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Michigan State Football Media Day: Who's The Starting Running Back?

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Michigan State has four running backs at their disposal who each have starter potential. A closer look at the preseason battle.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of his NFL pro day performance this past March inside the Duffy Daugherty building, recent graduate Nick Hill stood alone in the middle of the field, sweat beating down from his forehead, while slowly regaining his breathing following multiple running back drills.

When a recorder was put near his face, the details regarding Delton Williams' recent arrest earlier that week were unknown to Hill, but he was aware of the unfortunate consequences that were expected to come down on Williams.

Williams, the junior running back, was arrested and charged in mid-March for brandishing a firearm after an alleged road rage incident on the intersection of Shaw Lane and Red Cedar Road. He later plead not guilty.

The absence of Williams in spring practice and most of the summer brought forward the opportunity for redshirt freshman Madre London and redshirt sophomore Gerald Holmes to increase their share of the carries, as London did not play in a single game last season and Holmes received just 14 carries in three games of action.

London, the former three-star recruit from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL), admitted at Michigan State's media day that his spirits were lowered when advised to redshirt his first season at East Lansing, but the senior leadership from Hill and Jeremy Langford helped him overcome that adversity of playing the role as a spectator than as a key contributor.

A period of learning under the upperclassmen has provided London with starter potential this upcoming season, and according to Hill, London has the accolades of a former NFL MVP.

"That's a guy who reminds me of Adrian Peterson," Hill said. "You can't bring him down with one tackler, very agile, has great hands and doesn't fumble. That's one guy who's coming to emerge as the starting guy next year."

It also took the assistance of Hill and Langford for London to fully understand the reasoning behind redshirting, and when he sat quietly in the midst of the chaos on Monday, alongside backup quarterback Tyler O'Connor, the 6-foot-1, 216 pounder considers the decision to sit out a year to be a blessing in disguise.

"If I were to play last year, I probably would have received minimal carries and would only have three more years left," London said. "I learned a lot my first year, which has opened up the chance for me to earn a bigger role in the offense."

A bigger role indeed, as Hill and Langford combined for 32 of the team's 71 touchdowns last season (45 percent), and with both aspiring for professional careers, that leaves a gaping hole in need of a game changer.

And whoever gains the upper hand with a hungry Williams coming off his suspension and incoming freshman L.J. Scott in the mix, both London and Holmes will have the benefit of playing behind arguably the most talented offensive line units in the country.

London doesn't get caught up with the speculation on who's going to start, but promises that his work ethic on the practice field and in the weight room won't change, whether he earns the starting job or drops down to No. 4 on the depth chart.

One of the main areas for a collegiate running back to excel in is blocking, an attribute that London has said to be focusing on in camp. Blocking was a skill that Hill and Langford carried that lacked appreciation from the coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Dave Warner, who reiterated that one missed block by a young running back can change a game or even put a finish to quarterback Connor Cook's season.

That experience of blocking or carrying the load in game time situations is in favor of Williams, who is expected to rejoin the team on August 14. Riding the third spot on the depth chart behind Hill and Langford last season, the 6-foot-1, 228 pounder rushed for 316 yards and five touchdowns on 54 attempts.

Gerald Holmes, who sat on the opposite end of London inside the Media Center at Spartan Stadium, is looking forward to having Williams back on the team, as it'll increase the competition and put more of an emphasis on improving the necessary elements Holmes lacks as a ball carrier.

Considering that both Holmes and Williams arrived in East Lansing before the 2013 season, it's more about Holmes learning what Williams is doing well and not doing well in practice in order to gain an edge, rather than Holmes seeking leadership from his teammate.

"My goal is to just become a complete running back," Holmes said. "To get the snaps, repetitions and stats so I can continue my dream of playing in the NFL."

It gives Holmes confidence knowing that he can potentially become the next breakout running back for Michigan State, a storyline that has become a regularity with the likes of Langford after his sophomore season, Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker.

"Obviously you want to come in day one and be that guy," Holmes said. "When you see them going though the same things that you're going through, and then finally getting the recognition they deserve, that gives me hope. If they can do it, then I can do it."

While he may only be a freshman, L.J. Scott could be the only member of the 2015 class who receives significant playing time this fall. And during head coach Mark Dantonio's press conference, he described his incoming four-star commit with one adjective.

"Impressive, very impressive," Dantonio said. "You know, he showed up today, a big, physical back, runs well, balances things, sticks it up in there. Looks like the real deal."

Scott received major praise from the Spartan community for sticking to his verbal commitment despite receiving offers from Ohio State and Alabama, among others. In the earliest part of camp, the 6-foot, 233 pounder's grind has gotten the attention of his competitors, including London, who mentioned his name more than once at media day.

Four running backs, one starting job, one fierce battle.