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Position Preview 2013: Running backs

There are only a few photos of MSU running back options. This is one.
There are only a few photos of MSU running back options. This is one.

A position-by-position look at the 2013 Spartans. Since the quarterbacks are going to draw the most ire, I'm working backward. Next up: running backs. Previously: Defensive line, linebackers, defensive backsoffensive line

Perhaps the biggest question about MSU's offense is how they will replace Le'Veon Bell.

Bell had 1,793 of MSU's 1,942 rushing yards and 382 of the 492 "attempts" last season. But while Bell was one of the best individual running backs in the country, MSU wasn't a good rushing team. The Spartans were No. 77 with 149.38 rushing yards per game and No. 81 with 3.95 yards per carry.

When MSU has relied on one every-down back, things haven't gone very well under Dantonio — 2008 and 2012 were MSU's two worst rushing years.


The best example for hope despite a lack of experience is 2009, when a group including Larry Caper, Edwin Baker, Caulton Ray, Ashton Leggett and Glenn Winston put up better rushing efficiency numbers than Javon Ringer in 2008.

So who are these guys replacing Bell? Here are the likely contributors at running back.

Jeremy Langford (JR): By most accounts as the fastest player on the team, Langford has seen time at running back, defensive back, special teams and back to running back as coaches try to get him on the field. Reports of him have always been good, but he could never crack the rotation. With the depth chart coming out Tuesday, he's listed as a co-starter at running back, so it appears he'll have a real shot to make an impression in meaningful game time this year. He recorded 23 yards on nine carries against Central Michigan as his only real game experience there. Should be a big-play threat, something MSU needs.

Riley Bullough (R-FR): When the linebacker was moved to running back late in spring camp, it really got people worried about the position. He had some good moments during the spring game, and he seems confident in his role as a power back, rather than breaking for big runs. He's never played in a college game, but he did enough to hold off Nick Hill and some true freshman. Should get some decent playing time in the opener and we can better judge him.

Nick Hill (JR): The starting position really has been his to lose, and he has lost it. The only running back with much game experience (163 yards on 51 carries, 1 TD in 28 games), Hill has been passed by Langford and a linebacker. The little guy drew comparisons to Mike Hart because their size and friendship, but they've been far apart on the field. Hill has been shifty, but hasn't shown the ability to hit a hole or break many tackles. He's still listed as starting kick returner and has done well there.

Gerald Holmes (FR): The true freshman missed his junior season with an injury, but MSU still showed faith in offering and allowing his commitment. As a senior, Holmes averaged 10.9 yards per carry on 94 rushes. The powerful back doesn't shy away from contact and should get a good chance to make an impression early in the season. He's listed as the co-No. 4 running back on the depth chart.

Delton Williams (FR): A high school teammate of freshman quarterback Damion Terry, Williams was expected to play defensive back or linebacker, but he has surprisingly mostly played at running back this fall. He had 88 rushes for 697 yards as a senior in high school and 59 catches for 838 yards and 11 touchdowns, so he's a versatile threat. Listed as a co-No. 4 running back on the depth chart.

Nick Tompkins (R-FR): Speedy back from Georgia redshirted last year. He's not listed in the five spots on the depth chart, but given the lack of experience in this entire group, who knows who will make it out.


Trevor Pendleton (SO): Listed as the starter at fullback, you might remember Pendleton from Maybe The Worst Play Ever. The walk-on played in nine games last year, mostly on special teams. He redshirted in 2011 and twice earned scout team offensive player of the week. It's a bit surprising to see Pendelton as the starter, unless there's an injury to Niko Palazeti.

Ty Hamtilton (JR): Listed as the backup, Hamilton redshirted in 2010, played in two games and a recorded a tackle in 2011 and didn't see game action last year.

Niko Palazeti (JR): He played in five games in 2011 and six games in 2012. I wonder if there's an injury, because Palazeti is believed to be the better blocking fullback, and he's not listed on the depth chart.