Jones, Robinson, Leverett and Jones may sound like a law firm, when in reality it’s the stable of running backs Bill Snyder could conceivably march out this Saturday night for Kansas State’s season opener against Stephen F. Austin.
Sophomore Charles Jones is expected to get the first shot at keeping the top spot on the depth chart that was released Tuesday. But one thing is clear — the position owned by John Hubert the last three seasons is anything but locked up.
“He’s at the top of the list, but he may not be alone at the top of the list,” Snyder said this week. “It’s important for our backs to be versatile, to be able to handle all aspects of the game — obviously be able to run the ball well and with some explosiveness, to be able to block well and be active in the passing game as a receiver. (Jones) has made improvement in all three of those areas.”
If Jones is No. 1, then senior DeMarcus Robinson could very well be No. 1B, followed by sophomore Jarvis Leverett and redshirt-freshman Judah Jones, who also splits time at receiver.
“I guess I proved that I was the most versatile back,” Jones said Tuesday. “It was a hard fight through camp and I still think DeMarcus and I are going to get a lot of carries and Jarvis with some carries also. Even though they said I was the starter, we still have a strong three running backs.”
Whoever carries the ball, it’s going to be vital for No. 20 K-State to have a strong ground game this season to balance an offensive air attack led by quarterback Jake Waters and All-American receiver Tyler Lockett.
“We need to be balanced in both the running and passing games,” fullback Glenn Gronkowski said. “The running game opens up the passing game, so we have to start off with a good running game right away.”
Snyder has always preferred to have one guy handle the bulk of the running back duties. That perhaps is true still, but with so much uncertainty and inexperience at the position right now, he may not have such a luxury.
Of the four running backs expected to earn carries, only Robinson has ever seen action in a college football game, but even that has been limited to just 11 carries for 45 yards in three years. How the carries are split up — at least early on — is still unknown.
“Now, we’re not going to rotate four guys in there, I can assure you of that,” Snyder said. “We’re not going to rotate three guys in there. But we might have pause and reason to utilize two guys. Is it better that way? Could be. But my preference would be to have one.”
Even though Jones’ number may be called first Saturday night, he knows the competition is far from over and there are three other guys waiting for their shot as well.
“It’s made it so we can’t be complacent — everyday in practice we have to come in and work,” Jones said. “We didn’t take it lightly, we hit it hard. It was a hard-fought battle.”
While Jones, Leverett and Robinson are expected to handle the majority of the carries, the intriguing piece to the Wildcats’ potential ground attack is Judah Jones and the versatility he could bring to the position. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Jones is on the depth chart behind Lockett at receiver, but has also taken snaps out of the backfield — he had six carries in the spring game last April. His emergence could be one of the reasons why Snyder said this week true-freshman Dalvin Warmack is now expected to redshirt.
“His role will be whatever we decide for him to do, but right now, he’ll do both,” Snyder said of Judah. “He’s a young pup, it’s not too much to ask of him. He obviously has some talent or we wouldn’t be doing that.
“His retention level right now is good, which allows him to manage playing two different positions.”