Spring practice began today so we will breakdown each position group as we gear up for football season. Note: We will not guess on what impact freshmen who are not on campus yet will have on the team.
Position Coach: Associate head coach/run game coordinator/RB coach Matt Merritt
Key departures: All-American RB Brian Battie (Transfer/Auburn), Jaren Mangham (Transfer/Michigan State)
Key returnees: K’won Powell, Kelley Joiner, Michel Dukes, Jason Albritton
Key additions: Nay’Quan Wright (Transfer/Florida), Dominic Gonnella (Transfer/North Dakota State)
The Bulls entered the 2022 season with four running backs that could’ve carried the load as RB1, and everyone felt comfortable with any of Battie, Mangham, Joiner, or Dukes being the bell cow. But, after injuries to Mangham and Joiner early in the season, it was clear Battie was The Guy for the Bulls on the ground.
How do you replace Battie, who rushed for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns, while also being one of the best kick returners in the country? That answer is TBD.
Enter Florida Gators transfer RB Nay’Quan Wright. The Opa-Locka native rushed for 753 yards, and five scores during his three years in Gainesville. He brings a lot of burst, and power (5’9, 196 LBS) to the running back room. It nearly seems like the Bulls coaching staff are trying to 1-for-1 the lose of Battie as much as they can with the addition of Wright.
Joiner in the past has shown he can be explosive, but an early foot injury, and rust when he finally played again led to just 44 yards on 12 carries in 2022. Add in Powell to the mix where he ran for 123 yards in 2022, but most of it came in a blowout loss at Louisville, there aren’t many reliable options in that room right now.
Mikey Dukes’ best ability in 2022 was his availability as he played in 11 games for the Bulls. He added 54 carries for 188 yards, and five touchdowns. He chipped in eight receptions for 72 yards as well.
NDSU transfer Gonnella and Jason Albritton seem to be taking up the same space as a bruising short yardage runner. Gonnella ran for over 1,300 yards in 28 games for the Bison, so there’s experience there.
How this running back room shakes out is going to very telling in what new head coach Alex Golesh values from his tailbacks.