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With Saturday's season opener against Indiana State approaching, GoldandBlack.com takes a position-by-position look back at preseason practice. Here are the running backs.
Sophomore starter Kory Sheets had a solid camp, just good enough to hold onto a starting job others might have made a strong case for.
Perhaps more importantly than anything, Sheets stayed healthy through the duration of preseason practice, answering one of the major questions coaches had in him.
Otherwise, Sheets is the same player he was a redshirt freshman last season, when he showed glimpses of his awesome talent by scoring more touchdowns than any other Boilermaker and rushing for 571 yards in a three-man running back platoon, two-thirds of which is now gone.
Sheets performed just well enough to hold off sophomore Jaycen Taylor, who had an excellent camp, just as he had a spring. He's an atypical combination of speed, quickness and elusiveness and physical, aggressive running, even though he's small. And he's excelled as a receiver.
Had Taylor not shown so much at running back in the spring and then through camp, he would probably have been a prime candidate for a position switch, either to slot receiver or the secondary. Or maybe he'd have redshirted.
Instead, you can expect to see Taylor a lot, in a variety of different roles.
Junior college transfer Dario Camacho made a great first impression, enough so to crack a rotation that looked like it may have been impenetrable prior to his arrival.
Camacho looked like he might be walking into a situation where he was going to be the odd man out, at least from an outside perspective, and might have been looking at a redshirt year.
But, Camacho will get his share of carries this season after proving to be a patient, physical, slashing low-to-the-ground runner, perhaps most comparable in body type to former Boilermaker Brandon Jones, though probably not as strong.
For a ball-carrier regarded coming in as more of a physical, short-yardage type, Camacho scored a number of long touchdowns in scrimmages. He also excelled in goal-line situations, due in part to his physical nature and in part to his knack for being patient and waiting for holes to open, part of what made Jerod Void such an effective touchdown-scorer over the years.
Ball-security problems plagued Camacho early in training camp, but he apparently remedied that issue, as it didn't seem to be a problem through the back half of the preseason.
Taylor's continued stellar play and Camacho's emergence might bring into question just where sophomore Anthony Heygood fits in. Coming out of the spring, the converted fullback was clearly established in the three-man rotation at tailback, where he offered the Boilermakers their biggest, most physical option. Now, however, coaches talk about their top three at the position as being Sheets, Taylor and Camacho.
With redshirt freshman fullback Frank Halliburton still young and having been banged up late in camp, perhaps Heygood sees the occasional snap back at his old position. Otherwise, he may be relegated to mop-up carries and special teams work.
Halliburton is far and away the Boilermakers' biggest back at around 240 pounds, and has no aversion to the head-to-head collisions that come with the fullback position. But, he's also still got tailback in him from his days at Bishop Chatard in Indianapolis, with the ability to break tackles, make tacklers miss, run away from a defense and catch the ball.
Probably the most physically talented fullback Purdue's had under Joe Tiller, Halliburton, in any other year, might have been in line to get substantial carries out of a position that rarely touches the ball. But, this isn't a typical year, as Purdue once again has more able running backs than it can probably keep busy. If Halliburton's going to carry the ball, it's going to be in the red zone, or coming off the goal line, in all likelihood.
Redshirt freshman tailback Dray Mason is a promising player as an outside-the-tackles sort of runner, but is not yet an every-down back by any means. Sitting beneath a crowded depth chart, Mason's chance to contribute in the short term might lie on special teams.
Due to the log jam of running backs, Mason would be seem like an ideal candidate for a move to the secondary; he was originally recruited as a cornerback. But, he is not considered a natural fit on defense and shows enough promise on offense to keep him where he is, at least for the time being.
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