Starters: Le’Veon Bell, (Larry Caper and Nick Hill)
Departures: Edwin Baker and Joel Foreman(LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL end around against Indiana LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL)
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the Running Back position will improve significantly in 2012, the bad news is that it’s because regression to the mean would demand improvement. In the 2011 season, MSU averaged an underwhelming 3.95 yards per carry and finished 11th in the Big Ten in total rushing. More importantly, on third and 2 MSU would line up in the power I and hand off to one of their TWO FULLBACKS OUT OF THE TRIPLE WISHBONE AND --- what? MSU would throw over 50 percent of the time on 3rd and 3 or less? Ugh. The excellent news is that as the workload shifted from Baker to Bell throughout the 2011 season, the running game improved dramatically. In fact, in the last six games of MSU’s season the ground game averaged 4.3 ypc/144 ypg vs the first eight games of the season where they averaged 3.70ypc/133 ypg.
Much of that late season improvement can be attributed to the emergence of Le’Veon Bell. Bell started the 2011 season as the complimentary back to Edwin Baker and as the season wore on he continued to get more PT and continued improving. Bell finished the 2011 season with 5.21 YPC average and 13 TDs. He also emerged as a legitimate receiving threat grabbing 35 passes for 267 yards. In the 2012 outlook for Bell, he was ranked the fifth-best running back in the Big Ten pre-season by ESPN(although the list included Silas Redd who will be playing at USC this year). He’s a Doak Walker preseason watch list selection as well. As you know Bell has a weird combination of elusiveness and bruising ability, like he can hurt you or he can sidestep you. That’s a blend not often seen at Running Back. Way Too Early Prediction: Le’Veon Bell will end up second team All-Big Ten this year behind only Montee Ball. That dude won the award for All Big Ten when he decided not to enter the NFL draft.
Courtesy of Twitterer @Pietrang5
<-- Larry Caper sets up a field goal runs over Troy Woolfolk to beat UM in 2009. 2011 was an interesting year for Larry Caper. He played in 11 games, primarily as MSU’s third down back. He averaged 3.87 ypc and caught 10 passes for 86 yards. Showed great hands and more important looked great as a pass blocker on third down. He spent a few games of the 2011 season concussed after the Nebraska game and again in the Spring game this year. Provided his noggin stays healthy, he’ll see an expanded role in the offense as he and Nick Hill consume all of Edwin Baker’s carries from 2011. Caper has a running style that is quicker than Bell and moves nice and fluidly. He’s obviously not quite as beefy, but at 220, he’s still a load to bring down.
Nick Hill saw a lot of mop-up duty in 2011 aiding in defeating mighty juggernauts such as Youngstown State, FAU, CMU and Indiana. More importantly he returned 38 kicks for 999 yards in 2011 and showed that he has the quicks to be the lightning to Le’Veon Bell’s thunder. He actually reminded me a bit of DeAndra Cobb, where you could run the delayed draw and watch Nick Hill go right up the middle for 78 yards and a touchdown. He had 29 carries for 113 yards and no receptions. It’s difficult to tell how the coaches will work Hill and Caper into the fold together.
Bell is the clear number one back, but the coaches haven’t hinted whether they’re going to try and feed three guys carries again in 2012 or whether they’ll try to pick two guys and go. If the coaches go three guys I’d expect to see Bell and Hill on first and second down and then Caper on third down. If the coaches go two guys it’ll be Bell and someone else. Another thing helping this group is that the interior Offensive Line has improved quite a bit since 2011 as well. Chris McDonald and Travis Jackson return at RG and Center, Joel Foreman is replaced by Blake Treadwell who’s flat nasty on the football field. Running between the tackles should become quite a bit easier this year.
The Other Guys
The two guys most likely to see the field are Jeremy Langford and Nick Tompkins. Jeremy Langford was recruited as an athlete from the same school as Keshawn Martin. The rumor has been that Langford was faster in a straight line, but Keshawn was like a Wonkavator in every direction. Langford played third string corner last year and had an interception return for a touchdown. Nick Tompkins is a true freshman this year and picked MSU over offers like Wisconsin and Georgia Tech, he like Hill has that one-cut and gone type speed. These are the two guys next most likely to be tapped.
Tony Fant and Marcus Horne join the team this year as walk-ons. Tony Fant comes to MSU from Loyola High School where he averaged 10.2 ypc and picked up 9 TD’s his senior year. Horne is a greyshirt from Wisconsin who turned down a Single Redeemable Offer Anywhere in the MAC to come play football at Michigan State. Horne and Fant Jr. both have the kind of stories where you root for them to succeed.
The position of Running Back may not be amazing in 2012, but it will improve and substantially. It will certainly evolve into a position of consistency which will give Maxwell some additional breathing room on 2nd and 6 type plays. The three backs all bring different styles to the table, Bell is strong and fluid, Caper is sturdy and Hill is quick as a cat. There’s a formula for dinging all of the Big Ten defenses with those three styles it’ll just be a matter of health and blocking. I expect MSU to finish more middle of the pack this year in Big Ten rushing(think 4-6th) and that 2012 to be MSU’s strongest rushing year since 2007.