With spring practice a little more than a couple of weeks away let’s begin our evaluation of the 2017 version of the Tulane Green Wave by taking a good look at the roster position by position as they prepare to begin their second spring under the tutelage of head coach Willie Fritz.
The Green Wave completed the largest year-over-year increase in rushing yards in the FBS in 2016. Going from rushing for only 107 yards per game in 2015, to nearly doubling that total rushing to 209 in 2016. A large chunk of the increase can be attributed to a radical change in offense, switching from former coach Curtis Johnson's pro-style offense to Willie Fritz's run heavy, pistol based triple option attack.
Someone had to carry the ball for all those yards, and though Tulane loses the services of Josh Rounds (758 yards & seven touchdowns) and Lazedrick Thompson (506 yards & seven touchdowns) to graduation, the Green Wave returns two running backs who have been starters at one point in their careers in Dontrell Hillard and Sherman Badie. They will be joined during spring practice by Darius Bradwell, Miles Strickland, Stephon Huderson and Corey Dauphine.
Senior - Dontrell Hillard - (759 yards and 9 touchdowns) Hilliard returns for his senior season after leading the Green Wave in rushing last season. The senior is a complete back, with good speed, solid in pass protection and a shifty-yet-tough running style that allows him to get the tough yards in between the tackles and take it the distance when given a crease. He is also quite effective in the passing game, either out of the backfield or in the slot.
Redshirt Senior - Sherman Badie - (169 yards & 1 touchdown) Badie was injured for a large portion of the 2016 season, but when healthy the former track star can score from anywhere on the field with three plays of at least 86 yards during his career. He also doubles as the Green Wave's kickoff returner, garnering 2nd team All-AAC honors from Phil Steele as a kick returner.
Junior - Corey Dauphine - A mid-year transfer from Texas Tech, Dauphine is a speedster from Port Arthur, Texas. He redshirted his first year at Texas Tech, and had two carries for 27 yards and a touchdown last season for the Red Raiders. The former four star recruit is ineligible this season, but will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Sophomore - Darius Bradwell - (33 yards) Bradwell is in his first season at running back following a move from quarterback. He brings good size and speed to the position along with excellent balance and lower body strength.
Redshirt Freshman - Miles Stricikland - Strickland redshirted this past season after rushing for over 2,100 yards in his final two prep seasons and garnering second team 7-A All-State honors in Alabama.
True Freshman - Stephon Huderson - Huderson enrolled early following a high school career where he rushed for over 4,400 yards and scored 44 touchdowns for the Petal (Miss.) Panthers.
Willie Fritz's offense requires multiple running backs, and there will be plenty of carries to go around. Last season Tulane had three running backs with over 500 yards rushing and five players with over 200 yards. Dontrell Hilliard is the unquestioned starter at the position, and he has the next level talent to be the next NFL running back from Tulane, following in the footsteps of Rob Kelly, Orleans Darkwa and Matt Forte.
I expect all the backs listed to contribute in a myriad of ways this year. While Hilliard will be the primary ball carrier, Badie will be the speed back used for option pitches and screens. Miles Stickland will be the 3rd down back, whilst Darius Bradwell with his size and lower body strength could fill the role of the short yardage back. The wildcard of the group is Huderson, who has the quickness, vision and speed to be a contributor, and with his early enrollment he has accelerated his learning curve.
Last season the running backs were Tulane's best offensive unit, and this season if they can avoid the injury bug I see no reason not to expect a thousand yard season from Hilliard and a couple other players to eclipse 500 yards as well.