With the injuries to redshirt freshman C.J. Leggett and true freshman Quaide Weimerskirch in the spring, there is a strong possibility that Tech fans will see Mikell Lands-Davis and/or Marcus Marshall taking significant reps at the featured running back position this fall.
Georgia Tech is in a position where the top four players competing for playing time have never taken a snap at B-back in a college game. This may be exciting for the incoming freshmen... but scary for Tech fans. The intriguing part about the two incoming freshmen is that running back is their natural position instead of athletes who have been moved to B-back and ultimately taught how to be a running back.
Why is that significant? In 2010, Anthony Allen took over for Jonathan Dwyer who bowled over the ACC the first few years Johnson installed his spread option attack. Allen was the last B-back to rush for over 1,000 yards. The last three starters have been David Sims and Synjyn Days, both converting from quarterback, and Zach Laskey, who moved over from safety. The one thing you usually don’t have to teach a Division I running back how to do is run the ball. But the talents of Lands-Davis and Marshall don’t stop there.
Both freshmen showed an explosive burst at relatively the same size. Each stands around 5-10 and hover around 200 pounds. Analyzing the film of both players, these two look significantly better, talent-wise, than the remaining group of B-backs on the roster. Though their styles differ, their productivity in 2014 would suggest that this position battle will be the most fun to watch come August. Both were the focal point of their teams' offenses and rose to the challenge of being the leader. I feel strongly in saying that whoever emerges higher on the depth chart will not only get reps during the season, but will also make a significant impact and eventually push for the starting job.
Bill Parcells said there is no such thing as a "prototype" at running back. "There are guys that produce and guys who don’t. No matter the size and speed, play the guy who can get the job done."
In this case, this does not look like the clichéd "Thunder and Lighting" mix when running backs are often compared. Lands-Davis has unbelievable versatility, breaking tackles, catching the ball, lining up at receiver and even flashing his skills on defense. He is strong and fast, with a very high football I.Q. As a senior, Lands-Davis was not only the best back on the field, but possibly the best athlete.
Marshall’s vision and explosiveness is unmatched. Many people talk about a quick first step, but steps three, four and five are just as impressive. When Marshall sees an opening, his cuts are as smooth as a Tech student solving a rubik’s cube in 30 seconds -- quick, decisive, confident and complete.
What do they need to prove for playing time?
B-Back seems simple enough, with its straight dives and zone tracks. This past season, Days and Laskey’s jobs were made a little easier with a veteran offensive line driving the defense off the ball. As the season entered the second half, Tech fans saw the increase in confidence at that position, especially from Days.
Both backs seemed a lot more confident in the last quarter of the season than against Tulane and Georgia Southern. Knowing what to do with the ball in their hands will be the easy part. Grasping the offense will be the biggest key to playing time when both these players report in July. Marcus Allen and Patrick Skov will be well-versed in Coach Johnson’s terminology. They also will have the summer with Justin Thomas and the offensive line to learn read-keys, tracks and pass protections.
The talent of both Lands-Davis and Marshall exceeds the upper-classmen in front of them. But, in this spread option attack, the B-back is called upon to block when the ball goes to someone else. That means knowing their targets and executing the block when they get to the right guy.
Who wins the battle?
All we can go by is their senior year of high school. And even though I think Marshall is better suited to start at B-back in the long run, I think Lands-Davis has the upper hand when it comes to playing immediately. He has more experience blocking in the open field and a high I.Q. that could make the transition to learning the offense easier for him.
Nonetheless, having a solid starter in Allen and an experienced player in Skov is a huge benefit for Marshall because the battle could come down to the better back. I think Marshall is a special talent with the ball in his hands. He runs low, gets behind his pads and knows how to break tackles using leverage and vision. The best part about Tech’s offense is that if they are as good as advertised, you could potentially have them both on the field at the same time. We know at least one of them will get the opportunity this fall.
Which player do you think it will be?