The Michigan State running back situation looked quite cloudy after former starter Jeremy Langford graduated and entered the NFL.
Langford was a power player for the Spartans, being part of two consecutive New Year’s Day bowl victories and continued the stellar play of running backs before him in the Mark Dantonio era, such as Javon Ringer and Le’Veon Bell.
Preseason camp opened Aug. 8 for the green and white, and big points of emphasis surrounded the running backs and defensive backs. There are question marks in both regards, notably who will start and who has the tools to be impact players right away.
The current preseason depth chart lists sophomore Gerald Holmes in the No. 1 spot, followed by redshirt freshman Madre London.
Delton Williams, who backed up Langford for a couple years and amassed more than 500 total yards the past two seasons, is back after his legal situation involving road rage and a gun was resolved.
Freshman L.J. Scott, a 6-foot-1 freshman tailback out of Hubbard, Ohio, has been making quick gains in an attempt to not only play as a freshman but be an instant catalyst as part of the high-powered offense.
So, will this be one of those running-back-by-committee years or will a new starter emerge at some point?
Even the star quarterback doesn’t know what will transpire.
“I think they’ve been doing really well,” Connor Cook said in the Detroit Free Press. “Coming out of the spring we didn’t know who the guy was gonna be, nobody really separated themselves. And I think Gerald (Holmes) and Madre (London), no one has really separated themselves but they’re both playing equally as good. It’s gonna be a hard decision for coach (Mark Dantonio). Maybe they’re just gonna use a three-man rotation, which would probably be smart.”
One day after practice Holmes told MLive that he, London and Scott have been rotating between the first-team and second-team offenses during practice. That was before Williams returned from his suspension, however.
“Everybody’s running well, and that’s what we need,” Holmes said. “It’s a long season, anything can happen. We want to be able to find that depth at that position, so that if somebody goes down, we can fill it in.”
Spartans co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Dave Warner said the situation may be quite similar to the one the team had in 2013, when a running back did not completely stand out following the departure of Le’Veon Bell.
It wasn’t until around the fourth week that the coaching staff made a decision to make Langford the starter, Warner said, which proved to be the right choice.
Warner said he and the staff keeps telling the young backs to run north and south, as that is the way the offense is predicated to be successful. He said Holmes and London have both hit that first crease hard when they’ve had the chance, breaking tackles well while accumulating positive yards after contact.
As for Scott, he is supposedly catching up quickly after missing part of spring ball due to late enrollment.
“We’ve thrown a lot at (Scott) and he’s done very well from a mental aspect of learning the offense, more specially pass protection and things like that which are a little bit more involved from what he’s used to,” Warner said, according to foxsports.com. “He did well there, and with the ball in his hand he’s shows patience. He hangs behind his blockers, lets things happen, and then when he likes his crease, he takes it.”
Dantonio isn’t sure which running back will emerge, either, but said the competition is important because all the backs have the physical tools to excel. The question is whether someone will step up and be ‘that guy.’
And just maybe, Williams might still be the go-to guy even after his personal hardships.
“I think when you’re a young player, that’s the last thing probably to come,” Dantonio said of pass blocking. “They’ve done a good job, but they’re in progress, I think. Because, you know, it’s new. You’ve got Delton who has been actively coached for basically two years. So he’ll be back in the mix. And then you’ve got three guys that are relatively new.
“Now they have the physical tools to do it, and that’s the positive thing. It’s not can they do it, it’s can they get the right guy at the right time, at the right moment.”
What was once seen as a weakness may actually be quite a strength once the season goes on.