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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Preview - Running Back

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Is there life after Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks?

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Minnesota vs Auburn Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again! You survived the worst of the winter, and we can now turn our attention to the (slightly) warmer weather of spring. That means the brief return of football before the long wait for fall begins. Leading up to the Gophers’ Spring Game on Saturday, April 4, at TCF Bank Stadium, we will be breaking down the team by each position group.

Key Departure(s): Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks
Key Returner(s): Mohamed Ibrahim, Bryce Williams, Cam Wiley, Treyson Potts, and Jason Williamson
Spring Enrollee(s): Ky Thomas

Not since 2014 have the Gophers gone through a season without either Rodney Smith or Shannon Brooks recording at least one carry, so 2020 represents a changing of the guard at running back for Minnesota. I touched on this back in December, but there is reason to be optimistic about a backfield without Smith or Brooks.

Redshirt junior Mohamed Ibrahim is the clear frontrunner to lead the pack next season after playing second fiddle to Smith for most of 2019 before reasserting himself in the Outback Bowl with 20 carries for 140 rushing yards and one touchdown against Auburn. He had a breakout season in 2018 as a redshirt freshman once both Brooks and Smith were sidelined with ACL tears, leading the team with 1,160 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

Behind Ibrahim is a crowded committee of running backs who will be competing for carries, and at the moment there isn’t much separation. Redshirt sophomore Bryce Williams was forced into action as a true freshman, rushing for 502 yards and four touchdowns. But he redshirted last season and will need to work on his vision this spring. He can break tackles and make defenders miss in the open field, but he needs to get better at identifying running lanes between the tackles. Williams has a tendency to bounce outside when the going gets tough inside.

Redshirt freshman Cam Wiley might be the most physically impressive running back in the stable. At 6’2”, 215 lbs., he has the frame to fight through arm tackles and pick up yards after contact. Couple that with his off-the-charts athleticism and you have a formidable combination of size and speed. Treyson Potts is another freshman back who redshirted last season, but whereas Wiley is a more physical back, Potts is a bit more versatile with the ability to make plays in space.

There will be no shortage of Minnesota fans hoping to see Jason Williamson, the Owatonna native and former Mr. Football, make some noise at the position after missing all of last season with an ACL tear. He is a great athlete with good speed, footwork, and elusiveness.

But the wild card this spring will be early enrollee Ky Thomas. The true freshman was named the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year and finished his high school career ranked second all-time in Kansas history with 7,703 career rushing yards. I expect he’ll redshirt this season, but there is certainly an opportunity for him to make an impression in practice.

Next: Wide Receiver

Poll

Who will be Mohamed Ibrahim’s primary back-up?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Bryce Williams
    (72 votes)
  • 47%
    Cam Wiley
    (133 votes)
  • 6%
    Treyson Potts
    (17 votes)
  • 9%
    Jason Williamson
    (26 votes)
  • 12%
    Ky Thomas
    (34 votes)
282 votes total Vote Now