One area of concern that many in the media are not talking about is Purdue's lack of depth at running back. The unexplained transfers of redshirt freshman to be Doug Gentry and Reggie Pegram left the Boilers with a pretty then group to carry the ball. The top two guys are solid, but beyond that it is a mystery as to who Purdue will play.
Once again, it looks like a variety of ball carriers will be grabbed from other positions for a play or two at a time. The top two guys are pretty clear cut after both had solid edbuts last year.
Akeem Shavers - Sr. - 519 yards rushing, 6 touchdowns, 5 receptions for 58 yards and 1 touchdown
Shavers was brought in as a stopgap solution from Tyler Junior College to build depth and he ended up being possibly the most consistent back on the team. He missed the Bucket game with an injury, but returned to have a monster game of 149 yards on 22 carries. His only TD reception came against Minnesota, but he was a quick-hitter that can be a big play threat out of the backfield.
One of Shavers' better plays was a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the season opener that tied the game at 17-17. He would also score twice against Southeast Missouri State, and once against Penn State, Minnesota, and Ohio State. At 5'11 203 pounds Shavers brings a nice combination of size and speed. He has also been named a team captain, so his leadership will also be critical.
Is Shavers a 1,000 back? It is difficult to say. Our last was Kory Sheets, who had a monster year in 2008 but was overshadowed by half the Big Ten also having huge seasons. I doubt we're going to see Montee Ball numbers out of Shavers (although I would take them!) but he should have a solid season.
Akeem Hunt - So. 287 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns
Hunt was a player that came on very late last season and as a result is now the default No. 2 back. With Shavers out he got extensive time against Indiana after Ralph Bolden was hurt again. He took the opportunity to rush for 100 yards on 10 carries. To be fair I could probably rush for 100 yards on Indiana's defense last year and I have a bum ankle right now.
Both of Hunt's touchdown came in the SEMO blowout. He is very intriguing going into this season because of his speed. He only needed 33 carries for his 287 yards, qualing nearly nine yards per carry. Aside from the Indiana game he had 56 yards on six carries for two scores against SEMO and 60 yards on nine carries against Minnesota.
Hunt is poised to be the No. 1 guy next season, mostly because we won't have anyone left. He is a speedy back at 5'9" 175 pounds. He won't run over you, but he can definitely make people miss. I expect him to get at least five carries per game because he can be a home run hitter on just one of them.
Ralph Bolden - Sr. - 674 yards rushing, 6 touchdowns, 13 catches, 129 yards
Brandon Cottom - So. - 70 yards rushing
I feel for Ralph Bolden. It seems so long ago now that he smoked Toledo for over 200 yards in his first start, then scared the bejesus out of Oregon in Autzen Stadium. The dude looked like the all-time Purdue rushing mark was simply a matter of claiming it for himself. He still has an impressive 1,637 yards and 17 touchdowns. His 234 yards against Toledo ranks third all-time for a single-game mark at Purdue, and his career rushing yardage has him 16th all-time at Purdue. A modest season can get him into the top 10 past the great Leroy Keyes.
Unfortunately, that bloody ACL tore for yet a third time against Indiana in November. Now his senior season is in question, as he could miss an entire year for the second time in there years. The good news there is that he could possibly return in 2013 if the NCAA grants a sixth year, but he would have to miss all of this year in order to get that. If we get anything out of Ralph this year it should be considered a bonus.
As for Cottom, he showed some promise last year as a huge 6'4" 255 pound running back. He had an impressive 70 yards in garbage time during the SEMO game, but he also tore his ACL midseason. Obviously with his size Cottom could be a punishing back the likes of which we have not had since Mike Alstott, but the knee is still a question. If he does play, expect him to line up at fullback, but he could line up at halfback from time-to-time.
Derek Jackson - Sr.
Kurt Freytag - Sr.
Between the two of them they have one carry in a combined seven years on the roster. That came last season when Freytag rushed once against Minnesota for no gain. Both fo them are big guys, but I would honestly love to see Cottom's bruising presence leveling guys. If Cottom can't go, however, one of these two will likely be our fullback in short yardage situations. This is where the loss of Jared Crank hurts. He proved that fullback in our offense can run or catch the ball if asked.
Gavin Roberts - Sr.
This is it in terms of guys behind Hunt and Shavers that are totally healthy. Roberts played in four games as a reserve on defense and has two tackles, but hasn't played at all since the Wisconsin debacle in Madison that year. He has since switched to running back, and as a result is a total mystery. He only rushed for 156 yards on 44 carries as a senior in high school.
Rob Henry - Jr.
Antavian Edison - Sr.
Raheem Mostert - So.
This is why I think Henry plays at running back more than quarterback. It is a matter of necessity, and I think he is more dangerous as the "running back that can occasionally throw" as opposed to being a full-time QB. Of course, he has many of the same injury issues as Bolden and Cottom. There is also the concern for 2013, as I mentioned yesterday. If we move him fully to running back we are basically saying that starting a freshman at QB next year with zero experience is fine.
Edison and Mostert were effective out of the backfield, however. Edison had 124 yards rushing and two scores, all a year after he ran for 133 yards the year before. We really need to keep him on the outside because of our lack of experience at receiver though.
Mostert didn't catch a pass despite officially being listed as a wide receiver. He still had 108 yards rushing and two scores in addition to 837 kick return yards. The dude is electric in the open field, so look for us to get the ball to him in any way possible.