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Northwestern Football Unit Breakdowns: Running Back

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Projected Starters

Mike Trumpy, Junior

After leading Northwestern’s running backs as a redshirt freshman, when he totaled 530 yards and four touchdowns, Trumpy was sidelined in 2011 by a torn ACL that he suffered against Illinois on Oct. 1.

He played in just two games before his injury and led the Wildcats in rushing in the season opener against Boston College. In week two he sat out the game against Eastern Illinois due to a head injury before returning for a 34-yard performance against Army.

Trumpy sat out during spring practice, but still did some training of his own and was on schedule with his surgery. He’s expected to be the featured back for NU once again while trying to avoid injuries for the third straight year — he also suffered a season-ending wrist injury against Illinois in 2010.

After having a dismal running game in 2011, NU will welcome Trumpy’s return in hopes of finding a consistent ground game from somewhere other than its quarterbacks. Trumpy proved that he has the ability to be a solid Big Ten back, but he’s not projected to be a top running back in the conference.

It’s unclear how he will bounce back from his injury, but his return is sure to boost the NU ground game in some capacity, at least. However, his next challenge will be to make the jump from just a capable Big Ten running back to a top-tier back.

Treyvon Green, Sophomore

After Trumpy’s injury, Green stepped up to serve on a running back committee along with Jacob Schmidt and Adonis Smith. Now that Schmidt has graduated and Smith has transferred, Green will likely be the second featured back behind Trumpy.

Green rushed for 362 yards in the regular season, which was the most by an NU freshman running back since Tyrell Sutton’s 1,474-yard performance in 2005. However, it was clear the Green wasn’t ready to be a featured running back in the Big Ten.

Green had one of the best spring practices of anyone at NU this year and improved his confidence in the backfield. He looked like a different player than in the fall and was much less tentative at the line of scrimmage.

It’s tough to say whether that will translate to the playing field in September, but Green has clearly taken a step in the right direction this offseason and could form a strong committee with Trumpy.

Backups

Tyris Jones, Senior

Jones is a walk-on who has been trying to find a way into the running back rotation since switching to the position from linebacker in 2009. He has been used sparingly throughout his career, but saw a bit more playing time last year, totaling 69 rushing yards on 19 attempts.

Jones likely won’t be a major contributor to the running game in 2012, but he has a chance to fight for time as NU’s third-string back and could get some action on third downs or in short-yardage situations, due to his 6-0, 220-pound frame.

Venric Mark, Junior

Mark has spent his Northwestern career trying to find a spot to fit in on the offense, but that hasn’t been easy for the 5-8, 175-pound speedster. He will be the Cats’ featured kickoff and punt returner in 2012 after impressive performances at those spots the past two seasons.

Mark is too small to be an every-down running back, but his explosiveness and speed give him the ability to make big plays, so expect him to get some carries on reverses or outside rushes. He won’t be able to run between the tackles, but could excel in special running packages or special receiving packages in the slot.

The Others

Jordan Perkins, Redshirt Freshman — Originally a Stanford commit, Perkins was a three-star recruit in high school and redshirted his freshman year at NU. It may be hard for him to find playing time this year, but he’s talented and could contribute down the road.

Tim Hanrahan, Sophomore — Hanrahan is a walk-on who likely won’t see time at running back, but could be a special teams player. He’ll most likely be a scout team player.

The Recruits (All star ratings according to Scout)

Stephen Buckley. 6-0, 178 — two-star, Forney (TX)

Malin Jones. 6-0, 207 — three star, Joliet (IL)

Concerns

The biggest concern for NU’s running backs will be injuries, namely how well Trumpy will be able to come back and if he can stay healthy. If he comes back as strong as he played in 2010, NU should be much better off than it was in 2011.

Prognosis

It’s still too early to tell how good this unit can be. Green will almost certainly be better in 2012, as evidenced by his performance this spring, but can he and/or Trumpy have a breakout season and become elite?

NU hasn’t had a true “elite” running back since Tyrell Sutton and it will take a lot of improvement for either Trumpy of Green to reach that status. However, if they complement each other well to form a solid one-two punch, the Wildcats should have a good ground game in 2012.