by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Name: Warren Long
Position: Running back
School: James Logan High School (Union City, California)
Star rating: 3-star
Other offers: Army, Colorado, Fresno St., Oregon State
The Scouting Report:
“Miles-Long is a well-rounded back that is falling under the BCS radar. He has size, strength, and deceptive speed for a bigger back and still feel his best football is ahead of him. Well-built with a frame that can still add bulk and become more compact to enhance power and durability. Displays a decisive, downhill style that translates well to the college level.”
What he’s saying
“I definitely think we can win the Big Ten,” he said. “If the rest of the team, the recruiting class, wants it as bad as I do, we’re going to win it.”
What’s The Hype?
One year from now, Northwestern will not have the small, compact, speedy Venric Mark to hand the ball off to. Another player (s) will need to take the mantle and help patch up the massive hole he leaves behind. No individual can replicate his production – Mark is one of the most electric players in the country for a reason. Players of his size, speed and shifty athleticism don’t come around all that often. The next phase of Northwestern’s running backs will not be the same without him.
The transition at that position would be aided greatly by another burner, another quick and elusive ballcarrier to infuse Northwestern’s offense with versatility and flair. Another back just like….Warren Long. Don’t get it twisted: Long and Mark are completely different players. For starters, Long is 5-11, 185 pounds; Venric Mark is, well, not. Long is also a generally stronger and more forceful back, better equipped to ram through opposing lines and punish, rather than evade, oncoming defenders.
The tradeoff – I know, I know: the way I led on about Long, I had you thinking he’s a bigger, stronger version of Mark – is that Long isn’t quite as explosive, or as laterally quick, or (and if you’ve seen Mark play, you can identify with why this next asset is so very important) difficult to locate at the line of scrimmage. Long could grow into some of those talents, but right now, he’s something else: a promising back with plenty of time to mature.
Oh, and speaking of hype, you would be delinquent in your Northwestern fanhood to not give Long a follow on Twitter.
What About Next Year?
The “life without Mark” conversation is one worth having, just not this season. The Big Ten’s second leading all purpose yard-getter is back for one more go, and his partner in crime, Mike Trumpy, will be there alongside him to help out on third downs and ice games by withering away clocktime late in the second half. That is very good news for Northwestern’s running attack. As it relates to Long’s chances of playing this season, the returning duo that worked so well for the Wildcats in large stretches this fall will, but for unforeseen personnel developments or injuries, consume the bulk of available carries. So no, the proven backs already on board do not give Long much of a chance to stand out in 2013.
I have no doubt Long could help in specific situations, maybe even as a jolt of athletic relief for the heavily-used Mark. But to cash in a year of eligibility on special teams work and rare third-down novelties eliminates a year on the back end of Long’s career where his carries and overall offensive importance will skyrocket as the running back depth chart clears out in front of him. Long could probably add to the offense in a handful of ways this season, pitches and bubble screens and option reads chief among them. I just don’t see the point – not with everything the Wildcats have coming back at his position.
What About the Future?
If the offense maintains its option-heavy flavor in future years – and when Colter leaves, the offense could go in a number of different directions – Long could join an intriguing young crop of backs to help elevate Northwestern’s ground game to new levels of dynamism and unpredictability. Malin Jones, Stephen Buckley, Xavier Menifield and possibly Godwin Igwebuike will battle for snaps and playing time, and the collective ground effort will be better off because of it. Long will have to work to find his niche in this offense, just as the others mentioned will be challenged to hold off Long and all his favorable attributes.
In an offensive system where coordinator McCall emphasizes getting players the ball in space, Long can excel almost upon arrival – be it on scout team or the Big Ten. I am inclined to believe the former is a more plausible scenario, not that Long can’t fly up the depth chart with a strong set of preseason workouts. Position battles are always tough to predict this far into the future. Point is, Long’s first season may or may not be spent on the field. And in the end, it probably won’t matter all that much, because Long should develop into a really valuable player whether or not his eligibility timeline begins this season or the next.