Dana Dimel is in no rush to answer the most important personnel question facing Kansas State’s offense.
Who will succeed John Hubert, the second-leading rusher in program history, as the Wildcats’ featured running back? DeMarcus Robinson, Charles Jones, Jarvis Leverett, Glenn Gronkowski and Dalvin Warmack are all options. And Dimel, K-State’s co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach, will have to start one of them against Stephen F. Austin later this month. But that won’t necessarily make the backfield any less crowded than it is today.
“If we played today, and I don’t anticipate it necessarily changing, we would do it by committee,” Dimel said Wednesday at K-State’s annual media day. “Now, we would love to see somebody step up and really take charge, but it is not a necessity. If everybody is practicing extremely well like they are right now, they are all going to have the chance to showcase what they can do when the lights come on.
“Right now, I am feeling like we are working toward that. It’s not because we don’t have one good running back, it’s because we have a couple good running backs who are capable of doing a good job and playing at a high level.”
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That might be the case, but none of K-State’s ball-carriers have proven themselves in live games. Robinson, a fifth-year senior from Wichita Northwest, is the only running back on the roster with rushing stats to his name. He has rushed for 45 yards on 11 touches as a third-stringer. Gronkowski, a fullback, has caught five passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, but he has little experience as a runner. Jones and Leverett are both sophomores without game experience, while Warmack is a freshman.
On paper, at least, none of them seems equipped to follow Hubert alone. Perhaps they are capable of more together.
Dimel said Robinson, Jones, Leverett and Gronkowski are all currently ready for a promotion up the depth chart. He said Warmack, from Blue Springs, Mo., is a step behind, but he thinks he could catch up as the season progresses.
It’s been a while since K-State has rotated running backs, but Dimel is excited about the change. He thinks each player brings unique talents to the position. Maybe they can keep defenses off balance with different looks.
“I have done it before,” Dimel said. “We did it with Daniel Thomas and William Powell. I felt comfortable with that, and we have done it in other offensive systems a lot, probably more than we have gone with just one guy. John just held onto the ball so well and he had almost 1,000 yards three years in a row. He had that toughness where nobody could step up and make it worth getting him off the field for. Now we are seeing guys step up. Yeah, this guy is doing a good job, but we need to give this young man a chance, too.
“We will get close to 1,000 yards out of the position, no matter how we have to do it.”
Robinson, Jones and Leverett have been competing for the starting job since spring practices began. Jones appeared to take a lead when he played exclusively with the first-team offense during the spring game, but Snyder said Leverett remained on even footing. And Robinson was only out of the equation due to an injury.
Now that he is healthy, he is excited about the future. Though Robinson hasn’t lived up to his billing as the top-ranked player in his recruiting class — he was a four-star prospect, according to Rivals — a big senior season would salvage his college career.
“It is a great opportunity. Honestly, I am thrilled,” Robinson said. “It has been a long time coming, but I think it has been worth it. I am from Wichita, and being around family has been a positive and a strength for me. I don’t know many carries I’ve had. Not enough if you ask me. But it’s nothing I can be mad about, because the guys who did get the snaps all deserved them. John and Daniel did a great job and we were winning. It would be selfish of me if I was upset about it.”
Dimel seems poised to give Robinson his shot.
“He is healthy now and he is having a good camp,” Dimel said. “He brings some things to the table our other running backs can’t.”
Robinson’s top traits are field vision, shiftiness and experience.
“He understands our offense,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He can execute our offense. Fundamentally, he is very sound. He has skill-level that is appropriate. A couple other guys are going to make it competitive, so DeMarcus is going to have to continue to perform as well as he can.”
Jones, Leverett and Gronkowski have upside, too.
With all four splitting carries evenly, a healthy competition has developed.
“It’s even more heated than it was in the spring,” Jones said. “Ultimately, I just want to show I can be that best back that is versatile with his blocking, catching the ball out of backfield and running downhill. I think whoever is the most versatile player will end up getting the most carries.”
When asked if he was open to splitting carries with three teammates, Jones smiled.
“Definitely,” Jones said. “We could make a good team.”
Added Robinson: “It is important for us to have a balanced running game and a balanced offense. Coach Snyder is looking for the total package. If he wants to use a committee, I’m all for it.”