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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 29 injury. But the picture is not nearly as clear for 2017. Jones did not finish 2016 strong, nor did he follow that with a solid spring in his first exposure to the new coach- ing staff, which allowed now-healthy D.J. Knox, Richie Worship and Tario Fuller to enter the mix as serious chal- lengers for carries in the fall. Brian Lankford-Johnson, the team's second-leading rusher last season as a rookie, didn't show coaches much in the spring because of an injury, but he's expected to be a factor, too, especially con- sidering he's the fastest option in the backfield. That makes five capable players. Five. What's that mean for game snaps and carries? The backs, simply, don't know. "I feel like any one of these running backs in the room could be a starter anywhere else," said Knox, who started six games two years ago. "I think Coach probably realiz- es that this is probably, if not the best, one of the most talented groups on the team, but you can only use one of them at a time. "If anything, it makes us all better because we see that this guy can do that, so I need to get better, better, better because I need to outshine him. Or him. It's just a healthy competition. We all know what everybody in the room possesses. The open-book policy in the room, that's what makes everybody better because you're like, 'OK, I know I can do this and I know you can do this. Beat me.' But at the end of the day, somebody has to win the job. That will be interesting to see because I'm going to tell you every day I'm going to come in and put my best foot forward, and I'm going to work as hard as possible. I'm pretty sure Markell, Tario, Richie, Lankford, we're all doing it. It's go- ing to be interesting to see." In a bit of a surprise, it was Fuller, the back with the least amount of game snaps among the group, who left the spring holding the top spot on the depth chart with Knox and Worship close behind. But Worship, Knox and Jones offer a bit more power and an ability to run be- tween the tackles, while Fuller and Lankford-Johnson seem better-suited to get on the perimeter. Perhaps the goal could be what Purdue did last season against Illinois when Worship and Lankford-Johnson of- fered a nice 1-2 punch — Lankford-Johnson had 127 yards and Worship finished it after Lankford-Johnson got hurt with 60 and a TD. But Jones and Knox also weren't options then because of injuries. And with Jones back in the lineup the next week against Iowa, Lankford-Johnson and Wor- ship combined for six carries. Perhaps the player most capable of breaking big plays will get the nod. Purdue certainly could use a back who provides them. Last season, the Boilermakers had only 32 rushes — out of 361 — that gained 10-plus yards. That was the lowest total in the country. Perhaps the player most capable of making plays when not being handed the ball will get the nod. Jones caught 32 passes last season — that's the sec- ond-highest returning total to tight end Cole Herdman — and he could be a perfect asset split in the slot or to get him free in space. Knox and Worship have good hands, too, but Lankford-Johnson and Fuller could be the best in space. Perhaps the player most capable of protecting the quar- terback — a potentially significant need — will move up to the top of the list. Perhaps the player who has the most tenacity and best work ethic in summer workouts and camp will become RB1. The players aren't quite sure, really, what it's going to take. But they know there's only one way to approach the competition: Fight. "I guess the easiest thing that we have to do (is) sep- Tom Campbell Kirk Barron will be the anchor on the offensive line, after starting all 12 games at center as a third-year sophomore last season.

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