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FSU Football Spring 2020 Preview: Running backs

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Who will emerge to replace Cam Akers in 2020?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 ULM at Florida State Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The running game is the backbone of any good offense.

You will not have a good running game without a group of talented running backs, and that’s especially true in Mike Norvell’s offense. Norvell is a run-first offensive coach and he will be diverse within that running game. He’s going to utilize traditional inside/outside zone schemes combined with RPO action and then mix in some gap/power action. This diversity requires diverse skill in your running back room.

Since day one on the job Norvell has talked about the depth (or lack thereof) in the running back room.

There is a very empty feeling in the running back room right now, but are things truly that bleak?

Returners

Redshirt junior Khalan Labron

Laborn was a 5* recruit coming out of high school. He is famously known for an amazing run after the catch play in 2018 against Virginia Tech. Laborn suffered a gruesome knee injury against Samford the following weekend and was lost for the year. In 2019, he returned as a redshirt sophomore and backup to Cam Akers, but he experienced an up and down season. Laborn was suspended at least once, missed multiple games to injury, and never looked recovered from his knee injury. He played in 10 games, rushed 63 times for 297 yards (just 4.71 YPC) and scored four touchdowns, while adding 10 catches and 66 yards.

Laborn has game-breaking talent and elusiveness if he is healthy and focused. Those are two things you hate to hear said about a player, but these are the circumstances. This is an extremely talented player who needs to put it all together heading into his third spring (and third coaching staff). Laborn has the ability to be an every-down back in Norvell’s offense, as he possesses the physical ability to run inside zone and the speed/wiggle to burst to the edge on outside zone.

Redshirt sophomore Anthony Grant

The missing man from 2019. Grant started the season with the program, but sometime during the middle of the season, he was absent for personal reasons. There have been many rumors surrounding why Grant was missing, but he’s back with the program and going through “Tour of Duty” drills. Grant was a 3* recruit in the 2018 class and made an instant impact as the primary kick returner. Grant is a physical runner that would fit well in the Norvell offense, but he needs to get back in football shape and mindset. This is a player to watch as spring progresses.

Redshirt junior Deonte Sheffield

A true fan-favorite for his recruiting efforts in years past. Sheffield is a walk-on who has seen limited action, although he featured in the Sun Bowl last season when Akers sat out to prepare for the NFL. Sheffield should be in the rotation this spring due to numbers and will bring some toughness and work ethic to the room.

Redshirt freshman Treshaun Ward

Another walk-on running back who had a role in the Sun Bowl. Ward is an emergency option, but will get burn throughout the spring due to numbers.

Newcomers

Freshman Ja’Khi Douglas

Douglas is a WR/RB hybrid player, but will be working out of the backfield this spring. Doulgas was an early enrollee so he’s been on campus going through “Tour of Duty” drills. Douglas has a thick build, but he possesses wiggle and an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. We know Norvell’s offense features backs in the passing-game, so I’d expect Douglas to be a key option this spring. He’ll be learning the running back position, after playing wide receiver in high school.

Review

Overall, the running back position is a weakness for FSU this spring, but there is help on the way in the summer. The expectation is for Norvell to want to establish a diverse run game that takes pressure off the offensive line. Can the spring roster handle it? Will Laborn finally live up to his 5* status out of high school? This a major storyline to pay attention to throughout the spring.