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Spring Position Group Review: Running Backs

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How did the running backs grade out in spring practice?

Justin Jackson headlines a strong triumvirate of running backs
Justin Jackson headlines a strong triumvirate of running backs
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Spring practice has now finished up for Northwestern and over the past couple of months we've been able to learn about how each position group is shaping up for the fall. Following the "spring game" we will be posting group reviews detailing "The Good," "The Bad" and "The Biggest Question" facing each group. We continue with the running backs.

THE GOOD

Probably the biggest positive from this group wasn’t shown on the field, but rather spoken by one player. Justin Jackson appears to be okay despite missing both practices, and one has to hope he’ll be fully healthy come August. Jackson even said he could have participated in the second open practice, but given the low circumstances, it was wise to keep him on the sidelines.

Other than that, Warren Long showed some burst, breaking off the longest play of the April 11 practice. Auston Anderson will also be in line for some snaps behind Jackson, as the speedster had a good showing in the first open practice. With Solomon Vault likely playing as a slot receiver, it appears as if Jackson, Long and Anderson will form a three-headed attack, and each provides a unique skill set.

THE BAD

Nothing necessarily stood out as bad from this group. Obviously a fully healthy Justin Jackson would be nice, but for the most part Long and Anderson were solid in his absence. Long did have one goal-line opportunity, but he got cut down short of the endzone-- Zack Oliver threw for a score on the next play. Anderson had one fumble, but in general, ball security was solid.

There weren’t a lot of flashy plays from this group, and there were some minor lapses in pass blocking, but in general, the only negative takeaway is the absence of Jackson.

THE BIG QUESTION

Who steps up in pass catching and blocking?

Last year, Treyvon Green provided a steady pair of hands and solid if unspectacular pass blocking. Justin Jackson is coming off a 22-catch freshman year, but Northwestern coaches will likely look to reduce his workload this year. How will Long and Anderson hold up in the passing game? Long is a bruiser who’s big enough to pick up blitzes, but how are his hands? Anderson is certainly quick enough to turn swing passes into big plays, but can he read defenses and pick up blitz blocking assignments?

Northwestern’s offensive line is no sure thing, and the same goes for the quarterback position, so having a running back that is adept in the passing game will be key.