The Louisville Running Backs rushed for just 1104 of the Cardinals 2223 yards rushing last season. Much of the lack of production for the Cardinals was as a result of the limitations of its Quarterback. Louisville, in my opinion, had to augment its rushing attack based on Lamar Jackson’s presence last year. Everything came out of the shotgun with Lamar on the field and when Louisville needed to ‘Run to Win’ in the 4th Quarter they actually had to change Quarterbacks to get under center and run the ball in a traditional way. This inconsistency disrupted the involvement and rhythm of a position that probably relies on rhythm the most, the Running Backs.
But if we are honest it was a down year for the Louisville Running Backs. With Lamar Jackson being able to work the entire playbook and get under center coupled with the talent that we know this group possesses fans should be excited…..but fans should also demand better at the Running Back position in 2016.
Based on the open practices we observed we think LJ Scott is Louisville’s #1 Running Back Right now. L.J. Scott is by far and away the best pass catching back that Louisville has in practice, but Scott just hasn’t gotten the amount of touches during his career to get a good understanding of his rushing ability. LJ has been used A LOT as a blocker, but did rush for 180 yards on 39 carries last year. This Fall Camp, L.J. was running with authority and while he might be the Cards primary back on 3rd Down for sure….he might be Louisville’s #1 back overall.
Brandon Radcliff is a captain, he’s super strong and in 2015 he went away from his physical rushing style that has defined his career previously. In fact, versus Pitt & Boston College Brandon finished the game with NEGATIVE rushing yardage. Radcliff finished with 634 yards on 139 carries (just 4 catches for 20 yards) and 7 Touchdowns and that was much less than I think he expected for himself. Brandon really needs to get back to being himself and running with physicality and burst and not searching for a seam in the backfield. Additionally Radcliff has never been a pass-catching running back, but he must be available and more obvious for the check down than he has been. This Fall Camp Brandon looked like a guy who was more willing to do the dirty work on the inside and if the Cards get that Bad Rad then the rushing attack might take off!
One big surprise during Open Practices was the emergence of JUCO transfer Malik Williams. Williams seems to have hit the ground running and has legit athleticism. It’s hard to say whether or not Williams is truly ahead of Jeremy Smith or if we just had a limited view of practice. Together Williams and Smith might be Louisville’s most explosive runners. Malik has a lot of “POP” and last year Jeremy always looked like he was about to break one for the entire distance. Louisville needs a big boost at the RB spot in 2016, so Jeremy Smith has to eradicate the fumble tendency out of his game and maybe they’ve found something with Williams. Prior to camp Williams was a prime redshirt candidate, but that is doubtful now. Malik Williams is going to play.
Between Radcliff, Scott, Williams and Smith Louisville has a very talented set of Running Backs that each have something they must work on in order to improve the Cardinal Rushing attack. This Fall Camp there was a clear emphasis to get the Running Backs more involved in the offense, out of the shotgun, in pistol, or under center…..in any way possible! There is certainly an added emphasis in the run game and the play-action part of the equation will also factor into the offense. The Running Backs need to work to be outlets for Lamar Jackson and keep defenses accountable and off the Cardinal QB.
My Predicted Running Back Depth Chart
LJ Scott (6’0, 225, Jr.)
Brandon Radcliff (5’9, 210 R-Sr.)
Malik Williams (6’3, 220, Jr.)
Jeremy Smith (6’2, 224, Jr.)
Malin Jones (6’0, 225, Sr.)
Trey Smith (6’0, 220, R-Fr.)
Dae Williams (6’2, 224, Fr.) – LIKELY REDSHIRT
Lamar Atkins is back at Fullback and will probably play in certain situations where the Cards need two backs. Atkins is a good pass catcher and blocker at the FB position. Malin Jones looks like he’s more ready to contribute than he was a year ago. Jones really runs hard and while he’s not a regular part of the rotation the coaches seem to like him in special situations. Trey Smith tried Linebacker in the Spring but he’s back to Running Back, after redshirting last season Trey should see a lot of time in Special Teams. It’s a tough ceiling to crack with Radcliff, Scott, Williams and Smith as the core of this unit.
One player we REALLY REALLY REALLY liked during Fall Camp’s open practices was Dae Williams. Right now Dae is probably going to redshirt……BUT HE’S BIG and he moves really well. At some point Dae is going to be a big time factor for Cardinal Football’s rushing attack. Dae rushed for 1673 yards & 19 TDs as a senior in High School and has a reputation for not losing yards.
One thing that was interesting to see UofL work on in Fall Camp was a backfield with Lamar Jackson, Reggie Bonnafon, and Traveon Samuel. The Cards did a lot of different things with this set-up and they mixed and matched the Running Back group in there. It’s an exciting package that we saw a little bit of during last year’s Clemson game and it was actually the Cards most effective offense. It’ll be very interesting to see where and when we see this set-up. Of course Reggie & Traveon are wide receivers so we’ll talk more about them later in that section.
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