Last season Colorado State’s deep stable of running backs featured three runners who all had at least 590 yards rushing over the season.
Departed runner Jasen Oden Jr., is no longer in the CSU backfield, but the team does return two high quality running backs in redshirt junior Dalyn Dawkins and sophomore Izzy Matthews.
The duo is joined this season by talented freshman running backs Marvin Kinsey Jr., Darius May and Rashaad Boddie, potentially making this group of running backs even more potent than last season’s ball carriers.
The group is led by the diminutive yet fearless Dawkins, and Matthews, who burst onto the scene last season as a true freshman, averaging 6.7 yards per carry over the last six contests.
While both players impressed over the course of last season, they were not without issues. Dawkins struggled to hang on to the ball at times and was hampered by a hamstring injury, and the two running backs often had difficulties making guys miss in the open field.
Coach Mike Bobo said that Dawkins has worked diligently on ball security through the spring into summer and that he has been putting in the work to win those one-on-one battles in open space.
“I think he will make more explosive plays this year because of his improvement,” Bobo said. “Several times last year we had space but he didn’t win the one-on-one battles with safeties. I think he improved on it and he worked extremely hard.
The same could be said about Matthews, who was limited skill wise last season, and relied on his size and strength to run over defenders in Mountain West play.
But Matthews entered spring camp about 15 pounds lighter and he has looked much more agile and explosive since changing his body. Bobo said that Matthews has been running with better pad level and he has been making guys miss when they would have brought down the running back last season.
Though Dawkins has only seen the field for one season at CSU, and Matthews is a true sophomore, Bobo does not hesitate to call both of them veteran running backs.
Dawkins is the player in the running back room who sets the example of what it means to be a college football player and how to work hard. In the way Dawkins approaches everything about football, coach Bobo said that he wished he had a hundred players just like him.
He might be the smallest guy on the field, but you would be hard pressed to find a more fearless player.
“Dalyn is probably my favorite player on our team,” quarterback Faton Bauta said. “I wish I had what he had. Just an unbelievable amount of confidence and toughness and just the way he gets after it at practice, you would never know he was that small.”
“Everything that kid does he’s exceptional in his effort and how he approaches practice,” Bobo said.
As for Matthews, Bobo says that he loves where the player is at mentally, and outside of the quarterback position there might not be a player on the field who knows more about the offense than he does.
What they bring to field and the meeting room, is a testament to running backs coach Bryan Applewhite and his approach to his group. The fact that Bobo has lauded freshman running back May’s study of the game, and his young freshman group’s development as a whole is a testament to that.
“Coach Applewhite does a great job of laying out the expectations of how he wants them to meet practice and practice,” Bobo said. “Those guys are attentive, I never have to worry about them not paying attention, I never worry if there’s a missed assignment that he is not right on it immediately.”
Though Bobo likes all of his freshman running backs, Kinsey is probably furthest along of the three.
Bobo likes the explosive play-making ability Kinsey has, especially after the team’s first scrimmage where the coach said that everytime Kinsey touched the ball, “something good happened.”
“I see big plays from him. I think he will be able to make big plays for us and step in,” Dawkins said.
Kinsey’s development has only further pushed the competition between Matthews and Dawkins that’s been ongoing since the end of last season. Their steady improvements and attention to their weaknesses from last season has only been furthered by the battle between the two players for the number one running back spot.
If Kinsey keeps going on the same track he is on right now, it would not be far fetched to see the team heavily employ a three-back system for the second year in-a-row. That means less carries for players like Dawkins and Matthews, but they already worked with it last year, they can handle that type of setting.
“Every good back, he is gonna want the ball, but we are not going to worry about that too much,” Dawkins said. “It’s a matter of staying fresh, and with depth we are able to stay fresh.”
A group of talented runners with fresh legs could prove especially deadly against opposing defenses. All of the different running backs bring a different skill set to the field, and if multiple backs are cycling throughout the game, that’s a difficult game plan for any defensive coordinator to handle.
In the end, it is the wins that matter. If the running back group can keep progressing and live up to its potential, expect to see CSU’s wins this season on the back of the ball barriers.
Collegian Sports Reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5