MANHATTAN — What is the best way for Kansas State to use a scatback?
That is the question K-State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel asked himself after he watched junior running back Dalvin Warmack dodge a gaggle of would-be tacklers at the Wildcats’ first few preseason practices last week. He’s still pondering the answer.
Finding a role for a small, elusive runner like Warmack isn’t the easiest task given the depth of K-State’s backfield. Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon are both proven rushers that churn out yardage between the tackles. They figure to compete for a starting spot and split carries this season. Adding a third option could complicate things. Or it could add an extra dimension to the offense.
Dimel seems determined to come up with a solution, because he thinks Warmack is too good to keep on the sideline.
“He had a really productive offseason and is really coming into his own,” Dimel said. “The versatility that he brings, being able to catch the football out of the backfield, is one of his real strengths. He is hitting the holes really crisp. If you go around and ask our staff about him, they will all say, ‘Boy, Dalvin is having a really impressive camp.’ We have to find ways to get him the ball.”
Warmack, a redshirt junior, hasn’t seen consistent action since joining the Wildcats coming off a storied high school career in Blue Springs, Mo. His college stats: 53 carries for 275 yards, four catches for 43 yards.
He has gone from expecting the ball on nearly every play to hoping for the occasional look on third-and-long. He ranked fifth on the team in rushing attempts last season with 41.
It’s been a difficult transition, but he has learned to embrace his complementary role.
“The way I ran the ball in high school, there could be some plays where I didn’t necessarily have to give it my all,” Warmack said. “It’s completely different now, knowing I might only get five or six carries a game. I know I have to do my absolute best every second I am in the game.”
K-State’s challenge will be finding ways to maximize Warmack’s unique set of skills. He showed promise at times a year ago, averaging 5.1 yards per carry while playing in 11 games. But he rarely played beyond the second quarter.
An expanded role would create fascinating opportunities. Warmack brings something to the field that his counterparts can’t — versatility. The 5-foot-8 speedster is as comfortable going into motion and running a route like an extra receiver as he is taking a traditional hand-off. He won’t stiff-arm many linebackers on a run up the middle, but he is hard to catch in space.
“We will move him around and try to get some mismatches with him,” Dimel said. “We want to use his quickness and find the plays he does best. That change of gears can be good for us.”
Thing is, K-State has other players capable of running the ball beyond Barnes, Silmon and Warmack. Quarterback Jesse Ertz led the team in rushing attempts and yards last season, and will continue to be a major factor in the running game. Fullback Winston Dimel also sees work at the goal line. There are plenty of mouths to feed.
Few running backs like to share the ball, but K-State’s backfield makes the committee approach work.
“We are all brothers,” Barnes said. “I want to see my brothers succeed as much as they want to see me succeed. I am happy for them whenever they do. It is not the competition you would typically see in a locker room.”
This time around, coaches will try their best to identify the hot hand and take advantage of fresh legs.
“Alex, Justin and Dalvin are going to be a tough look for those defenses,” Dana Dimel said. “They can all see the same play three times and get three completely different looks from our running backs. That is a point I think is really underrated. You have a linebacker who is on his 50th play and Dalvin comes in fresh as heck ready to run by him with his speed. That is what he brings to our run game, a change of pace.”
K-State’s scatback is ready for anything.
“This could be one of the best running games in the nation,” Warmack said. “We have so many people who can run the ball and we have great linemen blocking for us up front. I am glad to be a part of it. It should be a fun season.”