With spring football practice at Minnesota under way after kicking off on Monday, March 29, we are breaking down each position group throughout the month of April.
2021 Running Back Roster
Returning Starter(s): Mohamed Ibrahim
Other Returners: Treyson Potts, Cam Wiley, Bryce Williams, Jason Williamson, and Ky Thomas
Spring Enrollee(s): None
Fall Enrollee(s): Mar’Keise Irving
2020 Season In Review
I assume you are familiar with Mohamed Ibrahim.
The Big Ten Running Back of the Year was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection and a third-team AP All-American after rushing for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns in just seven games last season. Ibrahim set the single-season school record for rushing yardage per game (153.7) and twice tied the school record for rushing touchdowns in a game (4, vs. Maryland and Illinois). He also became the first running back in school history to rush for at least 100 yards in eight consecutive games, dating back to the Outback Bowl.
Ibrahim is a special talent and the perfect back for the Gophers’ ground game. He is a physical runner with great vision who thrives in a zone blocking scheme, and this fall he’ll be operating behind an offensive line that returns all five starters from last season, in addition to former starters Curtis Dunlap and Daniel Faalele, who both missed all of 2020. Minnesota should feature one of the best rushing attacks in the Big Ten, if not the country.
What the Gophers lack at the moment is a true “pair and a spare” at running back. Ibrahim finished the season with 201 carries. Cam Wiley came in second with 29 rushing attempts, and Treyson Potts was not far behind with 19. That’s quite the disparity, and I’m not sure how sustainable that is over a full season. For Ibrahim’s sake, more consistent contributors need to emerge.
Potts seemed to be the clear No. 2 at the start of last season. The question that has dogged him since he arrived is whether he or not he can be an every-down back who operates between the tackles. We know what Potts can do when he gets to the sideline:
He was sidelined for two games last season after getting banged up, but Potts did flash the ability to read his blockers and navigate through traffic when he did see action:
Obviously durability seems to be a concern, though I would argue 19 carries is hardly a representative sample size to warrant being labeled fragile. Then again I’m not privy to the specifics of his injury last season. Bottom line, I think he deserves more carries, both to take the load off Ibrahim and to show what he can do with a bigger workload. Hopefully he can make the most of his reps this spring and earn more trust with the coaching staff.
As for Wiley, I’m not so sure about his future as a kickoff returner, but I think he has the potential to be a good back. He is more of a vertical runner than Potts, but he runs far too upright and needs to get better at playing smaller and bending at the waist on contact.
I would put Ibrahim in one tier, Potts and Wiley in another, and then group Bryce Williams, Jason Williamson, and Ky Thomas in a third tier. Williams is the most experienced back behind Ibrahim, but he didn’t see much action last season because he was recovering from COVID. The spring and fall should be an opportunity for him to make up any ground he lost to Potts and Wiley. And we’ll see if Williamson and Thomas can turn any heads in practice.
Spring Watch List
- Protect Mohamed Ibrahim at all costs. Wrap him in a bubble wrap if you have to. We know full well what we can do. There is nothing he needs to prove in the spring. The best thing to do is let Ibrahim take it easy after averaging 28.7 carries per game last fall. He is driving force behind the Gophers’ offense at this point, so keep him healthy in the spring and summer before you turn him back into a battering ram for the fall.
- Can Treyson Potts and Cam Wiley earn more carries? I’d prefer it if the Gophers didn’t grind Mohamed Ibrahim into dust in the fall. To that end, I don’t expect him to see much action this spring, which means the bulk of the first-team reps at running back should be up for grabs. I hope Potts or Wiley or another back can make the most of them.
- Bryce Williams, come on down! I touted Williams’ combination of power and speed last year and I’m not about to write him off after he missed most of last season. Potts and Wiley have the loosest of grips on the two depth chart spots immediately behind Ibrahim, so the opportunity is there this spring and in the fall for Williams to put his best foot forward.