Gopher Football Preview: Runningbacks

Duane Bennett

The Golden Gophers ranked last in the Big Ten in total rushing yards (1,293), yards per carry average (3.0), and rushing yards per game (99.5). With the addition of runningbacks coach Thomas Hammock as co-offensive coordinator, expect to see Minnesota's offense more committed to running the ball this season with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge.

Runningbacks

Projected Starter: Starting eight games last season at runningback, after returning from knee surgery, redshirt junior Duane Bennett lead the team in rushing carrying the ball 98 times for 376 yards and six touchdowns. Bennett, standing 5-9 and 203 pounds, was also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield compiling 194 yards and two touchdowns on 16 receptions. While Bennett doesn't possess the explosiveness to bust long runs, he consistently dashes through the line for solid 3-5 yard gains. Bennett is a fairly quick, hard-nosed runner who should benefit from more carries this season and could top 700 rushing yards.

Projected Top Reserves: After losing shifty running back Kevin Whaley to a rules violation induced expulsion, expect Bennett and junior DeLeon Eskridge to share the bulk of the carries for the Minnesota rushing attack this season. While the 5-11 198-pound Eskridge lacks the lateral quickness and receiving skills Bennett possess, he is still a very solid runningback. Like Bennett, Eskridge will consistently grind out tough yards to help move the chains averaging four yards per carry and 294 total rushing yards last season. These two solid backs will be pushed for playing time by an impressive trio of freshman ball carriers.

Incoming Freshman: Lamonte Edwards an imposing 6-2 215-pound runningback from Woodbury, Minnesota gives the Golden Gophers a punishing, between-the-tackles runner. Edwards has the size to wear a defense down throughout the game and the power to convert in short yardage situations. With his physical style, stout frame, and athleticism Edwards should get carries this season.

Winning back to back rushing titles in Broward County, Florida and rushing for 1,835 and 18 touchdowns his senior season, Devon Wright gives Minnesota another workhorse runningback. The 6-0 190-pound Wright is a slashing, one-cut runner who displays great vision and initial burst through the line. He does a great job sifting through traffic and accelerating into the open field. As a receiver, Wright displays soft hands and the ability to adjust to the ball while it's in the air. Devon Wright is a complete runningback who has the tools to make an impact for Minnesota as a true freshman. Look for Wright to battle Edwards for the vacated carries left by departed runningback Kevin Whaley.

One runningback, who is already getting acclimated to Big-10 football, is 5-9 197-pound Donnell Kirkwood who enrolled in May and is participating in team workouts. Kirkwood has a powerful, compact frame which allows him to attack the middle of the defense and ram through arm tackles. While he doesn't have great speed he displays superb balance and is most effective when he squares his shoulders, runs north and south, and keeps his legs churning for extra yards. Although he enrolled earlier than Wright and Edwards, Kirkwood will most likely be redshirted allowing him a year to adjust to the speed of college football.

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