DeKALB – Kelton Copeland wants his job to be tough.
Northern Illinois' second-year running backs coach would like his tailbacks to make his decisions hard when it comes to filling out the depth chart.
With the running backs NIU has coming back, Copeland might be in for some work.
There's senior Cameron Stingily, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season. Senior Akeem Daniels, the starter in 2012, missed last season because of a foot injury, took a redshirt year and is working his way back this spring.
Sophomores Draco Smith and Joel Bouagnon saw time as true freshmen in 2013, while speedy redshirt freshman Jordan Huff could make an impact this fall as well. Junior Keith Harris Jr. suffered a season-ending ankle injury last season and has not practiced this spring but should be in the mix as well.
"I tell those guys all the time, their job is to make my job hard. If my job is easy as far as who's No. 1, 2 and 3 in that pecking order, than we don't have a very good room," Copeland said. "Competition makes it better."
NIU knows what it has in Stingily, who went from being buried on the depth chart to grasping the Huskies' starting tailback spot in 2013, rushing for 1,119 yards.
During NIU's scrimmage March 28, Stingily played only one series so the staff could see what it had in the rest of the group.
One back who stood out was Huff.
"He's kind of that guy who can put his foot in the ground and really accelerate. He's got some burst to him that, (from) other guys in our league that I haven't seen. He's got that one-foot burst I like to call it," Copeland said. "He can put one foot in the ground and accelerate. Just like most freshmen, he's got to work on some coachable stuff that's easily correctable, just takes a lot of reps.
"That's what spring ball is for. He's definitely got ability, there's no doubt about it."
Huff worked with the scout team last season but has been getting both first- and second-team reps this spring.
"It's been a very big learning experience," Huff said. "Working on fundamentals, things I need to work on so I can get better for the season and camp come summer."
Before the arrival of Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch, NIU was known more of as a running back school.
Tailback should be a main strength in 2014.
"We've got a lot of depth right now," Bouagnon said. "We've got a lot of backs. Lot of speed, lot of power. We're well-rounded right now."