Kansas State has a history of great running backs, and running teams, under the regin of head coach Bill Snyder. But for a number of reasons, from 2014 to 2017 there has been a lot of turmoil and under-production from the valuable position.
There have been outbursts for sure, star days for Charles Jones, Justin Silmon, Dalvin Warmack, and Alex Barnes. But not one has managed to take over a season, and the unit as a whole has been a mis-managed mis-mash for four straight seasons.
But Alex Barnes started to buck that trend last season, putting in the most yards by a single Wildcats running back since John Hubert broke 1,000 yards in 2013. Barnes rushed for 819 yards in 2017 on 146 attempts, good for 5.6 ypc, while also scoring 7 TD’s on a season that he was never fully healthy.
Let that last bit sink in some more. Barnes had over 800 yards rushing and wasn’t even at full strength. And he was running behind an o-line that, as good as it was, wasn’t great at run-blocking in 2017 (a dominating of UCLA’s porous rush defense not withstanding).
So what can we expect in 2018? Well, for starters it appears as though Barnes has taken the starting job by the horns and isn’t going to let go. After four seasons of RB-by-committee, 2018 will be the Alex Barnes Show. That’s not to say other guys won’t see the field — more on that in a minute — but rather that Barnes will be set-up to carry 80% or more of the rushing load given to the running backs, and will likely garner more attention in option situations.
As for the other guys, expect Dalvin Warmack to see the field a lot in passing situations, or as a slot receiver in 00, 10, or 11 personnel sets. The coaches, especially new offensive coordinator Andre Coleman, have alluded that Warmack will see an increased role, even if it isn’t as a traditional RB. During the open practice hour in mid-August, Warmack took as many reps with the receivers as he did with the running back unit.
Justin Silmon should also still see some action, as the former walk-on, who stunned everyone when he tore up Louisiana Tech for 114 yards in 2015 (before subsequently getting re-buried on the depth chart), should still get some time spelling Barnes and in situational packages. There has been rumor of K-State even using some two-back sets without a fullback; a stark departure from the Dana Dimel philosophy.
Speaking of fullbacks, don’t expect those guys to disappear from the Wildcat offense any time soon. Adam Harter will replace the departed Winston Dimel at FB, and while we should see a decreased reliance on the fullback position in general, Harter has shown an ability to both catch and run. Expect to see fewer scores from the FB position, and fewer seam routes.
It still remains to be seen how the shuffling of the coaching staff and any new and/or fresh philosophies will affect the running back unit, but should Alex Barnes stay healthy, he should have the opportunity to become the first Wildcat to break 1,000 yards since 2013, and put him in some elite company in K-State rushing history.