Position review: Running back

With the 2009 season behind NC State, it's only natural to take a look back at the year and analyze the roster. The Wolfpacker does just that, taking a position-by-position look at the squad, and figuring out what went right and wrong in 2009, and how the future shapes up. We continue with the running back position.
Season Breakdown
Preseason spin
The conventional wisdom was that fifth-year senior Jamelle Eugene would be the main option, and there would be a battle between sophomore Curtis Underwood, Jr. and fifth-year senior Toney Baker for the backup role. Baker was returning from missing two years with a serious knee injury. Redshirt freshman Brandon Barnes and incoming recruit James Washington were supposedly going to have to wait their turn.
At fullback, sophomore Taylor Gentry, a former walk-on, was expected to be the primary option with some help from redshirt freshman Colby Jackson.
The running back position proved to be full of surprises this year. The most pleasant development for the Wolfpack this year was Baker, who emerged as State's primary running back after rushing 160 times for 773 yards, an average of 4.8 yards per carry, and six touchdowns. Baker also caught 28 passes for 355 yards and three scores, and he proided State with a good running threat in the backfield.
It was needed since Eugene admitted after the year he was hampered by nagging leg injuries all year long. Eugene finished the year rushing just 99 times, missing two contests with an ankle injury. He had 309 yards rushing, an average of just 3.1 yards per rush, and scored only twice in what was a disappointing senior season for the co-captain.
The other surprise was the decision to redshirt Underwood. That opened the door for Washington, who enrolled in the spring and quickly made an impression on the coaches with his quickness. Washington beat out Barnes for the third running back spot, but he hurt his knee midway through the year. Washington finished with 21 carries for 76 yards and two scores, while Barnes ran 25 times for 79 yards and a touchdown. Washington also returned six kickoffs for an average of 22.0 yards with a long of 48.
Gentry indeed started at fullback, but Jackson hurt his knee and missed the year.
Analyzing Recruiting Trend
The Supposed Foundation
By the foundation, we mean high school players that were signed in the Classes of 2005, 2006 and 2007 that have been in the program for at least three years. We did not include junior college recruits or major college transfers in this list.
Toney Baker, Class of 2005
Andre Brown, Class of 2005
Jamelle Eugene, Class of 2005
Cedric Hickman, Class of 2006
Curtis Underwood, Jr., Class of 2007
Analysis: NC State did very well in 2005 with Brown, a future pro, and Baker and Eugene. All three have proved their worth throughout their Wolfpack career. After that however, Chuck Amato's regime struggled to sign any more ball carriers to groom as that trio's replacement. They did sign a fullback in Hickman, but he would be dismissed from the team after being charged with theft.
Tom O'Brien and his staff's decision to sign Underwood late in the 2007 class looks like it will be proven to be a smart one.
The Future?
The future are high school players that signed in 2008 and 2009 as well as non-binding verbal commitments from the 2010 class.
Brandon Barnes, Class of 2008
Colby Jackson, Class of 2008
James Washington, Class of 2009
Logan Winkles, Class of 2010
Analysis: Barnes and Washington provide some athleticism that may have been lacking in the backfield, especially Washington who is very quick for a running back. State though is looking to add another running back in the 2010 class. Jackson and Winkles were fullback recruits, but there is much speculation that Jackson will move to linebacker next year, opening the door for Winkles.
The staff also recruited Gentry as a preferred walk-on in 2008, and that has paid off handsomely. Gentry is now on scholarship.
State Of The Position
A lot will depend on Baker's decision to either accept a sixth year of eligibility that was granted by the NCAA or go ahead and pursue a professional career. If Baker returns, NC State should feel very good about the backfield. Baker would be the primary option, with Washington and Underwood and perhaps even Barnes good backup options. Underwood's redshirt year appears to have done him good, and he was voted the offensive scout team MVP.
Winkles should be an exciting addition for the fullbacks and may get a chance to compliment Gentry next year.