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Brenden Knox 18

Marshall running back Brenden Knox runs through an opening against Old Dominion during a 2019 game.

EDITOR’S NOTE: HD Media counts down the 10 most important players on Marshall’s 2020 football roster.

HUNTINGTON — After finishing the 2018 season with strong play in the final five games, many were interested to see how Marshall running back Brenden Knox would fare in his second season with the Herd.

Knox answered all questions and then some, rushing for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns en route to the Conference USA Most Valuable Player award.

The 2019 season started as a split between Knox and explosive back Tyler King, but King’s dismissal following the Boise State game forced Knox into a heavier workload.

With his physical nature, the worry was that his body may not hold up as an every-down back, but Knox actually got stronger as the season went on, rushing for more than 100 yards in six of the final eight games to lead Marshall’s attack.

For many running backs, the biggest gains come by getting outside and using explosiveness.

Knox was a true old-school talent, featuring his best work behind the interior of the offensive line.

Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said the next step for Knox is improving on plays that stretch the defense laterally and get him in outside space.

“We have to add a little bit more and he has to improve on some C-gap [outside the tackle], B-gap [between tackle and guard] runs,” Cramsey said. “We got away with smashing him in there and we did a good job of it, but he was a B-gap to B-gap runner. For us to give him some space and clear out that box, we’ve got to get some more exterior running there and get the defense running sideline to sideline.”

One area where Knox doesn’t get statistical accolades is pass blocking. An example came against Rice last season, when the Owls’ tough defense brought a late second-quarter blitz in the final minute in an effort to push Marshall out of field goal range.

Knox took on Rice linebacker Blaze Alldredge, one of Conference USA’s top linebackers, and stood him up, which allowed quarterback Isaiah Green to hit Talik Keaton for a touchdown to put the Herd up by two scores prior to halftime.

Those types of plays are what make Knox someone whom NFL scouts are starting to follow.

Knox was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list (nation’s top running back) this week, and several publications, such as Phil Steele and Athlon, named him as a preseason first-team All-Conference USA selection.

With Green now gone, Knox’s impact becomes that much greater as the Herd transitions from a veteran two-year starter to a young quarterback with no experience.

In addition to producing in the run game to open up the passing attack, Cramsey also wants Knox to become a bigger threat in that passing attack.

Against Charlotte, Green was under heavy pressure and Knox had been in blocking, but released away from the scrum and caught a flip from Green for a long gain that got the Herd out of the shadow of its own end zone.

“That check-down guy is huge for us in what we want to do in the pass game, especially if we have the ability to stretch the field like I think we do this year with speed outside,” Cramsey said. “We definitely want to get him more involved in the pass game and get him to be more of a threat there.”

Knox had plenty of touches last season — 270 carries and 14 receptions, nearly 22 per game. That number increased over the final half of the season, with Knox getting 208 touches in the final eight games (26 per game).

With Knox being as physical as he is, those touches start to take their toll, so one of the goals for 2020 is to minimize the wear and tear on Knox’s body.

Sometimes that will mean fewer carries and a bigger platoon with Sheldon Evans. Other times that will mean finding ways to get Knox the ball in one-on-one situations instead of having him go between the hashes.

Even though the goal is to find creative ways to minimize the wear on Knox’s body, the end game is still going to be the same.

The 6-foot, 220-pound back from Columbus, Ohio will shoulder a bulk of the offensive load.