Indiana Daily Student

IU football Media Day: Fall camp competition to determine starting running back

IU football offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan speaks during Media Day on Thursday in Bloomington. Sheridan said the team will be able to see what graduate student running back Stephen Carr can do on the field in the next two weeks.
IU football offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan speaks during Media Day on Thursday in Bloomington. Sheridan said the team will be able to see what graduate student running back Stephen Carr can do on the field in the next two weeks.

Every time the questions moved away from the running backs at IU football Media Day, it wasn’t long before someone asked head coach Tom Allen about them again.

But with a group that includes sophomore Tim Baldwin Jr., junior Sampson James and graduate student Stephen Carr, it’s easy to see why everyone – Allen included – is excited about what the run game can do.

“There's several [running backs] that have the talent and the ability to be a very good football player in this conference,” Allen said. “So how that plays itself out, I'm excited to see.”

Each back has shown flashes of potential to reach that top level – Baldwin ran for 106 yards against Maryland, the only Hoosier with a 100 yard rushing game all season; James ran for 275 yards as a freshman, including 118 against Purdue; Carr was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2017 at the University of Southern California. 

For now, the backs can only prove which one deserves to start. The first depth chart IU released had Baldwin listed first, then James and Carr. Junior David Ellis was listed fourth.

At camp, it’ll be the small things that Allen and the coaching staff evaluate to determine the order on the final depth chart.

“Now you get into fall camp, see how they handle the day-to-day when we start practicing,” Allen said. “Picking up pressures, being good in pass pro, being a complete guy. Can you catch it out of the backfield? Can you obviously make a guy miss when you got the ball in your hand? Understand the playbook. All those little things it takes.”

Although Carr has the most experience of the group with 264 carries at USC, he’ll have the most to prove at camp as the newest Hoosier running back.

Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said the next two weeks at camp will provide the coaches with a great chance to look at Carr and see what he can do. He’ll also have to learn to mesh with the team and its system.

“You talk about Stephen, seeing him out there on the grass for the first time live,” Sheridan said. “For us and our unit, getting a chance to get our hands on him and seeing him practice early in camp will be important to see what his role looks like and what are the things he does well.”

That group will also help take the load off junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. After tearing his ACL against Maryland last season on a quarterback scramble, having a rotation of strong running backs can reduce his need to leave the pocket. 

With Penix expected to be healthy and under center week one against Iowa, deciding the running back battle will be a main focus for the coaching staff during fall camp. It starts with picking the offensive line that blocks for them.

“We’ve got some new faces, some younger guys that you want to see have a great offseason,” Allen said. “I feel like they have done that and I want to see it translate to the field.”

Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said he hopes to find the five best offensive lineman to help set up the rest of the offense and the run, regardless of the level of experience the players have.

“We have a saying out here, ‘Big men lead the way,’” Sheridan said. “Those guys have embraced that.”

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