Running backs step up their game

Matt Gubbels

ISU football coach Gene Chizik wants his running backs, like the rest of his team, to become more physical during spring practice.

They seem to have gotten the message.

“I see a definitive difference between a year ago and now in terms of the running backs understanding what we mean when we say to ‘hit the hole,’ and being able, when they break the line of scrimmage, to make people miss – which I didn’t think last year we did a very good job of a lot of the time,” Chizik said.

“The first two padded days have been very physical, and that has been kind of the theme of our camp and will be for our whole 15-day span.”

Sophomore Alexander Robinson said there are many ways the players are trying improve that aspect of their game.

“Running downhill is definitely one of the things the coaches have stressed this spring,” Robinson said. “Finishing our runs falling forward, squaring up and trying to take half a man and run through them.”

Robinson is one of three Cyclone running backs who started at least three games last season.

Robinson led the team with 465 yards, six touchdowns and the season high in yards, 149 in the Cyclones’ game at Missouri. Battling Robinson for carries in the backfield will be returning seniors J.J. Bass and Jason Scales. Bass rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns, and Scales rushed for 333 yards and three touchdowns.

Chizik said spring practice has been much smoother this season than last because the coaches have not had to reteach aspects of the game to their players.

“We’re saying ‘this is what you weren’t good at, this is what you were good at, and here is where you need to improve,'” Chizik said. “That really goes along with us trying to get a more consistent football team.”

Robinson may have a leg up in the running back competition because of the way he played the stretch with 100-yard games against Missouri and Colorado, but transfer Bo Williams could also figure into the equation after coming to Iowa State from the University of Florida.

Robinson said having other players to compete with is pushing all of the running backs to get better.

“Each person is making strides every day,” Robinson said. “So if you want to keep up and earn playing time, you have to keep getting better and keep making strides every day.”

Chizik said he has been really impressed with the increasing competition between the players, which is enhancing the outlook for the upcoming season.

“There is a great sense of urgency in the running back room because I think the competition has been cranked up,” Chizik said. “Everybody knows it, and it’s really a good thing to see.”

Having multiple players at a position also allows coaches to put players in to run different plays that fit each running back’s strengths. Cyclone fans saw that last season and could see it even more this year with Williams coming in.

Even though Chizik said the decision of who to start against South Dakota State on Aug. 31 would not be made until the fall, Robinson said the game experience the players gained last season is very vital.

“Game experience is one thing you can’t really replace at the college football level,” Robinson said. “The more you are out there, the more comfortable you get, and it really helps you out.”