CONWAY – There’s no question that the Coastal Carolina ground game will miss Shermari Jones this year.
Jones signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent this offseason, and it’s no surprise why he got that opportunity.
In 2021, Jones led the Sun Belt in rushing yards per game with 94.5 and was second in the conference in both total rushing yards (1,040) and rushing touchdowns (13).
Jones was also fourth in the conference in yards per carry (6.5), and was actually bested by two of his teammates in that category — Reese White (7.2) and Braydon Bennett (8.6), who were second and first in the Sun Belt, respectively.
Luckily for the Chants, White and Bennett are both back this year, and White has fully recovered from an injury that kept him sidelined for four games last year. White and Bennett have also developed a solid bond in the time they’ve been at CCU.
“He’s kind of like my little brother,” White said of Bennett. “Me and him got real close over the past couple years, and so has the whole running back room. I kind of made it my job to make sure everybody was getting along.”
Despite only playing in nine games in 2021, White was tied for 10th in the Sun Belt in rushing touchdowns with seven. Bennett also had seven rushing scores and was 14th in the conference in rushing yards per game with 48.9. Just ahead of him at 12th in the conference in that category was White with 57.2 rushing yards per contest.
Bennett is known for his speed once he gets to the edge, but co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Newland Isaac wants him to also focus on getting better in between the tackles and blocking.
“He’s looked really, really, really good as far picking up blocks and knowing who he’s picking up, and getting up there and actually being physical doing it, too,” Isaac said. “So that was the biggest thing so far that we’ve seen, and he’s still developing that in between the tackles part, too.”
CCU will also now have Aaron Bedgood primarily in the backfield. Bedgood mostly played wide receiver last year, but his move to running back shouldn’t be much of a surprise to those who follow CCU closely, as Bedgood is a Swiss Army Knife in the Chants’ spread option offense.
“We kind of use him like (San Francisco 49ers wide receiver) Deebo Samuel,” White said. “So we kind of put him in a running position and a receiver position.”
Another guy out of the Chants’ backfield to look out for this season is redshirt freshman Max Balthazar. Both Isaac and White said he’s been the biggest surprise so far in fall camp as far as improvements are concerned.