Roundtable: 2014 running back rotation

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:10
PM PT
One of the primary positions to watch this spring will be tailback, as the Trojans are deep in players looking to establish their spot in the rotation. How do you see the running back rotation playing out?

Garry Paskwietz: Despite the fact that new USC coach Steve Sarkisian has been pretty consistent in utilizing one primary back during his time at Washington, I think he will use more of a rotation system during the coming season. It’s not that I don’t think he has a back worthy of being a bell cow to carry a heavy load, it’s just that there are too many backs who can produce to leave them on the bench. One of the hallmarks of this offense is the uptempo style, and it could be a benefit to the Trojans to have a steady rotation all game long of fresh legs from the likes of Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac and possibly even D.J. Morgan. While it’s always possible that Sarkisian could choose one as his primary back, the guess here is that a rotation system is used to take advantage of all that talent.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesJavorius "Buck" Allen would appear to be the front-runner to be USC's top running back in 2014, but that won't stop other talented runners from staking a claim.
Johnny Curren: Any discussion about the USC tailbacks has to start with Allen, the Trojans’ team MVP in 2013. Unlike last season, when he landed the starting role almost by default midway through the schedule, he’s an established commodity now, and it was apparent in the way that running backs coach Johnny Nansen talked about him last week that the new staff thinks extremely highly of his abilities. A determined runner with great balance and athleticism, I think that he’ll stand atop the depth chart come the conclusion of fall camp, but it won’t come without a fight. People tend to forget that Madden rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the Trojans’ first five games this past season, and I’m anxious to see how he looks in the spring with a completely healthy hamstring.

The tailback that I thought showed the most promise at the beginning of 2013 was Davis. An explosive rusher with unique vision, his status is surely to be in doubt for the spring because of the broken ankle that he suffered against Notre Dame. If he’s 100 percent by the beginning of fall camp, however, he could emerge as Allen’s most formidable competitor. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Isaac gained some valuable experience this past season, and he certainly looks ready to contribute again in a reserve role. And then there’s Morgan. He’s shown glimpses of his big-play ability in the past, but he’s never had a chance to really get rolling because of injury. Even if he does come back healthy, it would appear as though he has a tough road ahead of him.

Greg Katz: The real underlying question might be just how do Sarkisian and new running backs coach Johnny Nansen see the rotation playing out? Are they going to have a one-back, two-back, or three-back rotation system, and does this new system help or hurt each back? Last season at Washington, they went exclusively with Bishop Sankey, and all he did was become an All-American and All-Pac-12 selection.

We know from last season that former Trojans running backs coach Tommie Robinson was able to expertly rotate his running backs, although it was made easier by a series of unfortunate injuries to Madden, Davis, and Morgan. All three should be ready to go at some level for spring ball.

The view from here is the favorite to start should be Allen, the 2013 team MVP. Allen has proved he can carry the load and he is a true home-run hitter. Assuming that Allen continues to get better, the real question is who or how many follow Allen? At various times, Madden and Davis looked outstanding until injuries cut their season short, and each of these two running backs also brings a different style of play.

The real dark horse in all this competition would appear to be Isaac after his late-season charge. He really showed flashes of brilliance, especially in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Why not Isaac?

So what is the order? Well, it starts Allem, then it’s anybody’s guess, depending on production and healthy bodies in the spring, which could also be affected by the state of the offensive line. The great unknown -- isn’t this what spring ball is all about?

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