For the final three weeks of our Louisville football preview, we’ll be looking at the skill positions on offense. We continue the series with the running back corps.
Star running back Javian Hawkins led all Cardinal ball-carriers with 822 yards rushing (eight games), to go along with seven touchdowns. Quarterback Malik Cunningham matched Hawkins with seven touchdowns on the ground, while recording 609 rushing yards in the process. The trio of Hassan Hall (223 yards, 1 TD), Jalen Mitchell (347 yards, 2 TD), and Maurice Burkley (180 yards, 1 TD) return to the Louisville backfield this season.
With Hawkins now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, the race is wide open in a crowded room.
Listed Starter: Jalen Mitchell
Mitchell came on to the scene at the end of last season when Hawkins opted-out. The freshman averaged 6.7 yards per carry and took advantage of the opportunity right away.
His most notable performance came in the season finale versus Wake Forest, in which he turned in a 168-yard performance. Known mostly for being a solid power back, Mitchell possesses a sneaky ability to make guys miss. Even though the competition is open, the Rockledge, Fl. native will get the first-team snaps right away. New Running Backs coach De’Rail Sims raved about Mitchell’s work ethic and development in a press conference last Wednesday.
Louisville RB coach De’Rail Sims on Jalen Mitchell: “he’s done a phenomenal job all spring and summer. He’s a type of guy you have to run out of the building because his mindset and work ethic are off the charts.” @CardSportZone
— Dalton Pence (@dpence_) August 12, 2021
Other Reserves in the Mix: Hassan Hall, Maurice Burkley, Trevion Cooley, Jawhar Jordan
Coming into the 2020 season, Hall was poised to have a successful junior campaign behind Hawkins, but injuries and ball security issues hampered the expectations. He now looks to bounce back and earn meaningful snaps once again. Hall’s skillset as a change-of-pace back bodes well for his role; his speed and shiftiness make him the top homerun threat in the backfield.
Burkley is fully healthy from offseason hip surgery, and has put in good work thus far in fall camp. Similar to Mitchell, the redshirt senior is a powerful runner that excels between the tackles. Nicknamed “RoboCop” by Coach Sims due to his incredible recovery, Burkley starts out preseason camp listed as the third-stringer. However, he will have to put together a solid preseason to stay in the mix.
True freshman Cooley has already started to show flashes this offseason, and could crack into the rotation if the trend continues. 247Sports National Writer Charles Power on his game: “Has a sturdy, compact build with a developed lower half. Turned in a productive junior season, rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. Uses his burst and long speed to get upfield quickly and pull away from defenders in the open field. Has a long stride once he opens up his gait at the second level. Runs with pace and gets to the edge with ease on outside runs. Shows the ability to run through arm tackles at the second level. Is able to make cuts and lateral moves in tight spaces. Runs a bit upright and could stand to improve on his pad level, which would help in exposure to contact. Has the talent to develop into a Power Five starter and NFL pick.”
Louisville running back Jalen Mitchell: Trevion Cooley is so exciting. He lights up the room. He’s explosive and getting more detailed, and being more focused in his assignment. I’m very proud of him and ready to see what he can do @CardSportZone
— Dalton Pence (@dpence_) August 12, 2021
At this point it seems like a matter of when, and not if, Cooley solidifies a role in the offense. The former four-star recruit may not see the field early on, but could as the season progresses.
The wildcard in the mix is Jawhar Jordan, a recent transfer from Syracuse. The 5-foot-10 speedster showed glimpses of greatness while with the Orange, but struggled as a starter in 2020 before his season was cut short due to injuries. Possessing a skillset similar to that of Hall’s, Jordan was likely brought into the program for the following seasons; there is a decent chance that both Hall and Burkley won’t be back next season, leaving Mitchell, Cooley, Jordan, and Aidan Robbins to man the running back position.
However, Coach Sims revealed in his press conference on Wednesday that although Jordan was still new to the playbook, he was already showing flashes. At the very least, he projects as a solid return man.
On The Outside Looking In: Aidan Robbins
With five players ahead of him on the depth chart, Robbins will have to have a tremendous fall camp in order to push for meaningful snaps. Satterfield and Sims have both gone on record stating that the team will use as many running backs as they need to, in order to win. However, the amount of guys showing out at the position doesn’t bode well for the Louisville native’s chances.