Want a sign that spring practice depth charts are meant to be taken with a grain of salt? Just consider the running back depth chart. Last year at this time, Venric Mark was still a wide receiver. Mike Trumpy, the presumed starter, was injured in the spring, so Treyvon Green was taking snaps with the first team. My, how things have changed. Now, Mark has secured his spot as the starter, but there's a jumbled mess behind him — granted, a jumbled mess full of talent and potential. We break it down here.
Returning starter: Venric Mark (Sr)
Others returning: Mike Trumpy (Sr), Malin Jones (RS Fr), Stephen Buckley (RS Fr.), Treyvon Green (Jr), Mike Panico (RS Fr)
Incoming recruits: Godwin Igwebuike*, Warren Long, Xavier Menifield
*Igwebuike was recruited as a safety, but played running back in high school and will have the choice of playing running back or safety once he gets to campus.
Biggest Spring Question: How will the backups share time?
The one thing we know about the running back group is that Venric Mark will be the starter once again and get the bulk of the carries. After that, it's anyone's guess as to how things play out. However, Mike Trumpy, Malin Jones and Stephen Buckley are all likely to get playing time, with Treyvon Green coming in every now and then. Trumpy, Jones and Buckley all bring something different to the table — complimentary styles that can make the dynamic NU rushing attack even more dynamic than it was last season. We'll break them down one-by-one.
Mike Trumpy: Trumpy was the starter as a sophomore before tearing his ACL early in the season. He came back last year expecting to be the starter, but was replaced by Mark, who's speedy style better fit NU's offense. Trumpy struggled to gain a clear role in the offense early in the season, but he contributed more at the end of the year. He was NU's power back, and should remain at that spot this year, since he struggled to get to the edge the way Mark could.
Malin Jones: Jones was a top recruit in the class of 2013, but he committed to NU so early in the process that he dropped off the national radar. However, he's an impressive athlete with a great combination of size and speed. Some may worry where exactly he fits in, but with that combination, he's bound to be successful in a number of different situations.
Stephen Buckley: From what it sounds like, Buckley is being groomed to fill Mark's spot in the coming years. However, he has a chance to contribute this season, as well. He was a dual-threat quarterback in high school, which gives him some conceptual knowledge of the read option and of what the quarterback is thinking. He should get considerable playing time this year, too.
So who's No. 2? Ultimately it won't matter that much, because each back will be used situationally. However, Trumpy will likely see the second-most carries and will almost definitely be listed as second-string on the depth chart. Then come Jones and Buckley. Buckley will certainly be used more in option situations, while Jones can run it up the middle and bounce it outside. However, how they'll split carries is still unknown.
The truth is, nobody — not even Pat Fitzgerald — knows how these players will split carries come the fall. They're still developing and still finding their roles in the offense. What we do know is that those three will all play a role in the running game this year. Even Treyvon Green (who could potentially even move up to No. 3) will see carries, but he's been hurt by a change in the scheme of the NU offense over the past year and has yet to prove he can be a major factor for the Wildcats' running game. But however the carries split ends up, NU will have a lot of talent and a lot of versatile options to work with.
Our best guess at the depth chart
1. Venric Mark
2. Mike Trumpy
3. Malin Jones OR Stephen Buckley
4. Treyvon Green