If the Defensive Line looks like it might be the best and most experienced of all of the squads on the 2018 Hokies, the Running Back roster might be the most undisturbed. If you will notice there are no subtractions from the list of 2017 RBs, who finished the season. We also have one addition, and Cole Beck is unlikely to be in the backfield for long (Just a hunch, but we’ll see how it goes this season.)
Look, no one can claim that Justin Fuente has been a running powerhouse developer -either backs or offensive configurations using backs. No one on this list can be advertised as a “feature back”. As lamented before, our last Running Back with that label was David Wilson. There have been a few tries since David left, but no one has been recruited as a feature back and certainly no one has actually bubbled up as one, either.
This season, the running game is unlikely to be a big yardage gainer for any one particular back. Since 2012-2017 were pretty much the same, we all should be used to it by now. There are some different reasons in play. Steiny and Lefty both had “other offensive issues” to deal with. Steiny was plagued by his poor game planning and its effect on recruiting quality. Lefty was dragged down by the reality that he just never really fit in and had any sort of talent to execute the type of game that he wanted to execute. Since we never saw it, I guess we’ll have to check out BC this season because he’s still there.
Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen’s offense developed around a huge quarterback who ended up being the primary running back. In looking at available Fuente coached Memphis games I noted the very secondary nature of the RB lining up with Paxton Lynch. The running back was a blocker, a short release last check down receiver, and a change of pace runner. Lynch dominated the RPO packages.
Fuente’s Hokie 2016 debut featured Jerod Evans and that really picked up right where the Coach left off with Lynch. Evans was tonic, was a crippling runner, and had reasonable passing skills. (Nothing Drew Brees accurate mind you, but he could fire the ball downfield if needed.) That lead to a pretty smooth first season implementation of the Fuente offense, and further buried the Running Back roster into semi-relevance. So much so that Fullback/Swiss Army Knife, Sam Rogers, became the feature back that season. Sam will move into history as a first rate Hokie (maybe even a candidate for the Hokie Hall of Fame) but it would be for his scrappy nature, leadership, and triple threat usefulness as a blocker, running back, and receiver.
Were we are a few weeks from the start of Fall practice (August 5) the Running Back situation is not one step better than we were last season. That’s going to be a serious issue. Even though the modern iteration of football and in particular Fuente’s offense is pass-heavy; the run still counts to provide balance and unpredictability. The run must work to make the Run/Pass Option work.
We’ll visit the Quarterback issue(s) in a future article; but suffice it to say Josh Jackson’s inability to convince anyone that he is a serious run threat is probably the reason why the RPO just doesn’t seem to work with him at the wheel. Fixing that issue will be critical to getting the offense working, and that might just be reconsidering the prior seasons’ stripped down spread out role of the running back in the grander Fuente scheme of things.
Hokie 2018 Running Back Roster
|1||Deshawn McClease||1||RB||5' 9"||190||rJr||1|
|13||Jalen Holston||1||RB||5' 11"||217||So||1|
|32||Steven Peoples||3||RB||5' 9"||221||Sr||1|
|16||Coleman Fox||1||RB||5' 11"||187||rJr||2|
|24||Terius Wheatley||-||RB||6' 0"||193||rFr||2 (ST)|
|31||Cole Beck||RB||6' 1"||192||Fr.||3 (ST)|
|30||Caleb Steward||-||RB||5' 11"||209||Fr||R|
The current roster contains three backs generally accepted as number 1s in the depth chart; Deshawn McClease, Jalen Holston, and Steven Peoples. Coleman Fox and Terius Wheatly are the capable number 2’s, but things might change a bit on the upward pressure side. Caleb Steward made the Spring Roster, and got some serious practice time with the team.
Deshawn McClease keeps getting more positive energy emitted from the source base. I am not so sure that he’s an every down back. He does, however, offer an excellent cutback/counter option from the inside, and gets to the outside and around the end pretty quickly on various sweeps, pitches, and slants. His best yardage gain opportunities remain off-tackle so that will limit him.
Jalen Holston and Steven Peoples are both in the 5’10” 220 pound range give or take an inch. Neither is a barn burner but both can get the ball through creases up the middle. It’s really difficult to see who will get more time on the field. Who gets to run the rock will be determined by what offensive package is being executed; nothing more complex than that.
Currently I am thinking, for the no. 1s, that we’ll see something similar to last season. McClease will probably start off as the single Halfback in the Pistol, with Dalton Keene doing the H-Back/Lead Blocker role. At some point Holston will be swapped out to fill in the Halfback. Steven Peoples, even though he’s listed as a “running back” will probably get more of the “RPO” action and a good bit of the power run assignment when called for.
We shouldn’t dismiss the rest of the list so quickly. There is talent there, and the No. 2s will have important roles to fulfill. I still see Coleman Fox doing important work, but mostly as the 3rd and 4th quarter “Garbage Time” producer. Of course Wheatly is likely to see some of those assignments as well.
Cole Beck offers something that none of the prior backs really do with the exception of, maybe, McClease... SPEED. Beck runs a 10.43 100 meter (not yard... meter) and holds a few track records for indoor and outdoor track within Blacksburg High School’s division in the Virginia High School League.
We’ll have to see how Caleb Steward works up the depth chart in the practice period before the season. As a Freshman, with the new rules in place for being able to play 4 games and still be redshirted, so he might get early season Garbage Time work and then be pulled to save him for 2019 and beyond. The same might go for Cole Beck, except that Beck’s potential as a punt returner and down field receiver cannot be denied.
This is it, however. That’s seven players on the roster at RB, and I don’t see an immediate redshirt going for any of them.
Something in my scalp itches and the hairs go up on the back of my neck when I contemplate a healthy experienced Cole Beck combined with Quincy Patterson calling the signals. With his talents known and the potential need for wide outs to flip to Defense, we could well see Beck’s RB switch to WR in future seasons. I admit that this is just speculation on my part; but that’s what makes this job fun.
What this all means is that we are likely to see another season of running back by committee with the offense trying to figure out how to create some viable balance between the run and the pass. It would make me feel better if Fuente moved Dalton Keene and Chris Cunningham up to a traditional Tight End position and actually used them as a Tight Ends (not at one time, of course - this isn’t Canada) to move the ball downfield. That would free him up to relieve JJ from the duties of being a running QB, and have a two back combination offer the chance to operate a variation of the RPO. Something tells me that everyone on the RB roster is a much better Running Back than young Mr. Jackson. The old Paxton Lynch/Jerod Evans offensive playbook should be put on a shelf until Quincy Patterson is ready to take the snaps in 2019 or 2020. Just my humble opinion, nobody pays me to coach football.
Let’s see what you think:
What is the RB Depth chart for 2018? (If you have your own ideas, tell us in the comments.)
This poll is closed
McClease, Holston, Peoples, Fox
Peoples, McClease, Holston, Fox
Holston, McClease, Peoples, Fox
Holston, Peoples, McClease, Fox
The Running Back situation hasn’t changed, and looking for it to be different this season is just going to result in disappointment. No Power running game will happen. There will be no 4 yards and a cloud of dust to burn off big time on the clock. The running game is just too inefficient for the modern game. It doesn’t score enough points fast enough. It does provide critical balance, and no one can argue over a team that needs less than 2 yards that can will the ball across the line to gain or the goal line. It’s just that the running game isn’t the premier way to do things in the second decade of the 21st Century.