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Running Back Depth A Welcome Problem

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Wake Forest heads into the 2016 season with a lot of options at the running back position.

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best problems that Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson is having to deal with this Spring is the plethora of skill position players on the offensive side. We are all acutely aware of the quarterback "controversy" that is currently a three-horse race between John Wolford, Kendall Hinton, and Kyle Kearns, but there is also a lot of talent at the running back position as well.

Name Year Height Weight
Arkeem Byrd FR 6-1 190
Cade Carney FR 5-11 215
Isaiah Robinson JR 5-10 215
Matt Colburn SO 5-10 195
Rocky Reid RS FR 6-0 220
Trey Ndlovu RS FR 5-7 200
Tyler Bell SO 5-11 205

There are seven listed players as "tail back" or "running back" on the official roster. Dez Wortham is technically still listed as a TB as well, but has since switched to safety.

With Isaiah Robinson and Matt Colburn shelved for the Spring with injuries (Robinson broke his leg while working out this winter, and Colburn had his knee scoped) it has given Carney and Reid a chance to showcase their talents. So far both have shown that they are more than capable of shouldering the load should they be called upon.

Per Deacon Illustrated (who has done an excellent job covering Spring football), Carney ran for 70 yards and a TD on 17 carries, while Reid managed 68 yards on 23 carries in the first scrimmage on Saturday. At this juncture it appears that Reid is a "between-the-tackles" runner, while Carney has shown a good bit of ability to run inside and also get outside for longer gains.

My initial thought coming into the Spring is that Byrd and Carney would both red-shirt, but Carney has shown a lot so far, and if for some reason Colburn and Robinson are injured for the longer run, it would be interested to see what happens there.

Coach Clawson had some kind words for Rocky Reid after the second practice session of the spring, noting his increased focus and his sense of urgency:

"I think Rocky when he came in here a year ago, like a lot of freshmen, he was a little bit overwhelmed," said Clawson. "Things went a little fast for him. Then he got injured and he got a little bit frustrated with that. I think the redshirt year really helped him because he got a year in the weight room and I think it’s made him more hungry. What I’ve seen from Rocky so far is a little more of a focus and a sense of urgency because I really think he missed not playing last year and he doesn’t want to do that again this year."

Reid agreed with Clawson’s assessment. "I was overwhelmed, really," said Reid. "I want to get back on the field. I have a lot more sense of urgency now. I’m more in tune with what we’re going.

"I’ve got to watch the film but he’s seemed different these last two practices than any practice last year," continued Clawson. "He’s just playing faster because he knows what he’s doing and he’s less hesitant. He’s saying ‘I’ve got to know this stuff and I’ve got to show that I can play’. When players develop that maturity and sense of purpose, that’s a big step. This is a big spring for him."

Tyler Bell surprised a good bit last year as a freshman, leading the team with 451 yards on 129 carries. He ran for 6 yards on 5 carries in the first scrimmage.

Coach Clawson glowed about Bell and his work ethic, as well as how it has rubbed off on the rest of the running backs:

"Rocky now begins to understand," said Clawson. "There has to be people in the program that set the standard. We’ve been so young we haven’t had a lot of standard bearers. Certainly Brandon Chubb was one of the guys who set the standard. But running back is a position where for two years we haven’t had anybody in that room that set a standard. Now we have Tyler Bell setting a standard. And it is creating a sense of urgency from a Rocky Reid or a Matt Colburn and other guys. Cade Carney did some nice things today. Across the board in our program, we have to have guys that raise the standard for everybody. Tyler is doing that in that room and that is forcing everybody’s level to come up. There is nothing more that we would love than to have two or three backs that we can roll out there and feel great about all of them. Whether it is those three or Matt or Arkeem Byrd coming in, I don’t care who it is, you’d love to have three guys who can play at a really high level, that you can win with, that there is consistent competition."

Based on the comments of Coach Clawson, which are usually very pointed and honest, it is clear that he expects Rocky Reid to contribute and be one of the guys this season. He comments most frequently about Bell, Reid, and Colburn, with Carney getting a lot of chatter as well.

While Robinson is injured, the lack of comments regarding his game stands out a bit, and leads me to believe that the younger guys are likely the players that Clawson and staff are looking to contribute the most.

Regardless of who wins the starting job, I fully expect it to be a job by committee. This is done for several reasons, most notably to save guys as the year goes on and keep them from wearing down. For the first time in a few seasons I feel comfortable about the skill level of the running backs, especially with what should be a much improved offensive line.

When you have a lot of talented players at a position (especially by Wake Forest's standards), it breeds competition, which usually breeds success. During Spring ball it is very important to have things to keep you focused as the practices go on.

At this point I think the starting job will be Tyler Bell's to start the year, but Rocky Reid is hot on his trails. From the comments I feel like Coach Clawson is pushing all the right buttons for Reid, and letting him know that he can be the guy to start if he puts in the time, focus, and hard work.

As the Spring goes on we will continue to update what is going on at the running back position, as well as other positions that have battles going on (quarterback, wide receiver). Sounds like everything is going well, and there is a lot of reason for optimism heading into the fall.