This is the fourth in a series of 2014 Michigan State Football previews, looking at the positions on the team in no particular order. Previously: special teams, tight ends, cornerbacks.
Running for 1,793 yards on 382 attempts during the 2012 season, Le'Veon Bell received enough punishment to waylay most mortals. Going into 2013, the big question regarding the ground game was would it be more of a split load (see 2011, where Bell and Edwin Baker split carries almost 50/50) or would one back emerge to take on a Bell or Javon Ringer-sized load again.
The answer was more towards the latter than the former. Langford split carries with Nick Hill for the first quarter of the season, then split carries with Delton Williams for the next quarter, then Langford became the primary back for the second half of the season.
This season, it appears the status quo will hold. All the running backs and fullbacks who contributed last season are back and ready to contribute. Let's take a look at your Spartan running backs for the 2014 season.
The feature back
Jeremy Langford - R-Sr. - 6'1", 208 lbs.
Langford isn't necessarily elite in any one skill. What he is though, is at the very least solid in power, vision, speed, and the ability to help out in pass protection -- all things needed to be a good running back at the FBS level. As mentionedbefore, Langford first got the bulk of the carries around the second half the season, running 24 times for 131 yards in the 14-0 victory against Purdue, a game that will continue to baffle scholars until the end of time.
What was striking about Langford last season was his consistency. There was only one Big Ten game last season where he averaged less than four yards a carry (at Iowa), and he had an ability to get stronger as the game went on, going for big runs for scores in the fourth quarter against Michigan (40 yards), Nebraska (38 yards), Northwestern (37 yards), and Ohio State (26 yards). Just fantastic - so fantastic, in fact, that we should relive one of those runs now:
For as smart as Michigan students say they are, they could really use some help on their angles.
Nick Hill - R-Sr. - 5'8", 196 lbs.
This is Hill's final season as a Spartan, and he'll be who the Spartans call upon when they want a shiftier back. Hill was second on the team in rushing yards with 344 on 67 carries. He may be the backup to Langford, but Hill knows there will be times where he'll have to perform, as he said in April:
"My mentality is not to be his backup, my mentality is to be the guy," Hill said of Langford. "So when he is off the field and I’m in the field that we don’t miss a beat, that the coaches have confidence in me to make plays.
Delton Williams - Soph. - 6'1", 228 lbs.
Just as Hill is a smaller, sneakier runner, Delton Williams is the power back. As a true freshman last season Williams ran for 238 yards on 38 carries, including a 42 yard run for a score against Illinois. However, Williams began to practice more on defense during the second half of the season, limiting his playing time carrying the ball. He doesn't care on what side of the ball he plays though:
"If things don't play out the way they want, I can try both sides of the ball or playing on defense,'' said Williams, originally recruited as a safety when he was a 208-pound junior at Cathedral Prep in Erie, Pa. "It really doesn't matter where I play; I just want to be on the field.''
Williams sat out the spring recovering from a shoulder surgery needed to fix a torn labrum that healed the wrong way after his high school senior year.
Gerald Holmes - R-Fr. - 6'0", 221 lbs.
A top-10 recruit in the state of Michigan in 2013, Holmes redshirted in his first season as a Spartan. He'll likely play some role for the Spartans this season whether as a running back or on special teams, but for now he's fourth on the depth chart behind Langford, Hill, and Williams.
The Wild Card
Madre London - Fr. - 6'1", 213 lbs.
Coming out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, London was ranked one of the top 20 running backs in the nation by Rivals. With Langford and Williams both held out of the second fall scrimmage to various reasons (Langford held out by coaches, Williams had a bruised knee), London had his chance to impress. And impress he did:
"He is far and above what a normal freshman is in terms of running back knowledge, in terms of pass protection and things of that nature," Dantonio said of London Thursday.
The pass protection comment is key. Many freshman running backs are athletically ready to contribute at the FBS level, but what holds many of them back is an inability to grasp the protection schemes in offense, thus getting their quarterbacks crushed. If London continues to grasp the offense at an accelerated rate, it's not totally unreasonable to say he may get a chance to carry the ball in his first season like Williams did.
Trevon Pendelton - R-Jr. - 6'0", 249 lbs.
I came into these piece expecting to write about the number of carries Pendelton had last season. He had none. What Pendelton did have was eight receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including one that will be forever immortalized in GIF form:
He also had a 42 yard reception against Michigan last season; if you go to the video above it starts at 2:14.
In all, a nice cadre of backs to have for the upcoming season. The depth on the offensive line may become an issue, but at least the talent of the players running the ball for Michigan State won't be.