Mix of veterans, fresh faces make up Bulls' backfield, O-line
The Bulls’ veteran offensive line is looking to lead the offense this season and open up holes for whoever emerges as the top option in the backfield. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum
Replacing one first-team All-Mid-American Conference player is hard. Replacing two is nearly impossible. That's the task the running backs and offensive line are taking on this spring as they move on after the loss of the program's all-time leading rusher, Branden Oliver, and offensive lineman Jasen Carlson.
This figures to be a much easier task for the offensive line than for the running backs, as the line returns everyone except Carlson. The offensive line also played the last six games of the season without Carlson after he broke his leg in the Bulls' game against Massachusetts Oct. 19.
"We have an older group of guys and we know what's going on, so we're going to lead the team," said senior offensive lineman Trevor Sales.
Replacing Oliver will be a taller task. Last season, the Bulls rushed for 2,176 yards on 538 attempts. Oliver accounted for 1,535 of those yards and 310 attempts while breaking his own single-season record for rushing yards.
Four of the Bulls' top five leading rushers from last season won't be returning in 2014. The only one who is returning is sophomore running back Anthone Taylor, who was the Bulls' second-leading rusher with 399 yards on 82 attempts.
"I wouldn't necessarily say I'm ready [to be the No. 1 running back]," Taylor said. "I feel like every day I get closer to being able to fill that role. [Running backs coach Matt] Simon, he makes sure we pay attention to detail and that's what we come out here to do and our motto is 'attention to detail takes no talent.'"
Sophomore Jordan Johnson is another player who will be stepping into a larger role in the backfield. Johnson redshirted his freshman season two years ago and sat out last year with a broken arm.
Sophomore running back Devin Campbell is one of the Bulls' most versatile players, as he can line up in the backfield or in the slot as a receiver. He stepped in for an injured Oliver two seasons ago to rush for 502 yards, amass 176 receiving yards and account for three total touchdowns.
With Oliver healthy last season, Campbell saw most of his playing time as a slot receiver. He carried the ball 11 times for 21 yards and two touchdowns while catching 19 passes for 200 yards.
He has also seen a large amount of reps in the backfield this spring.
"Two years ago when Bo got hurt, Devin as a true freshman ran the offense for us, so it doesn't matter ... we don't care who it is back there. We're going to block regardless," said junior offensive lineman Andre Davis.
The offensive line and running backs play a critical role in head coach Jeff Quinn's offensive scheme, as the Bulls are consistently a run-first offense even with the talent in the passing game. The offensive line's ability to excel in run blocking can only help sophomore quarterback Joe Licata and the passing game.
"We made it to our first bowl game last season since we've been here," Sales said. "Our first season we finished with an above .500 [record], so that was huge for us. So this season we want to carry that over and just continue to push on and this year do the same thing but win a few more games at the end and maybe win the MAC and win a bowl game this time."
The young backfield and veteran offensive line will get their first chance to work together in a game situation April 19 in the Blue-White Game.
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