Spring Review: Running backs

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Northern Illinois running back Ricky Crider (right) takes a handoff from quarterback DeMarcus Grady. (Rob Winner – rwinner@daily-chronicle.com)

On the offensive side of the ball, no group had a better spring than Northern Illinois' running backs.

Even without No. 1 back Chad Spann, who coaches elected to hold out of spring ball following offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, the Huskies running backs displayed levels of depth and consistency that haven't been seen under NIU coach Jerry Kill.

There's little question that the deepest position entering fall will be the running backs, which is good for the Huskies considering they don't know who the starting quarterback will be for the first game of the season.

The Huskies led the Mid-American Conference in rushing and with the inclusion of the pistol offense this spring, those numbers have the potential to go up based on the pistol's reputation.

With that, let's hand out some spring hardware to the running backs.

MVP: Ricky Crider

It's amazing what a little bit of health can do for a player. Close to 100 percent for the first time since his sophomore season, Crider was consistently good throughout the entire spring. He was impressive enough that the coaches didn't play him in the final scrimmage, saying they knew what they had in Crider.

The senior forced himself into the conversation for the upcoming season and is one of a few reasons why Kill feels so good about his team's depth at running back.

Most improved: Cameron Bell

In the first week, Bell looked like he hadn't played running back in two-plus years. He was tentative, unsure of himself and ran too upright. By the end of spring, the only questions on Bell are how much can he improve his pass protection and what exactly his role will be. Bell doesn't get tackled high – he's too strong to come down that way – and it often took a gang of Huskies to bring him to the ground.

Breakout star: Bell

Having to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, Bell seemed like a rumor for the entire 2009 season. Have you seen him? He's huge. He's different from the other running backs. How will he actually do?

For a set of spring practices, Bell did his best to answer those questions and made a good impression on the coaching staff. He's put himself in good position to see serious time in the fall, which is all he wanted to accomplish.

Needs to improve: Antione Kirkland

The magnificent August that Kirkland had as a true freshman, turning heads and impressing the coaches, seemed like a lot longer than eight months ago. Kirkland lost a couple of fumbles and didn't break off any of the big runs he did in August 2009. In an already loaded backfield, it will be tough for Kirkland to duplicate the impact he once made.

Post-spring depth chart: Spann, Crider, Bell, Hopkins, Scott, Kirkland

Projected depth chart for Iowa State: Spann, Bell, Crider, Hopkins, Scott, Kirkland

The top four will see action, though it's tough to say how much for each.

Final spring rushing statistics:

Cameron Bell: 45-192, 3 TDs

Ricky Crider: 19-176, 1 TD

Jasmin Hopkins: 34-102

Barrington Scott: 24-65, 2 lost fumbles

Antione Kirkland: 19-44, 2 lost fumbles

Anthony Johnson: 1-7

Akeem Daniels: 1-3

Quarterback rushing stats:

Jordan Lynch: 12-22, 1 TD

DeMarcus Grady: 18-19

Chandler Harnish: 4-16

A.J. Hill: 11-5, 1 lost fumble

Quotable: "I'm just trying to be the best Cameron Bell I can be," – Bell on any comparisons between him and New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who played for Kill at Southern Illinois.

How many touchdowns will Chad Spann and Cameron Bell combine for in 2010?
30+
25-29
20-24
16-20
15 or fewer

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How do you feel about NIU's recruiting class?
NIU couldn't have done better
Huskies went to a BCS bowl in 2012, it's disappointing
Talk to me in three years