Connect with us


‘Iron sharpens Iron’: Indiana running backs leaning on a talented and deep group to help breed success



Improving the offensive line was the key point of emphasis after the 2022 season. Not only was it for quarterback play, but also to utilize a versatile and potentially explosive running back room. Halfway through fall camp, that plan is slowly coming to fruition for the Indiana football program.

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 young quarterback ready to start the season for Indiana, it’s imperative that the rushing attack and offensive line are working in tandem to make life easier on whomever ends up under center, as well as the rest of the offense.

Part of Indiana’s expected improvement in the run game is the addition of offensive line coach Bob Bostad. Thus far, reviews out of fall camp have been great about what he’s been able to do.

That comes from both the running backs as well running backs coach Craig Johnson.

“I think Bob has a really good hold on the offensive line both from the run game and the pass protection. I’ll just say, we have very similar backgrounds in a lot of ways. So it’s been easy,” Johnson said. “He’s demanding with those guys, he’s tough on his players but he’s going to get the best out of those guys. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing how our line is going to grow this year … our run game philosophy and pass game philosophy are very much in sync.”

“I think the o-line has made such a big jump this offseason,” Indiana senior running back Josh Henderson said. “We put a big emphasis on them (coming into camp) and they’ve made the running much better because of that.”

Jaylin Lucas and Henderson return as the core group of runners from a season ago.

Lucas totaled just 271 rushing yards, with a 5.5 yard per carry average, and 82 yards receiving. He also added two rushing touchdowns.

Henderson had 398 rushing yards with a 4.4 yard per carry average and had the third most receiving yards on the roster with 274. He also had a team-high four receiving touchdowns.

More: Indiana Football Position Preview: Running Back

While both Lucas and Henderson are different types of runners, Indiana knew in order to be effective this season it needed more. So, the staff went out and added a third player to that core rotation in Wake Forest transfer Christian Turner.

Turner arrives in Bloomington after a 2022 season that totaled 516 yards and seven touchdowns on 128 carries.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound back has already shown why he was a priority for the Indiana staff.

“He has very good short area quickness, he’s a good pass protector. He’s shown a lot in his snaps. I’ve very excited about what he’s been doing,” Johnson said of Turner. “… The greatest thing that he has done is he is a relentless studier of the game, and he is all in the details. He is into football, in a big way, and that’s a good thing.”

“Christian is just – he’s got moves like you’ve never seen,” Lucas said smiling. “Ya’ll really haven’t seen the real Christian yet. Christian, he’s like that.”

Between a shifty Lucas and physical Henderson, Turner rounded out the room with his ability to do both.

“All of us have our own style,” Turner said. “Josh is between the tackles. He’s hard to take down. Jay Lu (Jaylin Lucas) is super fast. I’m more of a balanced back. But I think being together throughout spring ball and summer workouts, we’ve kind of pull from each other some different things that we can use, so we’ve made each other more diverse.”

All three players are looking — and expected — to play a significant roles in 2023. That’s been evident with more two-back sets throughout fall camp and utilizing all three backs more as pass catchers out of the backfield.

Coach Q&A: Indiana football running backs coach Craig Johnson discusses versatile RB room

That, and the competitiveness of all three is lifting that room up to new heights this offseason.

“Being around these guys, iron sharpens iron,” Turner said. “You see him (Lucas) make a play, someone else in the room wants to go make a play … we all have our different styles … we all let our natural abilities take over so it’s really cool to see the things guys can do.”

“He’s a competitor. We push each other more than I’ve ever pushed anybody else. He pushes me and us to be our best,” Henderson said of Turner. “When he’s on the field, it’s a constant battle. We know how good we can be.”

Competition is good. Especially for this team and this group that is expected to be a major contributor to the offense. But, when their number is called, they better be ready … with no excuses.

“I’ve always believed throughout my career, there’s going to be someone stepping out as a starter on game day,” Johnson said. ” For those behind, you better be ready and prepared like a starter. You don’t get do-overs … Don’t tell me, ‘I need to warm up’. Don’t tell me, ‘I need to get a feel for the game’. You’re talking to the wrong coach … the bottom line is, go out there, don’t try to make highlight plays, that’s what gets you into trouble. Just do what you do, do it well and do it consistently.

“You better think like a starter, whether you’re the first person on that field or not. You better practice, study and prepare like you’re starting because you only get one chance to impress our head coach and that’s the key.”

At the end of the day, this room knows how good it can be. No matter who’s on the field, or who ‘starts’, they believe in each other and will be ready for their time.

“Everybody treats it the same way,” Turner said. “Everybody is attacking with that mentality as if they’re a starter, and that’s good for us.”

“That room can be tremendously good,” Lucas added. “We’ve got every piece of a different type of back. Everybody is going to play a huge factor with our offense this year.”

SEE ALSO: Indiana Football Roundtable: Taking stock in Hoosiers midway through fall camp

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN, Facebook and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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.