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Running Back Preview 2022

By Ryan Hartman | August 26
Malachi Thomas
Photo Courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics

Virginia Tech Running Back Preview 2022

The running back room is full of familiar names with plenty of past contributors with sprinkles of some young guns who have shown ability in camp. This position group has an argument as one of the best on either side of the ball given their seniority and potential. The backfield is likely be a feature of the new offense under Tyler Bowen and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph. Stu Holt comes over from Louisville to coach the running backs this year he inherits a wealth of backs at his disposal. It is likely that we see a recipe featuring a dash of each of these players in various roles at the position.

Jalen Holston #0 (r-Sr)- Jalen Holston is back for another year in Blacksburg. If Virginia Tech fans have not heard of this man, they have been under a rock. He is a SIXTH year senior and an oft sleep on contributor who punched it past the goal line 5 times for the offense last year. Holston is a guy who has always had a chip on his shoulder being behind NFL backs like Herbert and Blackshear. He is a three yards in a cloud of dust type runner who punishes defenders with his sneaky size at 5’11’’ 210. Expect Holston to be involved in goal line situations and 3rd and shorts frequently. Holston has been out in camp due to a “minor injury”. He seems to fit the best with the running game scheme that Rudolph has executed in the past.

Malachi Thomas #24 (Soph)- We have seen Malachi Thomas currently in a boot in team photos but it is said he is week to week so expect him to certainly see the field at some point this year, especially given his breakout freshman year. Thomas had a peak in the middle of the season registering 324 yards on the ground in three games against Syracuse (151) Georgia Tech (103) Boston College (70). He showed his ability in this stint but did fade a bit down the stretch lacking attempts. News from camp sees Holston and Thomas as the top two backs but a starter has not been announced yet. If Thomas is healthy and takes a step forward in his second season he could emerge as a feature in the backfield.

Keshawn King #23 (r-Jr)- Another familiar name here that has stuck around through thick and thin. Keshawn King is explosive. He has shown serious flashes in many games throughout his career but can he consistently produce? Where Holston is an inside runner, King’s skillset of agility and speed pose better for outside runs and even passing game touches. His 47-yard TD on a wheel route against Duke last year really sticks out because he showed his ability to run away from a defense. King has also seen time as a returner so keep an eye out for him on special teams potentially, but if he shows consistent ability in the backfield that will be his home.

Chance Black #28 (r-Fr)- Black didn’t see much time last year in the backfield but showed his stellar vision as a kick returner in four games in 2021. Black is a put your foot in the ground one cut and gone type runner. His high school tape is really impressive and a comparison to Raheem Blackshear comes to mind when thinking of Black because he was effective in the passing game in high school. He may emerge as more of a returner this year if Cole Beck doesn’t take that role.

Kenji Christian #27 (r-Fr)- Christian has received more reps in practice with Holston and Thomas missing some time. He has not seen any game time yet for the Hokies but that may change this year. His running style from high school tapes is more of a punishing inside zone runner. As a second year player with talented and experienced guys ahead of him, he is still refining his craft. Brent Pry called the injuries to the top two guys “a blessing in disguise” to get players like Christian the ability to show they can contribute.

Bryce Duke #22 (Fr)- Duke is a local product from Leesburg, Va. Another beneficiary from injuries in camp. He perhaps created a splash with fans with his wiggle ability in the one on one RBs vs LBs receiving drill that was released from camp. A lot of buzz has been around Duke following that clip and the positive remarks from coaches. Duke will probably get a redshirt this year, so it would be surprising to see him in more than 4 games but if those flashes and positivity from camp translate to action on Saturdays that may not be the case.

This preview in previous years would have been a bit more of a novel with the amount of RBs that were on the roster most of the Fuente era. six names are much more reasonable especially when there are known proven guys at the top. Don’t be surprised to see 4-5 of these guys see time and Coach Holt has said in pressers that it is likely that a feature back emerges and that tends to happen naturally with who is producing. Hokie fans will see a new scheme this year with more of a rotation certainly at the beginning. This stable of backs is also effective because they each can be used situationally. The skillsets and strengths are diverse and complimentary which is why we will see so many of these guys play. There is a lot of reason to be excited about this room coming into 2022. Stu Holt’s experience coaching backs for 26 years will be beneficial to some of these young guys coming in learning how to play the position at the next level. There is a blank canvas this year at the RB position with an opportunity for a lot of these guys to see meaningful snaps and contribute.