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NI-Unit Previews 2009: Running Back

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On we go to the next installment of previewing every position on the Huskies for this upcoming season.  The recent good news of the 2009 Media Guide being released means we finally have a working official depth chart to use as a primer.  It's a 2-deep (sometimes 3-deep), but we're here to go through every player at every position from the starters down to the practice squad.  The first installment in Quarterback wasn't hard to figure out but a lot of the other positions on offense are a little tricky to put a finger on.

Running Back.  Northern Illinois.  You can't say you are a true NIU fan if the combination of those two subjects doesn't produce goosebumps.  Shades of Michael Turner and Garrett Wolfe dance up and down the field in your mind, both named to the All-Decade MAC team recently by CBS Sports.  Does the glory position at NIU still have its luster with Coach Kill at the reins?

NIU1981 did a darn good job analyzing each of these backs during the spring, as his write up is a must-read.  I'll try to add on what I can.

The Starter (Tier 1)

8 Me'co Brown (5'7" 185, SO)

OK so the official depth chart says Me'co Brown OR Chad Spann, but clearly Brown is the favorite to start the season opener at Wisconsin.  Last year, he had the largest chunk of starts after Justin Anderson & Montell Clanton fizzled out from Week 5 @ Tennessee to the end of the regular season. Me'co only relinquished his starting spot against the Ball State Cardinals during that span.  #8 had a tremendous Spring, truly developing his skills and rising above all the other backs in the fold.

Me'co Brown was the crown jewel in Coach Kill's initial recruiting class back in 2008, as he played the most out of any true freshman last year.  Hailing from Moss Point, Mississippi, Brown's claim to fame is that then-Ole Miss Coach/Recruiting Mastermind Ed Orgeron called him a "Little Reggie Bush" during the recruiting process.  Me'co has always relied mostly on his ability to make people miss as he still has questionable breakaway speed.  He's still a quick little bugger though and will beat most players in a footrace to the endzone.

An issue with Brown is always going to be the overuse of him with his small stature.  Last year he injured his foot against Eastern Michigan, something that lingered around all year.  He wore down by the end of the year just like a lot of the freshmen that played their first season of significant playing time (See: Chandler Harnish).  One thing that HAS to stop if he wants to be the feature back is the amount of time he spends on Special Teams.  Last year, he was the main Punt and Kickoff returner.  That was a lot of snaps for somebody that hadn't played D-I football before

Brown didn't have more than 6 carries or more than 15 yards in any of the last 5 games of the season.  He didn't even start in the Independence Bowl for whatever reason.  Yet, he still managed to finish behind Harnish as the leading rusher at the running back position with 110 carries for 510 yds.  Kill is looking for a back to step up, and Me'co looks to have the potential to be the next, dare I say it, Garrett Wolfe for the Huskies.

The 'Other' Starter (Tier 1A)

28 Chad Spann (5'9 197, JR)

Spann is anything but a traditional player for the Huskies.  First of all, he was a walk-on from Indiana that played as a true freshman and secondly he is the thunder to Me'co Brown's lightning.  How does he do that at 5'9" 195 lbs?  Pure grit and determination, my friend.  C-Spann's heart and desire on the football field has made him a fan favorite of Huskie Nation.  He was our biggest red-zone threat last year and an absolute beast to take down, as he will hit you hard in effort to gain just one or two extra yards.

Last year Spann racked up his two biggest games against the also-rans Indiana State and Toledo, but the coaches saw something in Chad and gave him more and more opportunities to show was he had during the course of the season.  Who could forget his grind-it-out performances against Miami & BGSU?, scoring a TD in each of those games.  Spann was also key in the major comeback against Central Michigan forcing an overtime, scoring 2 TDs.  He also took advantage of his start in the Independence Bowl, rushing for 79 yds on 14 carries.

Spann will run you over like a firetruck and he also had 4 tackles on kickoff coverage last year.  I can't even think of anybody to compare him to, he's just a player you just have to watch to believe and appreciate.  Beat up a little bit at the end of spring practice, but should be fine come a month from now.

Likely See Playing Time (Tier 2)

22 Ricky Crider (5'9" 178, JR)

The first interesting thing you notice there is that he is down to 178 lbs from 190 last year.  That is a dramatic difference.  I could see Crider morphing in to somewhat of a 3rd down back in the near future.  At the beginning of the season last year, Crider was fading in and out of relevancy right up to the Central Michigan game.  Against CMU, Crider played special teams and returned the ball 180 yds in kickoff returns including a 75-yarder.  After catching the eye of the coaches, he received over 10 carries in the next two games against Kent St & Navy racking up around 50 yds in both.  Crider will continue his mainstay on kickoff returns and will be a change of pace back for this upcoming season.

21 Justin Anderson (6'0" 234, SR)

It pains me to put Anderson here, but at this point I just have to.  JA is the last running back for NIU to churn out over a 1K of yds with 1,245 with 8 TDs on the ground way back in 2007.  He was the de facto offense in a 2-10 season two years ago and also set the record for NIU running backs with 45 receptions for 263 yds and 3 TDs as well.  Anderson started the first two games last season with minimal production, both ending up in losses.  For some reason, he ended up in Coach Kill's doghouse and never got out.  Not much has been said about it other than he just isn't a good fit for Kill's spread offense.  The reasoning sounds silly to me, but I'm not going to speculate any further.  I always thought he was a good back but not a great back, so the demotion wasn't as surprising to me as it was to other people.  He also was out for most of Spring Practice with a foot injury, so that didn't help him in his development.  Could be a hell of the threat in the redzone with his frame, but who knows.

Scout Team Superstars (Tier 3)

35 Alan Smith (5'10" 202, SO)

Coach Novak took a flyer back in 2007 with the recruitment of Smith, who suffered an ACL injury his senior year in high school at Neuqua Valley.  He redshirted his freshman year, but has only been playing sparingly on special teams.  His last rushing stats were when he ran for 1,402 yds and 19 TDs his junior year in high school where he made 2nd team all-state.  Also had an ankle injury that kept him out for a lot of Spring Practice.

43 Antoine Kirkland (5'11" 190, FR)

The Florida native ran for 1,252 yds on 179 carries (7ypc!) with 16 TDs his senior year in high school and was named 2nd team all-state for 4A Olympic Heights.  He looks OK on tape, but is a little raw and didn't have any other D-I offers.  We have plenty of running back depth and since he is our only freshman running back, I don't see any way we don't redshirt this kid for the future.

28 Furqan Muhummad (5'7" 148, SO)

I searched the entire world wide web and there is NOTHING about this guy other than the roster says he's a transfer out of Valdosta State.  He must have some speed given how frickin' tiny he is!  May also play DB/ST?

Weapon X (Tier ?)

Yep, there's another running back on our roster that so little is known about. He may or may not even be eligible this year.  If he is, then get excited.  Watch out for a story about him in the near future.  I'm banking on the former...