Northwestern Running Back Derby is Wide Open

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By Paul M. Banks

In the past decade or so Northwestern produced about a handful of NFL running backs (Jason Wright, Noah Herron, Damien Anderson, Darnell Autry) Although neither of the two tailbacks they lost to graduation this off-season will follow in their footsteps, they were pretty good. Had Tyrell Sutton, the team’s best all-around athlete, stayed healthy his senior season he probably would have held all the major school records for rushing upon graduating.

“With losing a Tyrell Sutton, to see the way that Alex Daniel and Steph Simmons and Jeravin have stepped up- I’m pleased with where we’re at in that position,” Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said following the spring game.

Here’s the three candidates:

Stephen Simmons- Due to his possessing the most experience of the group, he should likely be the starter. He won’t get there because of his numbers (a Cedric Benson like 2.9 yards per carry) or his size (a Warrick Dunn like 5’8”, 175).  Simmons is a junior and knows a lot about competition for backfield playing time. He talked about competing with  Sutton and Omar Conteh last year: “They taught me a lot, just reading stuff, seeing stuff, quick cuts, they were always in my ear. It was a good competition then, it’s a good competition now,” Simmons said.

Jeravin Matthews- A converted wide receiver, and possibly the fastest man on the team, Coach Fitzgerald described him thusly “A dynamic athlete than can really run, his ball security was good all through spring. We saw him last year primarily returning kicks…and he’s doing a good job learning the system.” He was one of only two true freshman to play last year, and worked with the second team this spring.

Of the three candidates, his skills are most suited to the spread-option offense.  At 5’11” 170 however, one wonders about his workload durability in between the tackles. “For me it’s just a matter of using the linemen to hide behind ‘em. I’m not a big guy, so it’s just using my size to my advantage and then get lost in there for a second and finding what opens up,” Matthews said about running inside.

Alex Daniel- The 6’0″ 195 lb redshirt freshman is not quite as fast as Matthews, but he’s right up there. “He’s been battling through some injuries here early in his career. High hopes for him as he gets going with his strength and his speed work and getting 100% healthy, and when he does we’ll get a glimpse of who he is,” Fitz said. Daniel had some great reps in spring ball and after it concluded, he talked about modeling his game after the departed starter. “I loved the way Tyrell ran the ball, he’s falling forward most of the time, I learned a whole lot from him and he left huge shoes to fill,” Daniel said.

They’ll be more applicants in the mix including Scott Concannon, Jacob Schmidt ,Mike Trumpy and (God I love to say this name) Arby Fields.

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