The only negative thing the one can say about the running back corps on this year's Iowa State squad is the apparent lack of depth behind DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly. After seeing Shontrelle Johnson's resurgence late in a forgettable season last year one has to wonder how things would play out had Shontrelle been able to redshirt coming off his knee surgery and would be available this season.
Given Wimberly's slight stature and his injury problems in 2013 it only makes sense to have a few viable spells behind he and Nealy. Nealy hasn't been impervious to the injury bug himself, and it's not outside the realm of expectations that one or both of these men miss some extended time this season. That's why it was all the more crucial for the team to work its back ups in this past weekend's scrimmage.
|DEPTH CHART: RUNNING BACKS|
|The Rest: Martinez Syria (Fr), Mike Warren (Fr), Justin Webster (RFr)|
Aaron Wimberly is unquestionably the leader of this group. The guy with the smallest frame and the quickest legs is the best all around player in the stable and can do it all from running between the tackles to catching the ball in space.
True to his meat grinder ways, Courtney Messingham took the best skill of Wimberly's (speed) and negated it by running him between the tackles seemingly every time he touched the ball. New coordinator Mark Mangino promised to get Wimberly into space more and accounts out of camp have him frequently catching the ball out of the back field and taking pitches from the quarterback.
Word of a two back set being employed by Mangino is eliciting thoughts of some triple option looks and the motion sets employed by great spread teams like Oregon and Ohio State that stress the defense laterally. Nealy is a stronger runner inside than Wimberly, and if the latter becomes a threat on the outside, then the running lanes are going to open for Nealy anytime that he and Wimberly are in the game and Wimberly flexes out.
The X Factor
It's easy to pick Nealy here, but the real X factor is going to be the presence of a third running back who can take the load off the top two. Rob Standard is currently listed as third on the depth chart, and has bulked up to 210 pounds in hopes of becoming the team's featured short yardage back. The obvious concern about this is the 30 pound difference between he and Jeff Woody, but if Standard can be bullish with his running style and the line can open a big enough crease then he can be effective in his role.
Tyler Brown checks in at fourth on the depth chart and has drawn early comparisons to Alexander Robinson. Those are figuratively big shoes to fill but if Brown can bring a mix similar to A-Rob's to the field then he might find himself just enough playing time to keep Wimberly and Nealy fresh.
The New Guys
Martinez Syria and Mike Warren come in as true freshmen and have already earned the nicknames Thunder and Lightning, respectively. Syria is a bruiser in between the tackles and already weighs in at 205 pounds as a true freshman. His frame should allow him to pack on more and he'll be the short yardage back of the future after a redshirt season.
Mike Warren could very well threaten for playing time this year if his speed is as electrifying as everyone says. At this point he's still destined for a redshirt, but an early season injury to one of the top two could change the coaching staff's intentions. No matter what happens in 2014 expect Warren to be a feature starting next season.
The Key to Success
Staying healthy is going to be the key to this group's success this year. All through Rhoads' tenure the running backs have had dings that have kept them out of games. Expect no different this year. Playing running back in a Power 5 conference is nothing to sneeze at and the relatively slight frames of Wimberly and Nealy are going to take a pounding this season. Rotating touches for the two men, and having an effective short passing game, will help keep them fresh and fit late into the season.
Some things are given in a football season and one of them is the fact injuries will happen. Finding that 3rd back that can be effective isn't only key to the health of everyone else, but also in moving the ball and keeping the balanced offense that Mangino seeks.