2. James Gillum| RB | Junior | 5'11” 204 lbs. Junior College Transfer Photo credit: University of Minnesota Athletic Department
The Golden Gophers return four players who scored a rushing touchdown last year. One is the starting quarterback, one is a walk-on kicker who scored on a trick play and one is now a linebacker. The last player, the lone running back of the four, totaled 229 yards on the season.
So, uh, fire up that rouser!
To say the team lacks depth at running back is an understatement. The team returns sophomores Donnell Kirkwood, David Cobb and Devon Wright, but all three had trouble either staying healthy or breaking through the depth chart last year. So far, those guys have been just as unlucky this spring and summer: Cobb injured his knee in spring practice and Kirkwood is returning from a hamstring injury, although both seem healthy again. For now. Still, in Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover’s run-heavy offense, those kind of reviews don’t inspire much confidence.
In the three years Kill spent at Northern Illinois University, the offense ran the ball about 64 percent of the time. Last year, the Gophers ran the ball 63 percent of the time, remarkable still, considering they were often behind as soon as their opponents’ first drive was completed. With the uncertainty surrounding the position, junior college transfer James Gillum immediately steps into a starting spot and lead running back role for the Gophers.
Gillum comes to the program after spending two years Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where in 2011 he was named a preseason junior college All-American. In high school, his teams mainly ran basic wing T type stuff, but he learned the spread and blitz pickup in college, according to The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. That experience should allow him to step in immediately in regard to blocking schemes and blitz pickup.
Looking at the Kill and Co. offensive scheme, we can predict that MarQueis Gray will again tally a lot of rushing attempts. As far as the running back position, the coaching staff would prefer to have a smaller scatback split carries with a bruising short-yardage guy, but as things currently reside, it’s unknown if the team can count on the running backs outside of Gillum. There are two newcomers who have promise; Rodrick Williams, Jr. looks like a beast, while fellow incoming freshman K.J. Maye brings a level of agility that none of the other running backs possess, but it’s unclear how much the pair will play as true freshmen or if they will redshirt.
As Limegrover told 1500ESPN’s Darren Wolfson in 2011, they would prefer to have a third-down back and divide the workload. But the depth chart this year might not allow them to do so, especially if they decide to redshirt Maye. As MV showed in his list of junior college running backs that Kill has previously recruited, this staff has a talent for plucking junior college kids from the ranks. This staff expects Gillum to play.
Watching Gillum’s tape,
he takes every single carry to the house for a touchdown he doesn’t have blazing speed and is obviously not a bruiser, but Gophers coaches have continually pointed to his shiftiness and his ability to make tacklers miss. The junior will play early and will be looked upon to play often. Limegrover told BTN’s Tom Dienhart this summer that the Gophers could give the ball to Gillum 22 to 25 times a game.
“He’s durable. He’s tough,” Limegrover told Dienhart. “He has a knack for hitting the hole. He’s our kind of guy. There also are some young kids in the mix.”
As Limegrover said, Gillum is the main guy, the other running backs are in the mix. The starting job is Gillum’s to take.
Not so fun stat: The Gophers’ last 1,000-yard rusher came in 2006, as Amir Pinnix rushed for 1,272 yards. Before that, the Gophers had at least one 1,000-yard rusher each year going back to 1999. By the end of 2012 we could be singing the praises of Kirkwood or Cobb, but their inability to contribute last year – granted, it wasn’t all their fault – underscores how vital Gillum is to the Gophers offense.
Expect Gillum to be a workhorse back, given every chance to carry the ball 20 times a game. He will have to if the Gophers expect to succeed offensively in 2012.