirt freshmen running backs, pushing him in preseason practices, how could he not? But he understands the situation.
Though his rushing numbers – 540 yards and 13 touchdowns – were best on the roster last season, they fell well below normal K-State standards. He averaged 41.5 yards, and the bulk of his production occurred in his first four games, when he piled up eight touchdowns. As the season wore on, there were times he disappeared. One yard against TCU. Four yards against West Virginia. Nineteen yards against UCLA.
“We just kind of fell off,” Jones said. “There isn’t one thing I can point to and say that was the reason why. It just wasn’t a good year for our running game.”
He hopes a healthy body and a fresh outlook can turn things around.
That is all K-State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel is asking of him. If not for a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the team’s fourth game, which left Jones in a knee brace, Dimel thinks Jones would have finished with a bang.
“He played the whole season with that injury,” Dimel said. “He would be in practice and he could barely run. That is the thing that never gets talked about, because we don’t talk about injuries.... The Charles Jones you see now is the Charles Jones you saw in those first four games. He has good football IQ and is just a good football player. If he stays healthy, I think he is going to have a great football season.”
Jones hopes it is that easy.
“Getting injured, that hurt me pretty good,” Jones said. “I didn’t feel like myself for more than half the season. That changed my playing style a lot. That’s why my main goal this offseason was just to rehab and get myself ready so I could get back to helping my team win games.”
Jones said the injury did not require surgery, and he returned to full strength at the start of spring practices. He entered August practices full of confidence.
Yet, he makes no projections for the upcoming year. Sure, he wants to keep his starting job, but Silmon had a nice spring and Warmack is having a strong summer. During an open practice on Saturday, all three players split reps with the first-string offense. Muddying the competition’s waters even further was the presence of fullbacks Glenn Gronkowski and Dimel’s son, Winston, in single-back formations.
The Wildcats may take a committee approach in the backfield, regardless of how well the starter performs.
“We have tons of running backs,” Dimel said. “The running back situation is even deeper than the quarterback situation, because you have got Charles, Dalvin, Justin, Winson, and Glenn, all those guys who can carry the ball.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder has declared Jones the favorite, but says he will need to do more than he did a year ago.
You will hear no argument from Jones.
“I have been working to take the next step,” Jones said. “I want to be a first-down running back, a third-down running back, a power running back. I am working to become an overall better running back for my team.”