ASU Football Season Preview: Breaking Down the Running Backs

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 05: Running back Cameron Marshall #6 of the Arizona State Sun Devils carriesw the ball against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on November 5, 2011 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

For all the uncertainty at quarterback going into 2012, Arizona State has an embarrassment of riches at the running back position.

"This is the deepest backfield I've played in," Cameron Marshall told us at media day.

Head coach Todd Graham calls this unit his "home run hitters" because they are as close to a sure thing as the Sun Devils have in 2012 in terms of quality and continuity. Now, we break down each running back on the roster as part of our 2012 ASU Season Preview series.

2012 ASU Season Preview

Cameron Marshall

"We're running 80+ plays a game. Cam's going to get 30 of them."
-Coach Graham

Marshall is on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list, a prestigious honor for the senior out of San Jose. Without question, he is firmly entrenched atop the depth chart for the Sun Devils.

Only 20 years old, Marshall is already one of the most prolific rushers in ASU history with 2,131 career yards. In three seasons, Cam has racked up 29 touchdowns.

"I'd love to get 20 touchdowns and I'd love to get 1500 yards or so," Marshall said when asked about his goals for 2012. "I have high expectations and high hopes for this year."

Despite an ankle injury last season, Marshall was nearly unstoppable on the ground. Going in 2012, Marshall told us that he feels great and only has soreness at this point.

Marshall will aim to impress NFL scouts and make his mark on the ASU record book in his final season in maroon and gold -- with 11 more rushing touchdowns, he will hold the school record.

But who will get the rest of the carries in 2012? Marshall can't do it alone.

Marion Grice

Considered one of the best JUCO running backs in the country last season, Grice comes to Tempe as one of the most heralded members of Todd Graham's first recruiting class.

In practice, Grice has shown impressive speed and good hands when catching the ball out of the backfield. In fact, coach Graham praised both Grice and D.J. Foster for their hands, and the Sun Devils will show formations with Grice, Foster and Marshall all on the field at the same time.

While all the competitors for Marshall's backup position bring something different to the table, Grice brings a toughness that may be hard to keep off the field.

D.J. Foster

The crown jewel of Graham's 2012 class, Foster is a local product that intends to make big waves as a true freshman, despite the large amount of talent in the backfield.

Foster, a Scottsdale Saguaro product, is a dynamic playmaker. He has also shown mental toughness in a crowded backfield, seeing some looks in the slot as well. It is difficult to assess his impact on the team without seeing him in game action, but he could be one of the most important Sun Devils for years to come, in terms of both local recruiting and whether games are won or lost on the gridiron.

Don't sleep on D.J. Foster.

James Morrison

Morrison was impressive in spring ball, culminating in a scrimmage where he "bulled over defenders and showed good quickness," per Brad Denny. Morrison is a Phoenix product that was given a scholarship after walking on in 2008. Every season, he's viewed as a dark horse to take significant carries from the established leaders in the backfield, but Morrison only has 29 carries in his career.

Now, as a redshirt senior, Morrison has been seen as part of the 3-back position that Chris Coyle explained to House of Sparky on Thursday. While playing time is far from guaranteed for Morrison, his hard work could pay dividends as the season grinds on.

Deantre Lewis

"I'm excited to see Deantre back," Marshall said. "He's had a great summer and I've seen him battle back from the gunshot wound and at both his lows and his highs. I'm excited to see him back the most."

Lewis is a special case amongst the running back corps. The highly publicized, random shooting at a family gathering in California in February 2011 caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. While reports indicated that there was no muscle damage at the time, the emotional scars were far more significant for Lewis, who took his time mentally preparing to play the game of football again.

But don't forget how dynamic Lewis was as a true freshman in 2010. Over 92 carries, Lewis picked up 539 yards and four touchdowns. His longest run, a 53-yarder against Oregon, gave the Sun Devils a jolt against one of the best teams in the land. Lewis was also impressive in the passing game, picking up 370 yards in the air (including a 70 yard romp). Look for Lewis to be back on the field against NAU and ready to make a statement.

Kyle Middlebrooks

Middlebrooks is the wild card of the group. While showing flashes of brilliance in 2010, an increased workload in 2011 brought mixed results. His yards per carry decreased by more than a yard in the absence of Lewis. Middlebrooks was viewed highly by many after his freshman season, but the lack of results in 2011 were disconcerting for the fanbase.

Middlebrooks is very fast and has a lot of potential. Will Graham and the staff harness his skillset? We're not giving up on him yet, and the junior has two years to make his mark at ASU.

Other

Terrell Davis is a freshman from British Columbia. While he will likely redshirt, he's someone to keep an eye on throughout fall camp.

We'll be back Monday with a preview of Arizona State's wide receivers and tight ends.

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