Running back top spot is “wide-open”

By Chris Williams, Publisher

The battle to become Iowa State’s starting quarterback in 2011 will make the most headlines. That’s a guarantee. As Paul Rhoads put it on National Signing Day, that position is “wide-open” heading into spring practice that starts on March 22.

You can add the running back competition to the list of “wide-open” spots on the 2011 Iowa State offense.

“Guys have to prove it, Iowa State running backs coach Kenith Pope recently told “We have 15 days of spring ball and every day, they will be graded.”

This spring, Shontrelle Johnson (So.), Jeff Woody (RS So.), James White (RS So.) and Duran Hollis (RS Fr.) will all duke it out for the chance to replace Alexander Robinson come September.

This summer, true freshmen DeVondrick Nealy and Rob Standard will join the competition.

“Now we have guys who are coming into compete. That’s going to make our other guys take their level of play up," Pope said. "That’s what I’m excited for. Now Shontrelle has to go from here to here because he’s got a guy right behind him. There will be a lot of good, solid competition going on, day in and day out.”

A new era of Cyclone running backs

Regardless of who earns the starting job, it is fairly obvious that by the amount of talent being stockpiled at this position that Iowa State will use its running backs in a variety of different ways going forward.

“One thing that we do in our offense that we did some with A-Rob but probably not as much as we could have done, is we move our backs all over the place,” Pope said.

AKA…Expect to see Cyclone running backs in the slot more in 2011 and beyond.

“As we start getting Shontrelle, Nealy, Rob Standard and others, we’d like to have those guys at that position run the bubble screens,” Pope said. “To me, those are the runners. When you catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage and you give it to one of those running backs, they do it enough to make cuts a lot better than a wide receiver on a bubble screen.”

“They are just in the backfield more and they’ve seen it more. This spring, we’ll look at the backs that we have now and the backs that we have coming in to see how we can get them a little more involved in the passing game.”

Johnson only caught five passes for 14 yards in 2010. White caught one pass for five yards and Woody didn’t have a reception. Putting the stats aside, with numerous questions at wide receiver in 2011, this crop of running backs will likely have a big opportunity to make a major impact on the offense whether they’re running or catching the football.

For a report on how Nealy and Standard will impact Iowa State’s running back situation in 2011, check out later this week.