DeKALB – To Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey, even if you have a top-flight running back, there’s always the need for more.
These days, whether it’s college or the NFL, multiple backs who earn playing time are always useful.
Depth at tailback is something Carey wants to see this spring.
“We’re developing it. Guys have to step up,” he said. “That’s one thing about the running back position right now. You don’t just do it with one. If you do, you kind of get beat up. You do it by quite a few of them, even if you have a special one. You look in the NFL you have special ones, they still rotate guys in.”
At the end of the 2012 regular season, NIU’s Akeem Daniels had the look of a top tailback, running for 112 yards and four touchdowns at Eastern Michigan the day after Thanksgiving, and gaining 128 yards with a touchdown in the Mid-American Conference Championship win over Kent State.
Daniels took the starting role late in the year, finishing with 447 yards, an average of 6.6 yards a carry, with nine touchdowns. The senior is listed at the top of NIU’s spring depth chart, but after him there’s some uncertainty.
Keith Harris Jr. got on the field as a true freshman but missed the last four games because of injury.
Leighton Settle led Huskies tailbacks with 453 yards, but has left the program.
Behind Daniels and Harris, who ran for 226 yards (4.1 yards a carry) and four touchdowns, are juniors Giorgio Bowers and James Spencer.
Bowers, an Akron transfer, had just 12 carries for 65 yards last season, while Spencer carried the ball just twice for 30 yards.
Daniels and Harris have been dealing with minor injuries this spring, but Carey expects both back soon.
One guy who has taken advantage of the extra reps is Bowers, who estimates getting double the reps he was receiving at the beginning of last season.
A Rich Central product, Bowers played at Akron in 2010 before transferring to NIU. He credited the proximity to home and the family atmosphere in DeKalb as primary reasons for his decision to be part of the Huskie program.
Bowers, who’s listed at 5-8, 218 pounds, has the size of a goal-line back, and Carey mentioned his downhill running ability. However, Bowers feels he’s more than a one-trick pony.
“I don’t limit myself. I try to do it all,” he said. “I may look like a short-yardage back but I can hit a big one if I get an opening.”
Bowers is a guy who has the ability to hit the hole and get tough yardage, which is one thing Carey wants to see from his backs throughout spring practice.
“You want to see them make the hard runs and the runs after contact,” Carey said. “That’s what separates backs, and that’s what we’re looking for.”