Marshall is on the hunt for its next top-line running back following the departure of standout Brenden Knox to the professional ranks, and whoever takes over that role for the Herd will have big shoes to fill for several reasons.
For starters, Knox finished his collegiate career as one of the best running backs in school history at MU and is a former Conference USA Most Valuable Player. Also at play will be the Thundering Herd’s new head coach Charles Huff, who came to Marshall this offseason after serving as the running backs coach for players such as Najee Harris at Alabama and Saquon Barkley at Penn State.
Huff’s bar for running back success is high, but so far his expectations are tempered for MU’s crop of running backs due to the fact that they have so little experience. That patience, however, likely comes with an expiration date.
“In my past, you’ve had the backs that have played two and three years so they have a little bit better knowledge of the game of football in college in general — the speed, the angles, the power that you need,” Huff said Wednesday during a video conference with local media. “The younger guys, they learn that. We do have some really good talent in that room, we’ve just got to mold it so that we can see it on a more consistent basis.”
The contenders for carries at Marshall in 2021, as of now, appear to be redshirt junior Sheldon Evans, redshirt sophomore Lawrence Papillon, sophomore Knowledge McDaniel and redshirt freshman Rasheen Ali. Among them, Evans is by far the most experienced but that experience was limited due to Knox getting the bulk of MU’s carries the last several seasons.
Evans, according to Huff, is currently “limited” at spring practices so his chance to shine for the new coach will likely have to wait. In the meantime, MU’s younger running backs have had their ups and downs, as expected.
“I think you see exactly what happens when you have a featured or premier guy at that position,” Huff said. “There are a lot of guys behind him with talent that just didn’t get the experience — that’s what we see now. We’ve got Pap, we’ve got Ali and we’ve got Knowledge right now that are working in. All of those guys have talent, just they don’t have the experience yet that a Knox would have or that [injured running back Sheldon] Evans would have.”
Huff said he has seen flashes of talent from that trio, now they need to figure out how to bring that on every play.
“A lot of it is new for them, so you’re tying in a new coach, new system, new philosophy, new practice plan and I’ve only played a handful of plays in college football anyway — so it’s all a little bit new,” Huff said. “They have shown some ability. I think all three of them right now — it’s consistency. One play Pap jumps out. One play Ali jumps out. On one play Knowledge makes a good catch. Then there are three plays when you’re like, ‘Are we playing with 10 guys or what?’ I think for them, it’s not only understanding that this is a marathon and not a sprint, but that they’re gaining the experience needed to learn how to be consistent.”