At the conclusion of the 2017 season, when we first started to look forward and think about the running backs on the 2018 roster, one word came to mind — loaded. Perhaps too loaded. There didn’t appear to be enough snaps to keep everyone happy.
With 14 offensive linemen returning and a roster full of experienced backs, IU appeared destined to improve significantly on their 105th ranked rushing attack from the year prior.
And then the attrition started. And even here in late August, it hasn’t stopped.
But behind an offensive line that appears to be the strength of the team, the running game can still be a force. But make no mistake — a youth movement is underway here.
Head Coach Tom Allen suggested a couple weeks ago that a committee approach was the plan moving forward, and with this week’s latest news, that seems more likely than ever.
WHO IS GONE
Where do we begin?
The latest news is that last year’s leading rusher Morgan Ellison is suspended indefinitely. That doesn’t sound good. You usually want to be on a timetable to get out in front of any questions. Simply put, Indiana doesn’t seem committed to Ellison’s return.
Before Ellison, IU was hit with a wave of transfers that included Tyler Natee, Alex Rodriguez and Devonte Williams. All three had a role in the last couple years.
WHO IS BACK
We have to assume that Ellison won’t be back. So who does that leave?
The likely starter is redshirt sophomore Cole Gest. He showed a lot of promise last year as a freshman, finishing second on the team with 428 yards on 93 attempts (4.6 average) with one touchdown in 10 games on just one start (at Maryland). Fast with a low center of gravity, Gest is a handful for opposing would-be tacklers.
Mike Majette is back and is likely to see a meaningful role as well. He’s struggled with injuries in the past, but if he can stay healthy he seems likely to have a big role on 3rd downs as a pass catching threat as well as sharing the load with Gest.
The third returning player that is likely to see playing time is senior Ricky Brookins. As a junior he played in all 12 games, rushing 11 times for 88 yards with one touchdown. He also caught 19 passes for 124 yards. Brookins has also been an inspiration off the field.
WHO IS NEW
Indiana has true and redshirt freshmen that are likely to see action under the committee approach.
Big back Stevie Scott is a name to know, having been called out in a positive manner by the coaches on several occasions in fall camp. The true freshman was a late recruiting steal and has been running the ball with an intensity that has the coaching staff excited. He seems like a likely candidate to see some short yardage work at a minimum.
Ronnie Walker, Jr. was one of IU’s highest profile recruits, ranked a 4-star by some services. He’s been on campus since January and with Ellison out, he seems certain to get a few tests runs in year one.
Craig Nelson has also been getting positive publicity from the coaches and could see action.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Watch Brookins and Gest at fall camp discussing the IU running backs.
The changes in the composition of the backs on the roster over the last few months is undeniable. Nevertheless, the Hoosiers have talented runners returning and an offensive line that is likely to clear paths.
Losing Ellison is a bit of a shock. He appeared destined to take the lion’s share of the carries this year. But he also missed time last year and Gest and others filled in admirably. With two seniors and another year of experience for Gest, there is no reason to expect a drop off. If the line can impose their will, this running game can still be a major positive for IU.
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