MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The three running backs who returned for No. 20 Kansas State this season had run for fewer than 50 yards, so to say the competition was wide open this offseason would be an understatement.
When things shook out, Charles Jones was atop the depth chart.
"He's at the top of the list and may not be alone at the top of the list," coach Bill Snyder said. "He's one of those young guys where I've seen improvement come. It's important for our backs to be versatile and be able to handle all aspects of the game; obviously, to be able to run the ball well with some explosiveness and to be able to block well and be active in the passing game as a receiver. I think he's made improvements in all three of those areas."
Jones wound up beating Jarvis Leverett Jr. and DeMarcus Robinson for the starting nod, and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack was unable to break through during fall camp.
Snyder said this week that the competition isn't over, though. Much could change between the Wildcats' season opener Saturday against Stephen F. Austin and next week's game at Iowa State.
"Whether or not (the depth chart) holds true remains to be seen. It is not set in stone right now," Snyder said. "It is still competitive and will remain competitive throughout the course of the week. There is tomorrow. If there is a change we will identify that."
Snyder rarely uses multiple running backs, preferring instead for one running back to carry the load. But there could be a committee approach during the early portion of this season.
"I guess I proved that I was the most versatile back," Jones said. "It was a hard fight through camp and I still think Robinson and I are going to get a lot of carries and Jarvis with some carries also. Even though they said I was the starter, we still have a strong three."
The fact that Jones has never had a college carry doesn't seem to concern quarterback Jake Waters, who is being counted upon to lead the Wildcats' offense.
"First and foremost, he's the ultimate team player," Waters said. "He throws his body around in practice blocking for me and that's the kind of thing I respect the most. He'll come and not say anything to me and I'll notice on film, 'Dang, he sold out for me to let me throw out the ball and pass protected.' So just his quiet demeanor is what I really respect about him."
Certainly, much of the attention from opposing defenses will be on Waters and star receiver Tyler Lockett, and that could create plenty of openings for Jones and the other running backs.
"I feel like we have a strong receiving corps and a great quarterback, but we are also going to have a strong run game," Jones said. "They will not expect it and take people out of the box to protect for the pass. Hopefully that will free up some space for us in the running game."
Of course, it works both ways. If the running backs are able to have some success, that could open up things for Waters, Lockett and the rest of the passing game.
"I think our running backs for sure are going to have a big chance to step up," said Deante Burton, another wide receiver. "A lot of teams are going to tentative to stack the box and play against those (Lockett and Waters). Guys like Charles Jones, DeMarcus Robinson — those are great running backs and guys who can do and have done some very special things."