Just last month, it was revealed by Coach Mark Hudspeth that senior quarterback Jalen Nixon would be playing running back in 2016. Any time a positional change like this happens you may scratch your head, but this kind of change shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone when you look deeper into the situation.
Jalen Nixon's 6'2, 226 frame is certainly able to withstand consistently being hit and his throwing ability was never his best attribute (53.5% completion, 5.83 yards per attempt, 7 TDs, 5 INTs in 2015). Instead, it was his rushing ability that led him to what little success he had as the signal caller.
Nixon's 406 rushing yards, while skewed by a monstrous 201-yard performance against Arkansas State, ranked him third on the team last season. Just Elijah McGuire (1,058) and Torrey Pierce (407) finished ahead of him.
Looking deeper into the potential running backs for the upcoming season, depth is a serious issue, as the team only returns 90 of the 241 non-McGuire carries last season. And of those 90 carries, 61 came from Nixon and 21 from Jordan Davis, two of the three quarterbacks used in 2015. This leaves us with just seven returning carries by one running back (Al Riles had one carry as a receiver in 2014).
The depth at the position is a major issue with Darius Hoggins (7/76/0 in 2015 as a sophomore) being the only other running back on the team with experience taking handoffs. There's some concern surrounding Elijah McGuire's ability to carry a full load while maintaining his explosiveness, and if the offense wants to scale his carries back to about 13-15 carries per game (12.7 in 2014) then they'll need someone to pick up the slack.
This is where Nixon's 6'2, 226 frame comes into play as he becomes a possible replacement for what Alonzo Harris did for the Ragin' Cajuns during his career in Lafayette. Harris was a 6'1, 216 pound bruiser who consistently wore down opponents with his bullish running style.
While it's unlikely for Nixon to be the type of running back Harris was (172/807/12 in 2014, 14.3 carries per game), he could certainly breathe new energy into McGuire's game by allowing him to stay fresh. If Nixon can't get it done then ULL will be looking to redshirt freshman and former three-star recruit, Jordan Wright (5'11, 207), to have a bigger role in the offense. Also at their disposal are 2016 commits Trey Ragas, a three-star signee, and Raymond Calais, a two-star signee.
At the end of the day, moving Jalen Nixon to running back this offseason was a smart decision due to the position's depth issues. With the addition of Nixon to the group, the Ragin' Cajuns best player, Elijah McGuire, has a better chance at flashing that explosiveness he showed us all in 2013 and 2014.