For all of the reputation Bobby Petrino has of producing dynamic passing offenses, the man loves to run the football. That makes running back a position of critical importance in his offenses. Last season Louisville had four different running backs rush for over 100 yards in a game and had three different backs start at least two games. With the departure of Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer to NFL training camps, much of last year's production is gone. But what returns should still excel in 2015.
Running back is a peculiar position because so much of the battle for playing time depends on anything but how well a player can run with the ball. Early in 2015, Petrino praised the explosive playmaking abilities of Corvin Lamb, but it was things like blitz pickup and selling fakes that kept him mostly relegated to kickoff return duties before ultimately going down with a season ending injury. Dominique Brown was the early season workhorse before virtually disappearing from the lineup midway through the season because of persistent issues with fumbles at the "mesh point" on read option plays. While we can look at returning players and know who runs the ball well, these other factors, many of which we don't see because they're things noticed in practice, play an enormous role in deciding playing time.
|Jeremy Smith (JC)||SO||6'2||221||205||1735||8.5||17||4||54||0||11|
|Griffin Uhl (FB)||JR||6'2||264||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
Breaking Down the Battle
So much of the offense for 2015 is up in the air. Not up in the air? Brandon Radcliff is going to be the feature back in Louisville's offense in 2015. Why? Because he does stuff like this:
At ACC Football Kickoff Petrino said it took Radcliff a while to pick up the peripheral stuff that running backs must learn in order to play. Once he did, he made the most of his chances. I doubt many outside the Louisville fan base know he was the team's leading rusher in 2014.
Still, Louisville fans know that Bobby Petrino is always going to play multiple backs. He does this to avoid wear and tear for guys that he says play "impact positions" (running backs, linebackers, and safeties). That means an increased role for LJ Scott, who carried the ball sparingly while also holding down the fullback role more often not. It also means mid-year enrollee Jeremy Smith will figure prominently. Radcliff is smaller, shiftier (see above), and faster. Scott and Smith are quite big. All three are plenty strong enough to run inside. Malin Jones looked really impressive here and there in the spring game and could easily earn a few carries as well.
The rest of the cast are questions, even if they're questions with potential. James Allen was a four-star signee with remarkable big play ability. The problem? It's July 27th and he's still not been cleared to enroll. With camp set to open August 6th, the chances of him making it and forcing his way onto the field diminish by the day. Trey Smith played receiver and running back in high school and will open camp at running back. With everyone in front of him, he's looking at being either a 3rd down receiving back or finding snaps on special teams (if he doesn't redshirt). And then there's Corvin Lamb. God love him. We've seen the screen pass TD against Syracuse and last year's kickoff return against Miami. The kid's incredibly fast but is cursed with bad injury luck. Whatever role he can play as he recovers from another knee injury, will be a bonus.
In one sense, Radcliff is going to be the breakout player to those unfamiliar. He won't be a breakout guy to Louisville fans. But of the new guys, I'm a really big fan of Jeremy Smith. If you watch his JUCO highlight video he keeps his legs churning, runs strongly between the tackles, and makes that one cut really nicely. I'm going to date myself here but he reminds me of Errict Rhett from Spurrier's earliest Florida teams. It's not hard for me to envision him and Radcliff forming a pretty strong tandem running ball inside.
Better or Worse than Last Year?
It's going to sound crazy but I personally like this group more than last year, mainly because of Radcliff coming back a and the rest having either a full year (or in Smith's case a spring of practice and summer of conditioning) in the program. If there's a concern, it's that without James Allen (again, who could still make it), there doesn't seem to be a real blazing speed guy in the group.