DeKALB | NIU’s depth chart is simply a piece of paper, not a binding contract.
Huskie head coach Jerry Kill said he’s looking for depth during camp before the team’s season opener against Wisconsin on Sept. 5. One position that has caught Kill’s eye in particular? Tailback.
“We’ve got, shoot, about 400 of them in camp, you ought to think we find two; one, two or three,” said Kill of finding a starting running back. “You’re going to need depth at that position.”
After spring practices, the Huskie head coach could have simply named Me’co Brown and Ricky Crider the starting running backs for surviving camp, but entering the summer sessions, Kill said the competition for the starting position is "wide open."
“The way I looked at it is whoever survives camp survives me,” said the second year head coach. “During this camp we’ll see who survives and who’s mentally tough to take the grind and the punishment. And if there’s no clear cut guy we’ll work at it."
One back who’s looking to earn the nod from Kill is senior Justin Anderson.
In his sophomore season, Anderson was named the premiere running back after Montell Clanton suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the year. The sophomore had no problem picking up the slack, carrying the ball 274 times for 1,245 cards and eight touchdowns.
But that was under former NIU head coach Joe Novak.
In 2008 Anderson saw his carries drop by 81 percent; primarily carrying the ball out of a direct snap formation.
The running back has moved on with the past, however, and has been preparing to make an impact as a senior.
Anderson missed most of spring practice with a broken foot. This also caused him to be held out of a majority of the weight lifting and summer training that other running backs went through as he was rehabbing.
Although the senior couldn’t be on the field, he still took the summer to prepare himself mentally.
“I prepared myself mentally so I’m pretty much ready for any type of scenario or situation,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to discipline myself for now and the future; just trying to prepare myself.”
The senior said he’s the most disciplined he’s ever been in his life. Anderson cut out junk food, pop, and sweets from his diet. He analyzed days worth of game film and did whatever he could do physically to get himself into football shape this summer.
The 23 year old is hoping all of this will allow him to become the back that Kill is looking for—one that makes plays.
“[The tailbacks] have got to go make plays. Hell, I can’t make them,” Kill said. “They have to make my life easy, and make that decision clear cut.”
One advantage Anderson does hold compared to other running backs is his senior status. The Huskies have only 16 seniors on their 2009 roster. Of those, seven are listed as starters, with Anderson not being one of them.
Anderson has noticed that he has already been leading his fellow running backs by example. The running back finishes every play by running all the way to the end zone. This summer, the other Huskie running backs have taken Anderson’s example, finishing every play as a touchdown.
But Anderson knows the coaching staff is looking for a running back who is more of a playmaker than a leader.
“We need to take the pressure off of Chandler Harnish. He had to do way too many things last year,” Kill said. “We need to have a tailback, or two, we’ve got to have a tight end step up, we’ve got to have a wide receiver who’s going to make play; we’ve got to make somebody make him like good instead of him trying to make everyone else look good.”
Anderson believes he’s the back that can do this. But in order to be the man, he’ll have to prove that he can survive Kill’s camp first.
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