With QB decided, Tech can turn to getting more out of its running backs in ’17 | Virginia Tech Football Blog

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If you’re reading this, congratulations. You didn’t stare into the sun for too long on Monday.

If you weren’t as underwhelmed as I was, no need to fear, only seven more years till another total eclipse for you.

Now, back to football.

Throughout the offseason, both head coach Justin Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelson emphasized the need to fill key pieces around the quarterback. Now that redshirt-freshman Josh Jackson has won the job behind center, that sentiment becomes more relevant than ever. And the coaches can turn their attention that way.

A big position of concern heading into 2017 was the running back spot. After a less-than-optimal rushing campaign in 2016 for its backs other than QB Jérod Evans, the Hokies will need to beef up production. 

Last season, only five true running backs played for Tech, and they all combined for a modest 1,083 yards. That total represents just 42 percent of the 2,563 total rushing yards the entire team amassed last year.

Perhaps more significantly, Evans racked up 846 on the ground, accounting for nearly one-third of the Hokies’ total. Due to the fact that Jackson doesn’t have the linebacker-like build that Evans did, Tech won’t be able to have the same rushing game plan this season. Luckily, the Hokies have options in the backfield.

To be fair, Tech was limited by several injuries at the tailback spot in 2016. Between Marshawn Williams’ retiring, Deshawn McClease tearing his labrum and Shai McKenzie battling some weird injury, the Hokies had their hands tied.

This season gives the Hokies a new life in the backfield and plenty of guys they can rotate in and out. Travon McMillian was the starter last season and the likely pick to carry the load this season, too. McMillian was the leading rusher out of all of the running backs last season, with 671 yards, including a nice 27-yard TD run in the ACC title game against Clemson. 

“I feel a lot more comfortable out there,” said McMillian. “I know what I’m doing and I know what I’m looking at. Being in the system for a year, you figure out things you didn’t know the year before.”

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Steven Peoples is another guy Tech is looking at for ground production as he transitions from fullback to running back. Peoples is a walk-on turned scholarship player, following the path former Tech fullback Sam Rogers took. The junior running back repeatedly emphasized the importance of blocking at his new position.

“It all starts with blocking,” said Peoples. “We have to have a good blocking scheme; we have to be able to protect our quarterback before he can throw the ball. Doing that will help the team tremendously, so that’s a big role we’ve got to play.”

Returning from an injury is never easy, but McClease say’s he feels 100 percent after tearing his labrum during last season’s opener against Liberty. McClease says the key to playing running back for him is keeping it simple.

“You have to do your assignments and try not to do more or less than what’s asked of you. Just play ball,” said the former Oscar Smith High standout.

Another guy who might see the field is true-freshman Jalen Holston. Several players and coaches have repeatedly mentioned Holston as a guy who could make an impact early in his career. Specifically, McMillian mentioned Holston’s power on the field.

Holston “has been having a really good camp,” McMillian said. “He’s been showing that he’s explosive and has really good power. He can finish runs and has been looking really good.”

Tech opens its season against West Virginia on Sept. 3, when the running backs will get their first test against a very strong defense.

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