The Virginia Tech running back room led by Coach Adam Lechtenberg is stacked with talent and versatility, including some journeymen joining the squad for the 2020 season. In a season where expectations are the highest in recent memory, the ground game is expected to play a big role - perhaps the biggest role since Justin Fuente has been in charge. There will likely be a "by committee" approach similar to last season where six different players led the team in rushing in individual games.
Jalen Holston has seen the most playing time of the group coming into 2020, as a senior. However, he's had his fair share of injury issues.
Holston missed most of the 2019 campaign with a leg injury suffered in the season-opening loss to Boston College, which required surgery in September. He was used as a role player in the backfield in 2017 behind backs Trevon McMillian and Deshawn McClease, and he filled a similar role in 2018 with the emergence of Steven Peoples.
Terius Wheatley, son of Michigan great Tyrone Wheatley, settled in during the 2019 season as the team's primary kickoff returner, but has not seen much time in the backfield for the Hokies.
As a freshman last season, Keshawn King flashed some serious elusiveness on the ground, specifically in games against Furman and Wake Forest, giving Hokie fans excitement about his potential as a runner. He demonstrated his completeness as a back by pulling in two big catches against Georgia Tech totaling 82 yards. He and Holston will have a leg up in understanding Coach Cornelsen’s scheme, as they have been around the program the longest. With COVID-19 further alienating the players and coaches, this could factor into early playing time right off the bat.
In addition to the returners in the running back room, three early enrollees join the squad for the upcoming year, coming to Blacksburg from different backgrounds.
Marco Lee joins the Hokies from the JUCO ranks, where ESPN touted him as the best JUCO RB in the 2019 cycle. Lee enters the program from Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kansas. He averaged a solid 5.2 yard per carry in his time at Coffeyville CC. At 5’11’’ 225 lbs., the term “bruiser” comes to mind after watching some of the tape. He doesn't shy away from contact and when he creates it, he comes out upright a majority of the time.
He fills the role of a pounder with truck-stick-like strength. He will likely compete with Holston as the lead power runner in the Tech offense. The Hokies have lacked that true between the tackles runner the past couple of years, but Lee certainly has the potential to fill the void with two years of eligibility remaining.
The state of Kansas gives the Hokies another solid runner in University of Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert. Herbert comes with a resume stacked with bullet points. He played in 35 games at Kansas averaging 5.4 yards a carry over that span. His most eye-popping stat line is a 291 yard effort in a 2017 contest against West Virginia. 2017 was his most productive collegiate year with 663 yards total. He took a step back in 2018, and only ended up playing in 4 games in 2019 to maintain his redshirt status and enter the transfer portal.
Herbert has the tools to be a complete back measuring 5’9’’ 205 lbs. He showed open field prowess and break-away capability in his 82 yard scamper vs. BC in 2019. His ability in the pass game has yet to be highlighted in his career at Kansas, but the Hokies will certainly ask that of him in Brad Cornelsen's offense. He appears to be the leader of the transfer pack on paper given his success at the Power-5 level, and is eligible immediately with one year remaining.
The Hokies also added former Rutgers offensive star Raheem Blackshear in January. He, like Herbert, played in 4 games in 2019 and redshirted. Blackshear played in 27 games total in his two-plus years at Rutgers.
Blackshear shows the most versatility of the three early enrollees, as he lined up at both running back and receiver for the Scarlet Knights, while frequently showcasing his 4.4 speed. The Hokies will look to use Blackshear as an elusive hybrid-type weapon in the offense when he sees the field. He totaled 810 yards and six touchdowns for the Scarlet Knights, proving his worth in the passing game.
Blackshear is in the process of submitting the necessary paperwork to the NCAA to request a waiver to play immediately in 2020. However, the path to him seeing the field in 2020 is likely a difficult one, due to the NCAA's inconsistency with granting immediate eligibility to one-time transfers at present. He will have two years of eligibility left once he sees the field.
The Tech coaching staff has compiled three new pieces that could come together to make quite a dangerous puzzle with the returning players already in the fold for the Hokies. The transfer portal giveth and taketh away, but the running back position is certainly anointed as a unit that will be one of the best position groups on the entire team next season.