Breakdown of Virginia Tech's Running Back Situation

By: Henry Skutt | @henryskutt | Mar 24, 2017
[caption id="attachment_5998" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Travon McMillian headlines VT's running back group. [Credit: Harley Taylor][/caption]After the Hokies' running backs were inconsistent in Justin Fuente's first year, Virginia Tech is going into Fuente's second spring with hopes of establishing a more steady stable of running backs. There are officially seven running backs listed on the spring roster, but there are four main players that the coaching staff is looking at to hopefully contribute in the fall. Fuente said in his opening press conference earlier this week that this spring it will be "an open competition everywhere" and that the coaching staff needs to find a way to "get more production out of that spot." While the coaches don't have many seasoned veterans to choose from, it will still be a fierce competition The main returning back will be Travon McMillian. With both Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams leaving the program for various reasons during the offseason, McMillian will be the back that the coaching staff looks to for leadership and poise. He struggled with turnovers last year and didn't get as many carries as some fans would've liked, but still ran for almost 700 yards, seven touchdowns, and averaged 4.7 yards/carry. If he can get rid of the turnover bug, he could be a feature back for Fuente and his offense. Steven Peoples was announced to be moving to tailback full-time during the press conference this week. He split time at tailback and fullback last season, but with Sam Rogers graduating and Dalton Keene hoping to play as an H-back, the coaching staff felt that it was appropriate for Peoples to become a tailback full time and add some more depth to the position. Peoples looked very promising towards the end of the season as he began to get more reps as the tailback instead of the fullback. Fuente feels that for Peoples, "just solely being able to focus on that tailback position, I think, is going to help him." If he can develop a little bit more, he should be a good compliment to McMillian in the backfield. Deshawn McClease will be returning from a shoulder surgery that sidelined him for almost all of last season. Last season was a lost season for McClease because he had already used his redshirt year the prior year as a true freshman, so he'll be a redshirt sophomore for this season. He isn't at 100% yet, but will still be able to get some reps in during the spring. He's another running back that the coaching staff are anticipating to see progress in the spring and could make a big impact in the fall. It's hard for me to tell what direction he'll go during this season, just because he's sat out so long (2 full years). If history is any indication though, the coaching staff will have him ready to go and hit the ground running. The final running back that the coaching staff mentioned during the opening press conference is D.J. Reid. He's a redshirt junior who hasn't touched the field much. Fuente acknowledged that and included that Reid is "a little more of the unknown that we’re trying to encourage to get better and come along." When first recruited to Tech, he commentated that he would hope to play a mix of running back and slot receiver. With the departure of Hodges and Ford, and the uncertainty of the wide receiver group this year, we might see Reid spend some time in the slot as well. He's not a small guy -- at 6'1" and 235 pounds, so he should be able to do some damage running with the ball. There is a lot of uncertainly about depth on the offensive side of the ball going into spring practices, especially for the running backs. Given how turnover prone the backs were last season, finding a more solid rotation will be a major focus for Fuente and his staff. I am looking for McMillian to take a huge step forward and return to his form that he was in during the 2015 season. Does that mean he'll get another 1,000 yard season? Maybe. It's hard for any running back in this type of system to reach that milestone. He did get to 700 yards last season on limited carries however, so it could be done. My sleeper for this group is going to be Deshawn McClease. I feel that after having to sit out two full years, he's going to be ready and raring to go. Hopefully Fuente and his staff have gotten him completely into the system and it won't be hard to integrate him into the rotation.