Kansas State’s depth chart might as well include a disclaimer at running back.
The provision: subject to change.
Charles Jones, a senior with two years of starting experience and 1,236 rushing yards to his name, was once again named the team’s top running back on Tuesday. He will take the first handoff on Friday at Stanford. After that, though, nothing is guaranteed.
The Wildcats also want to use hard-running backup Justin Silmon, a sophomore, as well as sophomore Dalvin Warmack, a speedy pass-catching threat. Don’t be surprised if redshirt freshman Alex Barnes sees action, too.
“There is no doubt that two or three of them will definitely be on the field, with a possibility of four,” K-State football coach Bill Snyder said at his weekly news conference. “With Charles (getting the starting spot) it is probably the consistency as much as anything, just having a little bit more experience than the others. Justin has a decent amount of experience, and he certainly will be invested in the ballgame as well.”
K-State’s backfield plans remain a mystery.
Earlier this month, offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said the Wildcats had unprecedented depth at the position, which could lead to a committee of rushers instead of a featured back.
“I think we are going to get the guys in there and see who has the hot hand,” Dimel said during his last interview in early August.
Perhaps K-State will use that approach against Stanford. Or maybe Snyder will prefer to rotate running backs in order to keep them fresh. There’s a chance he uses each of them in different packages that play to their specific talents.
All Jones knows is this: he will need to take advantage of every opportunity to stay on the field.
“It was closer than a lot of people think this year,” Jones said of the competition at his position. “We have a lot of depth at running back. Any one of us four could have been named starter. It is an honor to be named the starter, but I feel like it is an ongoing competition throughout the season. Each one of us is going to have to be at the top of our game.”
Jones can help his chances by recapturing the form he displayed midway through last season. After a slow start in which Silmon passed him on the depth chart, Jones rushed for 70 or more yards in five of seven games, including a 122-yard outburst against Texas.
Run like that, and he will stay on the field. But he has had a tendency to disappear. He failed to rush for 45 yards in six games in each of the past two seasons. Play like that, and he might not be the starter for K-State’s second game.
He understands the situation.
“I have just tried to help myself become an all-around back,” Jones said. “I feel like Justin, Dalvin and Alex have brought out the best in me, and I brought out the best in them.”
Silmon may have benefited most from the competition. The Tulsa native looked like the best running back on the team early last season, averaging 5.1 yards per run and rushing for 119 yards against Louisiana Tech. But he struggled to learn the playbook, and coaches lost faith in him when he began to line up incorrectly.
He pushed himself throughout the offseason to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I have it down pat,” Silmon said. “I feel pretty confident in (my playbook knowledge). My overall awareness of the game is better. I am reacting a lot quicker to things, knowing the big picture.”
Silmon entered spring practice as the third or fourth option at running back, but surged to No. 2 this month. Warmack figures to be next in line, with Barnes trailing, ready to play his first game.
They all could factor into the game plan this season. Or maybe Jones will lead the way. Regardless, the Wildcats are confident in their running backs, even if the playing rotation is subject to change.
“They are a talented group,” K-State defensive end Dante Barnett said. “We had a scrimmage the other day where they came out just pounding the ball. I was like, ‘Who was that running?’ And every time I looked back there it was a different running back pounding the ball. That just goes to show they all have big-play capabilities.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett