Could Justin Jackson emerge as feature back for Northwestern?

Could Justin Jackson emerge as feature back for Northwestern?
September 1, 2014, 9:30 am
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Vinnie Duber

Right now, it's running back by committee at Northwestern.

Pat Fitzgerald will tell you as much, and that's exactly what happened in the Cats' season-opening loss to Cal on Saturday.

Northwestern utilized four different running backs: Treyvon Green, Warren Long, Solomon Vault and Justin Jackson.

None of those ball-carriers had a significant number of carries — Green had the most with 13 — and the team combined for a less-than-impressive 108 rushing yards (though trailing much of the game meant an awful lot of passing).

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But if there was a bright spot to be found among that group, it was Jackson, a true freshman. The Glenbard North product finished as the team's leading rusher, with 40 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.

“He’s a very dynamic back," Fitzgerald said after the game. "I think you saw all of our guys get at least a few touches, and it’ll probably be that way for a while here, especially early (in order to) get a good feel for who’s the hot hand, who’s a guy that’s doing the things, who’s moving the ball and being run efficient for us. So I think overall as a group there was some good and bad. But I thought Justin played well.”

It wasn't so much the numbers, though, as the way he did it. Jackson turned in a few impressive carries that included the shedding of multiple tacklers, including his seven-yard touchdown run. And he's got some moves, too.

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“Justin Jackson can play," wide receiver Tony Jones said. "He’s impressed me throughout camp. A guy who’s got great speed, great vision. He’s one of those guys who they say can make you miss in a telephone booth. He’s that good. But he’s young, he’s going to keep growing, keep learning, and I definitely think that he’ll help us.”

The Cats are still obviously looking for a replacement for the departed Venric Mark, and though Fitzgerald is rightly set on testing out all four of these backs in the season's early stages, Jackson's ability might make him a featured back by year's end.