The countdown to kickoff will shift to position previews over the next couple of weeks as we take a look at who will be “Above The Line” and what their contributions to the team could be this year. Our next position group is the Running Backs, a group that should provide some major fireworks in 2021.
Going into 2020, we knew what we had in redshirt junior Jordan Mason, but collectively were anxious to see the promise of Jahmyr Gibbs. After an injury-filled 2020 for Mason, a promising true freshman season from Gibbs, and a highly productive year for backups Jamious Griffin and Dontae Smith, the entire RB Room looks to take another step forward in year 3 under CGC and RB Coach Tashard Choice.
As it currently stands, Tech has 8 players listed at RB: the aforementioned Mason, Gibbs, Griffin, and Smith, as well as converted linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling, RS freshmen Tony Amerson and Devin Ellison, and freshman Colin Hemingway. Let’s look at each and see where they will fit this year.
The bellcow since Paul Johnson’s final season, Jordan Mason has consistently answered when called upon and gave Geoff Collins a reliable weapon to lean on in 2020. Perhaps a result of that workload over his first two seasons on the field, we saw Mason used sparingly in 2020 as he battled injuries throughout the year. Still, Mason offers a unique blend of power and speed when healthy, and his leadership and willingness to do everything asked of him should keep him at or near the top of the RB list, and I expect he and Gibbs to split RB1 carries. With their differing size and styles, Mason will be a good ‘thunder’ to Gibbs’ ‘lightning,’ providing the offense with some much-needed grit and punch. Look for Mason to bounce back in a major way and show why he was the unquestioned starter for two years.
2020 saw Gibbs explode onto the scene, nearly taking his first collegiate touch the distance and never slowing down from there, earning Freshman All-America honors. You all know the story: the expectations were high, and frankly, Gibbs delivered. It was clear from that first game that Jahmyr brought something more to the game and the team, and as the year progressed you couldn’t help but get excited for the future with this guy. As mentioned, I expect Gibbs to split RB1 carries and return kicks again in 2021, as any way to get the ball in his hands will have good results. Sky’s the limit.
Jamious Griffin & Dontae Smith
One of the best parts of 2020 was seeing the fire and competition in the RB Room play out the field. Games against Syracuse and Louisville put this on full display, as we saw players like Griffin and Smith give the offense a real spark. Coach Choice clearly has the backs ready and willing to work, and the results are showing through Griffin and Smith earning single digit numbers for 2021. Both holdovers from the option days, Griffin and Smith have run with every opportunity and honestly forced the coaching staff’s hand: both guys proved they need to be on the field and absolutely contribute to winning, and I expect Griffin’s balance and Smith’s burner ability to be real game changers going forward.
Recruited as a linebacker but highly decorated in HS as a running back, Swilling last year made the switch back to offense but wasn't able to break through on the field. This spring saw him being used much more, and with his bruising abilities I expect him to get the call on the goal line, pushing the pile and getting those coveted 1-2 yard TD runs. More than anything, Swilling’s leadership will continue to be an asset for this group, and much like Griffin and Smith he will push Mason and Gibbs and keep them from getting complacent.
Amerson, Ellison, and Hemingway
The law firm, these three have not yet broken through in a loaded group, but not for lack of talent. Look for Amerson and Ellison to contribute in special teams as they continue to season behind the five men above. It is clear that completion is king at running back, and undoubtedly will lead to big things in 2021 and beyond. Stay tuned.