Inexperienced running backs look to prove people wrong


Ryan Young/Iowa State Daily

Redshirt sophomore running back Tyler Brown breaks free during a drill on the first day of spring practice back in March. Brown is currently the most experienced running back on the team with 24 career carries.

Ryan Young

Last season, ISU football and its run game didn’t quite make it up to standard.

The Cyclones rushed for a season total 1,489 yards, about half as much as their opponents last year. In fact, they averaged less than four yards per rushing attempt.

This season, though, it’s essentially an entirely new group in the backfield. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Brown is the only running back on the team with experience, but he only has 24 total carries under his belt.

With so little experience at his disposal, running back coach Louis Ayeni already knows that the running backs have a lot to prove.

“Everybody’s told them you can’t, won’t, never will be right now, so they’ve got something on their shoulder,” Ayeni said. “This group as a unit has something to prove, and every single day we have to show that we can live up to the expectations of a big 12 running back.”

The doubt surrounding the position hasn’t hindered the position group’s mindset, though. In fact, it seems to have given them a little extra motivation.

“They say we’re young and inexperienced and all that, but really I think we have the talent,” said redshirt freshman Mike Warren. “Nobody knows what we can do yet, but we just have to show it to them and prove that we work hard and we’ve come a long way.”

Both ISU head coach Paul Rhoads and several players have talked about improving communication between position groups as a main focus of fall camp. The running backs are no exception.

Ayeni said that his guys have been interacting a lot more with the offensive line, whether it’s on the field, in the film room or outside of the game.

“All great running games, just like a great marriage, they’ve got great communication,” Ayeni said. “When you marry those two together, we’ve got to have great communication, we’ve got to be together, we have to do a lot of things together. I think as we do that and as we gel, we’ll only get better.”

The players say they can see a difference, too. Brown said that they are working not only for themselves, but to make it easier on the offensive line as well, something that he hopes will improve the run game drastically.

“It definitely helps us to get on the same page right now,” Brown said. “We’re telling them what we need and want done, and were also trying to transition into what they want done.”

Ayeni said that both Brown and Warren have been taking similar reps at practice, with neither really taking a lead on the depth chart. He said he plans for both of them to see the field on game day, and needs them to each have a ‘starters-mentality.’

Freshman Joshua Thomas is starting to impress coaches, too. Coming from Buford, Georgia, a suburb northeast of Atlanta, Thomas was a three-star recruit out of high school.

And while coaches see potential out of Thomas, they say he isn’t quite there yet.

“Joshua Thomas is one that still needs to learn, and that’s okay because he’s a true freshman,” Rhoads said. “Not every one of them will step on campus and have that kind of fifth year or third year work ethic mentality. He comes from a great high school program and [is a] four time state champion, but this level is always different.”

But whether it’s Brown, Warren or even Thomas in the backfield for that first game at Jack Trice Stadium on Sept. 5, Ayeni said it doesn’t matter. He is just focused on consistent improvement.

“Every single day, we’re trying to get those guys to just be consistent, just keep working hard, get a little bit better every day,” Ayeni said. “And when it’s all said and done, come September 5th and throughout the season, you guys will be happy with the product.”