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100 Days to Kickoff: Position Previews - Running Back

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Brace for a logjam that likely ends with lots of players splitting carries

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The second day of position previews looks at running back, where Tech is shifting from having three on the field on every play to just one (and occasionally two). It’s a position where the early leaders are familiar names, but there’s more than enough room for others to carve out roles in the offense—and there are plenty of others jostling for those snaps.

Proven Commodities

For a team with a flexbone-sized stable of running backs, this list is surprisingly short. KirVonte Benson elected to transfer for his final season, Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy are gone, and Nathan Cottrell has moved to slot receiver. That leaves only two players who saw significant snaps last year—the two guys who replaced Benson at B-back after his injury.

Jordan Mason

Class: RS Sophomore

Size: 6-1 / 220

Mason had 6.1 yards per carry in 2018 and ended up leading all non-quarterbacks on the team in carries, yards, and touchdowns. He’s a well-rounded back with excellent vision, and he’s good at changing direction as needed and accelerating once he has room to run. He started for the first-team offense in the spring game and had 33 rushing yards and—more intriguingly—five receptions, suggesting that he might have an increased role as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Mason doesn’t always flash the power that one might expect for a player of his size, but he’s still young and has plenty of time to develop that ability. Between his talent and experience, it’s all but certain that he’ll be at or near the top of the list for carries when the season opener rolls around.

Jerry Howard

Class: Junior

Size: 6-0 / 215

Howard split the starting B-back role with Mason last year, and he finished with a respectable 5.3 yards per carry on 107 carries. He’s the bruiser of the bunch—a player in the mold of Zach Laskey who embraces contact and can drive through it. That skillset made him an ideal B-back prospect, and while it’s not quite as ideal for the new offense, it’s virtually certain that Howard will find a role in the new system. Given his ability to drive for yards after contact, he would be an intriguing option as a short-yardage and goal-line back who can get a tough couple yards when the situation calls for it, and he’s more than capable of stepping into the lead back role.

Returnees

Moving several of the A-backs to wide receiver reduced the backfield logjam a little bit, but it still leaves plenty of players who are pushing for playing time.

Christian Malloy

Class: RS Freshman

Size: 5-10 / 195

What Malloy lacks in size compared to Mason and Howard, he makes up for in speed and burst. He led all running backs in the spring game with 10 carries; the best of the bunch was his 13-yard TD run, in which he showed good vision in following his blocks to a small crease and then turned on the jets to cover the last few yards untouched. With so few proven players on the roster at his position, the new offense offers a great opportunity for him to find a role early on, and his speed could make him an ideal fit as a change-of-pace back for either Mason or Howard.

Dontae Smith

Class: RS Freshman

Size: 5-11 / 190

Another slightly smaller back, Smith did not register a touch last year but is making an early push for playing time at running back in Patenaude’s offense. He was the prototypical A-back when he was signed and relies on his agility and shiftiness as a runner. What could set him apart from the rest—or at least help him find a niche in the offense—is his pass-catching ability, as few if any of the backs are proven in that regard.

Omahri Jarrett

Class: RS Senior

Size: 5-10 / 175

It was a bit of a surprise when Jarrett ended up sticking at running back, since originally he seemed destined for wide receiver. The fifth-year senior hasn’t played much to date and faces a tough road ahead as he seeks significant playing time in the new system. His size alone makes him an unlikely candidate to start or to be an every-down back, but much like Smith, he’s a shifty runner who could make an impact in the passing game.

Arrivals

If the five players mentioned above weren’t enough, three freshmen join the mix this fall, and the offensive transition gives each of them an increased shot at beating out the more seasoned players.

Jamious Griffin

Size: 5-10 / 210

Griffin was the highest-rated recruit in Tech’s 2019 class per the 247Sports composite rankings. He brings to the table a tantalizing mix of speed, agility, acceleration, vision, tackle-shedding ability, and spin moves. It’s well within the realm of possibility that he works his way into the regular rotation from the very beginning.

Tony Amerson

Size: 5-11, 220

Amerson is similar in a lot of ways to Jerry Howard: he’s a bulldozer first and foremost but is also surprisingly nimble for his size. He would have been a perfect fit at B-back, but he could make an impact in most offenses and could offer Tech another short-yardage option early in his career.

Devin Ellison

Size: 5-9, 195

Ellison runs like he’s 20 pounds bigger than he actually is, and it’s fun to watch. His speed isn’t game-changing, but he can drive through tackles effectively. He was also used heavily as a receiving option out of the backfield in high school.

Longshots

Mostly just including this category for one name who almost certainly won’t get to line up at running back but would be fun to see there:

Bruce Jordan-Swilling

Class: Junior

Size: 6-1 / 225

Jordan-Swilling was a highly-rated running back prospect in high school, and he reportedly expressed interest in switching back there when Collins took the reins. The problem is that Tech has ample depth at running back and almost no depth at linebacker, so they need him on defense. That said, Collins embraced the idea of two-way players at Temple, and Jordan-Swilling would be a fine candidate for that role.

Projected Depth

Yeah yeah yeah, the official company policy is to say guys are “above the line” now. But it’s more fun to take a crack at what the hierarchy will be, so here goes:

  1. Jordan Mason
  2. Jerry Howard
  3. Christian Malloy
  4. Jamious Griffin
  5. Dontae Smith

LINE

  • Omahri Jarrett
  • Tony Amerson
  • Devin Ellison

Five running backs in the regular rotation seems like a lot, but with the depth at the position and the fact that the receiving corps is being rebuilt from the ground up, it’s likely that Tech will spend a lot of time in two-back sets. That opens up room for more guys to see the field.

Of the freshmen, Griffin has the best shot to play, but if he can’t work his way up to at least No. 2 on the depth chart in fall camp, then it’s likely that he plays just the four games permitted under the redshirt rule. The same holds true for Amerson or Ellison if either of them make a splash in camp.