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Who Will Fill the Backup Running Back Spot for OSU this season?

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We know Justice Hill will get a majority of the reps, but who will be his backup? Will it be one or a committee?

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

RB1 = Justice Hill.

Everyone who paid any attention to Oklahoma State’s 2016 season knows that. But, what we don’t know yet is who will fill in for Hill when he needs a breather, or when Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich is looking for a change of pace.

Fall camp is in full swing and the Cowboys are still looking for that number two (and three) guy behind Hill.

The Cowboys have a lot of new faces in the backfield after the departure of Barry Sanders Jr., Chris Carson and Rennie Childs. And not only are the players new, but with the departure of world-class recruiter and running backs coach Marcus Arroyo, the Cowboys also have a new face on the sideline taking over in John Wozniak.

Now you may be wondering just how big of an impact the backup running back(s) have on the OSU offense. Let’s look below at the stats back to 2008 for the second leading rusher (non-QB) for Oklahoma State:

And not only has OSU had contributions from a second rusher, but usually there’s a third guy making an impact. See the stats below for the third leading running back for the Cowboys back to 2008:

Now, as I mentioned, a few of those years included Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Zac Robinson who are pretty capable ball carriers themselves, and this added some additional options to the Cowboy rushing attack. In the 2017 season, the Cowboys will not have that added element. I’m not saying Mason Rudolph runs like Shawn Bradley after he gets his powers taken in Space Jam

But, he also doesn’t have the wheels that those three had lining up under center. Now it isn’t a bad thing that Mason isn’t a dual threat but it does mean the Cowboys will need a strong supporting cast behind Justice Hill to balance out their offensive attack. So, who will this be?

See below for everyone listed at running back on the current Oklahoma State roster excluding Hill:

  • Chuba Hubbard, Fr.
  • J.D. King, Fr.
  • Ja’Ron Wilson, R-Fr.
  • Jeff Carr, Jr.
  • LD Brown, R-Fr.

As you can see this is an extremely young group. Jeff Carr is the only running back listed on the roster that has even carried the ball in an Oklahoma State uniform. However, there is a lot of hype around these young guys, so let’s take a look at who is most likely to see the field when Hill is on the sideline.

Chuba Hubbard is a 6’1, 190lb running back who hails from Canada. Hubbard is a flat-out speedster who doesn’t only display his talents on the football field, but showcases his speed on the track as well. Hubbard is the type of running back who could not only fill in when Hill is off the field, but compliment him in two running back sets. He could also become a huge factor in the passing game. Specifically, the swing pass.

I know people got sick of the swing pass at times, but on more than a few occasions, Joseph Randle would gain some big yardage off this play.

I think Hill could be a great change of pace guy in the backfield, and his speed opens up options in the passing game as well. There may be some growing pains, but I also expect some fireworks.

Speaking of speed, another potential candidate for the backup running back role is 5’8 bottle-of-lightning LD Brown. Brown is a redshirt freshman, so he’s had a year to become familiar with the offense and to get acquainted with strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass. Brown has added some weight to his short, but strong, frame and he’s listed in the media guide at 193lbs. That year of work in the program seems to be paying off. Coach Gundy praised his improvement at his Media Day presser last week; however, he did note some ball security issues in practice. His speed and the praise from OSU’s head man make me think that he will definitely see the field this season, but if he doesn’t shore up those ball security issues, he could be back on the sideline again pretty quickly. Also, you know who else was only about 5’7-5’8? A guy named Kendall Hunter, who is No. 4 in rushing yards all-time at Oklahoma State. Just sayin’…

Here’s LD talking about fall camp and the backup running back position:

Along with Brown, there’s another redshirt freshman turning some heads at fall camp. His name is Ja’Ron Wilson. Gundy has mentioned Wilson’s name in a positive manner at both Big 12 Media Days and OSU Media Day this past weekend. He’s also another guy who’s taken advantage of “Body by Glass” and is currently the heaviest tailback on the roster. Wilson, a preferred walk-on, is similar in size to Chris Carson, and if he’s not the “official” number two on the depth chart, he could fill the role of goal line/short-yardage back. But don’t let all that added muscle fool you… he’s got some moves:

I expect Brown to get some reps early to allow him to prove to the coaches he should be a constant lining in backfield with Rudolph.

Now we are down to two. First, Jeff Carr. This will be Carr’s third season as a Cowboy. In his first two, he racked up 227 rushing yards and two touchdowns, along with 28 receiving yards and two more touchdowns. We have all seen that Gundy likes to use Carr in certain spots, so I expect him to see the field, but I don’t expect him to be the Robin to Hill’s Batman. Gundy told the Tulsa World, “…Jeff Carr is still there; he’s better than he was. There’ll be a small role for him at times.”. That pretty much guarantees that Carr will not end the year with the second most attempts next to Hill. In my opinion, I like what I’ve seen from Carr at times, and he’s certainly a talented athlete, but he doesn’t get me as excited as these other backs. Now, that is probably because he is really the only known commodity as no one else has any reps in OSU orange, but still, I’d like to see one of these other guys get a shot.

And finally, that brings us to the true freshman JD King. I haven’t seen as much buzz around King as I have with Brown and Hubbard as of late, but he was highly touted recruit. In addition, he was a high school weightlifting champion, which is always a plus. He’s listed at 5’11, 205, and I have a feeling that after a couple of years at OSU he will be a large man. As you can see, he is a very powerful runner.

He could be a huge asset for the Cowboys this season and in the future. We’ve seen recently what true freshmen can do in a Mason Rudolph-led offense (see Hill, Justice), however, five running backs behind Hill is a lot, and I think King may get redshirted. It comes down to him or Hubbard, and I think Hubbard’s versatility makes him more likely to see action as a true freshman.

Now that we’ve covered everyone, you can see that there is a lot of “potential” talent and one known commodity. The unknown is both exciting and frightening at the same time. And, I think the coaches feel the same way. I don’t think we will have a clear-cut backup going into game one at home against Tulsa. Expect to see the word “or” once or twice (or three or four times) when the season opener’s depth chart is released. That being said, I don’t think that’s a huge issue. The Cowboys should be able to handle their early season slate without a definite backup to Hill, but hopefully during that time someone steps up and demands more reps. Then we will have a space to fill for RB2 next to RB1.