LOUISVILLE, Ky. – This time last year, Louisville was heading into fall camp with a little bit of a question mark at running back. Javian Hawkins, who had been their starter over the previous two seasons, had moved on and was now in the NFL. One of the biggest storylines in that preseason was who would seize the opportunity, and take over as the go-to running back.
Now, Louisville finds themselves asking a bit of a similar question, but for a completely different reason. Heading into year four of the Scott Satterfield era, the Cardinals sport one of the deepest running back rooms in the ACC.
Louisville returns their top two rushers at the position in the form of Jalen Mitchell and Trevion Cooley. Mitchell was the regular starter, displaying consistency on a regular basis to finish the year with 722 yards and five touchdowns. Cooley, as just a true freshman, showed flashes of brilliance and potential superstardom, logging 431 yards, a touchdown and a 5.0 yards per carry average.
On top of those two, Louisville has two additional options for significant carries. Tennessee transfer Tiyon Evans was the Vols’ leading rusher through most of last season, rushing for 525 yards and six touchdowns until an ankle injury forced him to sit for the final five games of the year. Jawhar Jordan could even carve out a sizable role after compiling 216 all-purpose yards in the First Responder Bowl.
Needless to say, Louisville is anticipating having an intense position battle at running back throughout fall camp. Especially in a crucial year under Satterfield, one many fans are viewing as a “prove it” year.
“Every game, we’ll all have to bring it,” Cooley said after Louisville’s first day of fall camp.
While there will be someone who does become the de facto starter in the backfield, much like last season, Louisville is likely going to operate at running back by committee due to all the talent they have at the position. It’s also because the staff wants to preserve the backs as much as they can, considering the weekly beating that running backs are subjected to.
“You have to have multiple guys who can step in and make plays, and that’s why I’m excited about our running back group,” offensive coordinator Lance Taylor said at Louisville’s Media Day. “I think you’ve got multiple guys who can step in, play big time meaningful reps for us, carry the football, catch the football out of the backfield, protect the quarterback when we ask him to be in pass protection.
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“We’re going to use all of those guys. Then by the game, it really depends on what guy has the hot hand. Who is really playing well, who’s feeling it, who’s running really hard. I think you get a sense of that as you get through the first couple of series, and really see who has the hot hand for that day.”
It will no doubt be a battle for reps every single week amongst the running backs, but it’s not completely cutthroat. Each one is still looking out for each other, knowing that the overall health of the position – and to an extent, the team – relies on every back on the roster to be operating at peak efficiency.
“We know every day we’re striving to make each other better. We’re brothers in that room,” Cooley said. “We see something wrong, we’ll let each other know, like, ‘hey, next time, cut here or do this.’ We’re just trying to push to make each other better, take more off of the quarterback, and just be more explosive.”
Louisville is set to begin the 2022 season when they travel to upstate New York to face Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 3.
(Photo of Jalen Mitchell via University of Louisville Athletics)
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