Michigan State Football: Why I don’t care who wins the starting RB job


It’s August and all diehard Michigan State football fans have to cling on to before the season starts are carefully guarded sound bites and coachspeak.

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There is no actual football to watch so we have to obsess about position battles and preseason prognostications. One of the mosted heated and interesting position battles of this fall is for starting running back after last year’s workhorse Jeremy Langford took his talents to the NFL.

While I’m very interested in this battle, I don’t really care who wins the job. Will it be Madre London — the redshirt freshman from Florida who received rave reviews from coach Mark Dantonio following the second fall scrimmage?

Maybe it will be redshirt sophomore Gerald Homes out of Flint who may be feeling a sense of urgency entering his third year with the program.

Related: MSU Football: 5 bold predictions for the 2015 season

Then there’s true freshman and MSU’s top recruit L.J. Scott who, by all accounts, has looked the part in early practices.

Finally, there’s the most experienced and game-ready player, junior Delton Williams who spent the offseason in legal troubles that were well examined by Joe Rexrode in his insightful piece last week.

Sep 20, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Gerald Holmes (24) runs down the field during the fourth quarter against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Spartan Stadium. Spartans beat the Eagles 73-14. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

But for all of the hand-wringing about who will win the starting position, the truth is that when there isn’t a clear leader at the running back position, Mark Dantonio has shown he is willing to play multiple running backs.

In fact, while Jeremy Langford was the clear go-to guy last year, both Nick Hill and Delton Williams had significant numbers of carries.The Spartan coaching staff has proven time and again that it is willing to use their running backs as is dictacted by talent and team needs.

In the eight years Mark Dantonio has been at MSU, he has basically used four different styles of running back rotations: I call them workhorse, workhorse plus, running back duo, and running back duo plus.

The workhorse rotation is not actually a rotation, but one guy carrying it 350 or more times in a season — think Javon Ringer in 2008 and Le’Veon Bell in 2012.

The workhorse plus rotation is one guy getting the bulk of the carries with one or two guys providing rest and coming in for special situations like third down or goal line plays — that’s Langford getting spelled by Hill and Williams in both 2013 and 2014.

The running back duo splits the carries pretty evenly, often with different guys being used for different situations — Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick in 2007 are the perfect example where the latter came in for short-yardage and goal-line situations.

And, finally, the running back duo plus sees two guys splitting most of the carries with another guy coming in for special situations — Larry Caper and Edwin Baker plus Glen Winston in 2009; Baker and Bell plus Caper in 2010.

Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Delton Williams (22) runs the ball against Michigan Wolverines linebacker James Ross III (15) during the 1st half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

I fully expect Dantonio to use multiple running backs and so the player who wins the “starter” title is not as important as who will get the carries. What may be more interesting is who doesn’t make the rotation.

In some ways it makes the most sense to sit Scott since he has the most eligibility left and can take a year to learn the offense and get into the exact kind of shape the coaches want. However, the coaches have shown they will play whoever they think gives them the best chance of winning as Edwin Baker, Le’Veon Bell, Larry Caper and Delton Williams all played significantly as true freshmen.

This is the biggest reason I don’t care who wins the position battle: I trust the coaches will pick the most deserving two or three running backs and the ground game will once again feature ‘Pound Green Pound.’

Next: MSU Football: 5 position battles to watch