With spring football set to begin a week from today, take a short break from your bracket and enjoy a daily position by position look at the Louisville football team. We'll begin with the running backs.
Much like the situation at quarterback, three different guys carried the load for Louisville at running back in 2014. Unlike the quarterback spot, when called upon, all three were productive. Now two of the team's three leading rushers are gone from last year's 9-4 team, but between returning players LJ Scott and Brandon Radcliff and January signee Jeremy Smith, Louisville should still expect solid production at running back. A necessity in Petrino's offense.
Running back was handled almost like a relay race in 2014. Early, Dominique Brown carried the load. Then, he gave way primarily to Michael Dyer in the middle of the season. Dyer and Brandon Radcliff then took over entirely down the stretch. Radcliff made the most of his chance to play and enters spring as the clear starter at tailback. The only question is how the other returning players and newcomers are worked in to supplement him and his carries.
LJ Scott enrolled early in 2014 and looked every bit the part at tailback, even getting some carries early in the season. But with Radcliff and Dyer playing so well, Scott found himself getting snaps almost entirely at fullback. With the logjam at the position gone, he'll work his way back into the rotation at tailback in the spring as the bruiser while still probably seeing time at fullback because he's both a good receiver and blocker.
The spring wild card will be junior college signee Jeremy Smith. Smith came out of nowhere to suddenly get looks from Notre Dame and Alabama and ultimately an offer that he accepted to sign with Louisville. His highlight video is fascinating because he's a one-cut runner that doesn't have great speed, but he seems to always been running away from defenders. In his video he also is clearly not in the best physical shape (something Petrino has already remarked in press conferences that has already improved). With his combination of size and vision it's not hard to envision a scenario where as he learns the offense and shows progress in the peripheral running back jobs like blocking and receiving, he moves right up behind Radcliff by spring's end. I know it's a dated reference that not everyone will get but when I watch Smith run, I see former Florida running back Errict Rhett.
Northwestern transfer Malin Jones, who sat out 2014 in his transfer year, will also be a factor but he played sparingly at Northwestern and we'll have to see how he performs in early practices before assessing how he figures in to the picture.
Two other factors to consider at tailback not for spring, but for fall. One, Corvin Lamb might very well give it another shot on his injured knee and it would be great to have him as a receiver and change of pace guy. He's been cursed with injuries but has always seemed to make the most of the playing time he does get. The other is signees James Allen and Traveon Samuel. Now, Samuel is going to almost exclusively be a slot receiver and that's where his future is because of his size, but if you watch his video he's quite comfortable carrying the ball as well and Petrino will look for opportune moments to use him and his speed that way. Allen is as good looking of a running back prospect as Louisville has signed in quite some time. He is a real home run threat. With Radcliff, Scott, and Smith all being bigger guys that aren't quite burners, Allen will have a chance in the fall to claw his way onto the field to be the breakaway guy (assuming he qualifies, which was rumored to be something we'll all have to sweat between now and fall).