Fall Camp '14: Running Backs Preview
Aug. 15, 2014
It's no secret that the Gophers like to run the football. They rushed for 2,538 yards (37th in the nation) last season and scampered for 23 touchdowns on the ground. Minnesota's rushing attempts outnumbered passing attempts by more than 300. Head coach Jerry Kill's team will strive to improve its aerial attack in 2014, but the running game will remain at the core of the Gophers' identity.
David Cobb leads a trio of experienced running backs. Cobb started the last six games of 2013, and Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. both started games last season as well. Cobb holds the No. 1 spot right now, but the other two continue to compete for carries.
Cobb only ran the ball 11 times before his breakout junior year. He was not in the two-deeps during fall camp, but went on to rush 237 times for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns. He tallied six 100-yard rushing games and was the first Gopher to rush for more than 1,000 yards since 2006. The team's 2013 offensive MVP, Cobb was 262 yards away from the Gophers' season rushing record, during a season in which he did not start until the eighth game. He will aim even higher going in as the No. 1 back this year.
Before Cobb, Kirkwood was the most recent Gopher to reach 900 rushing yards. He racked up 926 yards in 2012 and started the first game of the 2013 season. Kirkwood suffered an ankle injury in the season opener against UNLV and saw limited action the rest of the season. He is feeling healthy and ready for his senior year after an offseason surgery.
Williams started the six games following Kirkwood's injury. He racked up a career-high 148 yards at New Mexico State, and did not have a negative rush during his sophomore season. At 5-foot-11, 247 pounds, Williams is the Gophers' biggest running back. In the past he tried to "just run everybody over," but he has said during camp that he is a more patient runner now than he was in his first two years.
Senior Cole Banham is the Gophers' other returner with game experience. He played in two games last season.
One name that has generated interest since his arrival is Berkley Edwards. The redshirt freshman will make his collegiate debut this fall after being injured early last fall and redshirting his true freshman season. Edwards, a Michigan sprinting champion in high school, is one of the fastest players on the team. He expects catching passes to be one of his major roles this season.
Rodney Smith, Josh Parks and Jeff Jones are newcomers in Minnesota's stable of running backs. Smith and Parks have both been suited up during fall camp. Smith, a Georgia native, rushed for 2,201 yards as a senior in high school. Parks rushed for 1,202 yards last year for Chisago Lakes. Jones, another Minnesota native, was rated as the top recruit in the state and was named the MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game.
While the Gophers have a marquee running back in David Cobb, those below him on the depth chart will be ready to step up if needed. Minnesota's depth and experience at the position will keep the "ground and pound" style of play going strong in 2014.