There is a semblance of separation at the running back position for Kansas State. The line of demarcation is experience.
“The separation is the older guys versus the young guys,” K-State running backs coach Brian Anderson said in a post-practice interview Tuesday. “They have been here and they know what we are doing offensively, so that is the separation right now.”
That probably means if the season started tomorrow, it likely would see seniors (and graduate transfers) Jordon Brown and James Gilbert splitting a majority of the reps. Brown, a transfer from North Carolina, often was used in the passing game as a Tar Heel. In 2017, when he started all 12 games, Brown had the second most catches on the team, hauling in 29 passes for 237 yards. He caught 16 more passes for 90 yards in 2018, but only started once in 11 games.
Anderson stressed the importance of catching passes out of the backfield.
“The more we can do offensively with those guys, playing in the slot or out as a wide receiver, the better we are going to be as a football team,” Anderson said. “It’s a big part of it. When they can get out from the line of scrimmage after a protection assignment and the quarterback can get them the ball for a check down, that is big.”
That being said, Anderson doesn’t expect one tailback to carry the load. Overall, he said, he’s been happy with what the freshmen have shown him, naming Joe Ervin, Clyde Price and Thomas Grayson. They bring different skill sets to the table: Ervin with speed, Price with strength as a bigger back and Grayson as a “slasher”.
“I think we are going to be by-committee right now because they all have good skill sets and we can do a lot of different things with them,” Anderson said. “So I’m not worried about who is going to be the starter Game 1 or who is going to be the starter Game 3. We just have to continue to get better as a whole group and continue to push their minds. That’s the biggest key right now is making sure (their) football I.Q. is good, so that way we can use them in multiple spots.”
The Wildcats’ other offensive coaches feel confident in the run game, too. Offensive line coach Conor Riley said he feels better about where his own freshmen are at because of the seasoned running backs they will work with this fall.
“I think there are a couple guys who are pretty eclectic in that group, and it’s exciting,” Riley said. “I’ve been telling my guys, ‘Just give them a crease. Give them a bigger phone booth to play in. There is going to be that safety in the field, there is going to be that extra hat down there and give him as much space as possible.’”
Anderson insisted the success of the run game isn’t just about blocking though; it’s about execution. He said the lineman know their job, and his running backs know theirs. And they know how to press the line of scrimmage.
Ultimately, when it comes down to who will carry the ball or assist the quarterback with a block or check-down pass, Anderson said it’ll be up to how they are coached.
“You just have to use their skill set,” Anderson said. “Some guys are better in the slot maybe and other guys running routes. Whatever they do best for the football team, that’s how you use them.”