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Importance of Indiana running backs can’t be understated: ‘I want to maximize that room’



BLOOMINGTON, IN - April 15, 2023 - running back Jaylin Lucas #12 of the Indiana Hoosiers during practice at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN. (Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics)

With spring practice ending this past weekend for the Indiana football program, one thing is clear — the running back room will be utilized in many ways.

Last year Indiana’s rushing attack was ranked 13th in the Big Ten in yards per game (110.8) and 12th in yards per carry (3.4). With a lackluster passing attack as well, the inability to provide any punch from the running back room was disappointing.

But now, with that being the strength of the offense, IU head coach Tom Allen is looking to utilize that group of backs in numerous ways.

“I want to maximize that room,” Allen said after Saturday’s open scrimmage. ” … I like that room a lot and feel like we have more flexibility. We have to run the football. We have to run it effectively. Just with different levels from that for our defense, for our offense, for the team. For late in the game finishing out late fourth quarter games. Huge emphasis, no question.”

The running back room is headlined by versatile playmaker Jaylin Lucas. The preseason All-American kick returner is not only expected to be a significant part of the rushing attack, but also in the passing game. Last year he had 271 yards on the ground, 82 receiving yards and 591 kick return yards. Those numbers are expected to see a huge uptick in 2023.

“I think Jaylin gives you some unique skill sets there regarding to have at our disposal, and obviously he is going to be a very, very critical part of all of that,” Allen said.

And throughout spring practice, Lucas proved to be that all-around back Indiana is looking for and needing this season.

“He had two of the greatest runs I’ve seen in my life. It’s a shame they were behind closed doors,” IU offensive coordinator Walt Bell said last week. “He’s done a great job mentally of doing the things we need him to do … He’s playing all over the field … he’s now really become a true multi-purpose tool. We still have to continue to evolve and develop those tools, but if he gets it — enough time, we will be in every game … he was just making a lot of people miss, fall down. He has a really special gift and one of the better ball in hand players I’ve been around.”

Getting the running back room even more involved in the passing game is another part of the offense that Indiana would like to develop. Last year, Josh Henderson had the third most receiving yards on the roster (274).

“… we know what Jaylin can do, and I think Josh is a special back. Christian Turner was one that didn’t get to practice much. He did have an injury earlier in the spring, but it’s nothing long-term. He probably could have gone later. We wanted to keep him healthy. He is a very, very talented player.”

Getting production from the running back room goes hand-in-hand with the progression of the offensive line. Something that is sill a work in progress, there have been positives from that group throughout spring thanks to the addition of new o-line coach, Bob Bostad.

“I love his approach,” Allen said of Bostad. “He is a no-nonsense guy. Doesn’t smile a whole lot, and that’s okay. He never cracks too many jokes, and it’s all ball. It’s all business. Our guys understand that. So I really appreciate his approach. I think we’re going to be a lot better because of it.

“I think the running back room offensively that sticks out to me. I love the way they come to work every day. They have a lot of group … but that’s five guys there that I really believe are really good football players and give us a lot of weapons.”

SEE ALSO: Quick Hitters: Storylines, notes, key quotes from Indiana ‘Spring Football Saturday’

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.