Photo via Shaun Shivers on Twitter

IU football 2022 position previews: The running backs

The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2022 Indiana football season on Sept. 2 against Illinois (schedule here).

Today we take a look at the running backs.  For a complete position-by-position look at who is coming and going in 2022, go here.

THE ROSTER

THE SURE THINGS

Indiana hasn’t named a starter at running back, but after an impressive spring and summer, it would go down as a major surprise if Auburn transfer Shaun Shivers didn’t run out with the first team on Friday night.  The small but shifty back has track speed but doesn’t mind running defenders over.

Shivers appeared in 43 games (9 starts) at Auburn from 2018 to 2021. He has compiled 1,020 rushing yards on 201 attempts (5.1 average) with eight touchdowns, and has added 38 receptions for 211 yards and one TD in addition to 233 kick return yards on 14 kickoffs.

It also seems like a near certainty that IU will find ways to get true freshman Jaylin Lucas on the field.  Head coach Tom Allen called him the fastest player on the team this month, and his ability to change direction might be even more impressive.  Allen and new offensive coordinator Walt Bell are looking for explosive playmakers in the open field, and Lucas clearly seems to be part of that equation.

THE BIG QUESTIONS

This room looks nothing like it did a year ago when over the span of less than four months, Sampson James transferred to Purdue during fall camp, Tim Baldwin transferred mid-season, walk-ons Chris Childers and Davion Ervin-Poindexter transferred after the season, and starter Stephen Carr used up his eligibility.  And then this summer, program veteran David Ellis decided to walk away from the game for medical reasons.

Going into last season, that group was viewed as the primary contributors at running back, and all but Carr were expected back this year.

If Shivers is in fact the starter, will he be an every down and every series back?  That’s something he’s never done and doesn’t seem likely to do this season.

Who will be the third down back?  That could be Shivers at times.  It could certainly be Lucas.  Both have high-end speed and can catch the football.  David Holloman is also best known for his speed and could be an option.  As always, pass-blocking ability will break ties in that role.

Who will back-up Shivers and get series as the featured back?

North Carolina transfer Josh Henderson is the most experienced in a college program, although he hasn’t played a great deal to this point.  He rushed for 209 yards on 41 attempts (5.1 average) in 23 games at UNC from 2019 to 2021.

Second-year back Trent Howland was coming off a major knee injury a year ago but now appears ready to make a splash.  His big frame could provide a nice change of pace from the smaller backs.  He could also become a short yardage option, along with walk-on Charlie Spegal, who could end up earning a scholarship if the numbers make sense.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

Craig Johnson on how he views the allocation of carries, third downs, etc.

“I think it is personnel driven. I think as far as how much for each back, that is yet to be determined. The head coach is the guy who has to sign off on everybody, then [offensive] coordinator Walt Bell and all of the assistants will have that talk.

Whoever we deem is the first guy out the first week or how much they are going to play. There are different ways you do that. Sometimes you rotate, sometimes you go by play counts. I have had all types. In the preseason, the truth is, on every single team I have been on recently, I focus on group development. I don’t worry about who is the guy who walks out first, if it is the third guy, I want to coach from the top to the bottom because I know that there is a chance, at some point, there is a guy that doesn’t walk out there as a start has to be prepared to be ready to play. That is what I’ve learned.”

Allen on Henderson during fall camp:

“I think he’s a guy that doesn’t get talked about as much, but I really have a ton of respect for his work ethic and his preparation process. He’s just smart, tough, dependable and very efficient as a running back in so many ways. In pass-pro, in running the football, has kind of a sneaky way of making people miss and getting vertical and getting positive yards. And I just like the way he moves.

I think he’s one of those guys who’s locked into what he’s doing. He’s going to be on special teams and just a guy who is very well rounded. I don’t see something he can’t do, he’s able to do a lot of things. He can catch, he can block, he can run and like you said he’s big and sturdy enough to help us on special teams.”

KEEP AN EYE ON

It is often not until an athlete is a second year removed from a major knee injury that they begin to return to form.  That appears to be the case with Howland, who struggled as a true freshman after only being cleared to play late in 2021 fall camp, after not playing at all as a high senior in 2020.

Now a year later, the Illinois product has been flashing in fall camp.

“I think in the last even week of our scrimmages and game-like situations that we create in practice, he has really separated himself,” Allen said of Howland just a week ago.

Howland averaged eight yards per carry as a high school junior at Joliet West.  While his size jumps off the page, Howland is a high-end athlete who averaged more than 10 points per game on the basketball court.  He could end up being a very nice compliment to Shivers and Lucas.

COACH SPEAK

Running backs coach Craig Johnson is entering his first season at IU, replacing Deland McCullough.  He spent 20 years in the NFL as a position coach from 2000 to 2019, guiding stars such as Saquon Barkley, Chris Johnson and Steve McNair. For more background on Johnson, GO HERE.

Here he is at 2022 fall camp:

SEE ALSO: 

IU football: Don’t confuse Shaun Shivers’ size for weakness — “He has a tremendous edge about him”

IU football: 17 year-old Jaylin Lucas is fastest player on the team, ready to see the field

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