Bison trying to find ways to get their deep stable of running backs the ball
FARGO — It’s a fact in football that only one ball is allowed on the field during a game. It’s a fact North Dakota State returns a wealth of experienced running backs uncommon for most Division I FCS programs.
Bruce Anderson. Lance Dunn. Ty Brooks. Seth Wilson. Adam Cofield. Demaris Purifoy. They all have at least 25 career carries with the seniors Anderson and Dunn having the most with 362 and 354 respectively. Are there enough footballs to go around?
“Truly there probably aren’t,” said Bison offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. “We’re only five practices in but they really understand the system. They work hard, but it’s going to be hard to find enough reps for everybody.”
One solution could be with the passing game. Specifically, using the running backs as receivers and the likely candidates are Anderson, Brooks and Wilson. Anderson had eight receptions last year and Brooks and Wilson showed promise in the limited targets that they had.
Wilson had two touchdowns in his six receptions and Brooks took a 27-yard reception for a touchdown.
“We’re all explosive so it should be fun when we all get on the field together,” Brooks said. “It’s more opportunities to get the ball in my hands. I feel like I’m dangerous when I get the ball in my hands and it doesn’t matter where it comes from.”
Brooks hurt his shoulder in the FCS semifinal win over Sam Houston State and missed the title game against James Madison. He was cleared to play a week before the spring game, but sat it out anyway. He’s fully healthy.
Wilson had his redshirt pulled eight games into the season when injuries started to cut into the backfield. Only Anderson made it through every game. It took a bit, but Wilson started to show what he could do averaging almost 7 yards per carry against South Dakota in the last regular season home game.
Wilson caught a touchdown pass in the quarterfinal win over Wofford and really asserted himself with 194 yards rushing against Sam Houston.
Messingham said he doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on Wilson being a receiver, saying he wants him to fully learn the tailback position first.
“But we talk as an offensive staff and it’s hard to have, say Seth as an example, him sitting on the sideline and you feel like, wait a minute, he could be that skill guy as a receiver,” Messingham said. “We’re going to have to figure out personnel-wise how to use all of their talents the best possible way.”
Dunn said the more competition in the backfield, the better. Certainly, it keeps anybody from taking a day off effort-wise.
“We’re out there every day competing but at the same time we’re all brothers and we love each other,” Dunn said. “We’re expanding our roles. They’re teaching us receiver stuff so they’re going to find ways to get us all on the field. We all feel like we’re playmakers, we’re looking forward to that.”
At the least, said head coach Chris Klieman, the running backs will be used on special teams. Anderson and Brooks were noticeable on kickoff coverage last season.
“We’ll see a number of them on special teams, you can’t have enough of those guys,” Klieman said. “We found that out last year.”