Last season, Paul Johnson faced an empty cupboard at one of the most vital positions in his offense. While there were several B-backs on the roster, not a single one had taken a snap at the position in a college game. Compounding the issue, CJ Leggett and Quaide Weimerskirch suffered injuries that would ultimately hold them out of the 2015 season. Graduate Transfer Patrick Skov stepped in as a veteran presence, but even he had never been a B-back. Skov, Marcus Marshall, and Marcus Allen were left to carry one of the biggest burdens in the flexbone offense.
When the (3 yards and a could of) dust settled, 2015 was the worst season at the position under Johnson. Skov and Allen had injury issues during the second half of the season. Marshall battled through issues with ball security and blocking, and while he improved towards the end of the year, it was too little too late for 2015.
This year, the experience isn’t much better. Marshall was the team’s leading rusher last year, but Skov is gone, and Allen didn’t get a ton of reps. To top things off, Leggett is off the team after once being the heir apparent at the position 2 years ago. So who will carry the offense this year? Let’s take a look at the options.
While it’s hard to call a true sophomore an experienced veteran, Marshall is just that compared to those with whom he is competing. His 649 rush yards were far beyond Allen’s 166, and he was 3rd on the team in carries behind Justin Thomas and Skov.
While Marshall’s top end speed is good, his biggest asset is his burst when accelerating. In my write up on Marshall’s season, I showed that he was quicker through the mesh than Synjyn Days or Zach Laskey in 2014. Using his burst and speed, Marshall had the highest yards-per-carry over an entire season of any Georgia Tech B-back. Ever. While the explosion was there, Marshall needs to work on being a more efficient runner, and will also need to improve on his ball security and blocking. In order to become more efficient, Marshall will need to work on his balance. His foot speed is so good that he regularly got tripped up in the trash, causing him to gain a couple fewer yards than he could have. All of these things were trending up at the end of 2015, but still have a ways to go.
Allen was an efficient runner, getting the most of what the blocking would give him, which wasn’t always much. Allen struggled throughout the season with injuries, and wasn’t able to put up a good number of carries outside of the Virginia Tech game. He’s a bit of an unknown right now, and Johnson hasn’t spoken about him much so far in camp. He’s by far the biggest wild card in this competition.
I’m sure you all want to hear about Dedrick Mills, but let’s first talk about Kirvonte Benson. When Benson was recruited in 2015, he was thought of as more of an A-back type with track speed. His 10.6 second personal best in the 100 meter dash puts him in the same class as Justin Thomas, perhaps faster. Benson came in smaller than most B-backs, but has bulked up to a respectable 5-9, 206 lbs. With great straight-line speed, Benson could perhaps be even more of a home-run threat than Marshall. Marshall was caught from behind a couple times last year, as he is quicker than he is fast. Benson could add that extra gear to the B-back group. Coach Johnson has regularly praised Benson this Fall, almost much as he has praised:
Dedrick Mills. The man of Fall camp. Mills has been mentioned by CPJ repeatedly as a player who has caught his eye. With Marshall being hurt for good portions of camp, Mills has primarily worked with the first team, and has elicited praise from a man who doesn’t like to dole it out. In his high school tape, Mills flashed all the tools. Burst, Speed, Balance, Fluidity, and Power, were all evident. In the spring, Mills didn’t play like someone who should still be in high school, and ran for the tough yards when nobody else on the field was. While there has been little film to watch of Mills since the spring, it is evident from photos that he has bulked up, and he’ll be a load to bring down. Mills could bring the power that the other backs we’ve discussed lack.
Quaide Weimerskrich has been battling back from injuries for a long time now, and from Coach Johnson’s comments it doesn’t quite seem like he’s back to 100%. He may not be a part of this competition right now, but if the need for another power back arises, he could be an option who gets into the mix as the season progresses.
What to Expect
Barring Injury(Please no injuries), I fully expect Marshall to start week 1 in Ireland, with Mills in the mix. However, this isn’t a competition that will stop when the season starts. In fact, this is a competition that I expect to rage for the entire season. There are so many talented options with different skill sets, and no player has a significant experience advantage over the others. Which skill (Other than blocking and ball security) will Johnson prefer? Will it be Marshall’s Burst, Mills’ Power, Benson’s Speed, or Allen’s Efficiency? This year’s edition of the B-back competition will be stressful for fans, but at least it will be interesting.
Who do you think will be this year’s 1-2 punch?