CEDAR RAPIDS — The 2017 Cedar Rapids Titans had an abysmal running game.
During a woeful one-win Indoor Football League campaign, the Titans averaged just 34.5 rushing yards per game. That level of production was nearly 20 full yards lower than the next-worst team (Colorado) and over 80 yards shy of the league leader (Arizona).
Under first-year Cedar Rapids Coach Marvin Jones, the run game is expected to have a renewed emphasis.
“It’s very important,” said Jones, who will lead the Titans (0-1) into their IFL regular-season home opener against the Green Bay Blizzard (0-1) Friday at 7:05 at the U.S. Cellular Center. “That’s something we want to establish. That’s something we’re going to stick with.”
The early leader for carries in the ground game is rookie Tyler Thomas, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound tailback from NAIA-level Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla.
“I think I bring physicality of a running back to his league,” Thomas said. “I can get the ball more often than some of the smaller guys. … I can tough it out and get a lot of the carries. I feel like I can be consistent throughout the game and be able to run the ball.”
After collegiate stints at Eastern Michigan and Division-II Ferris State (Mich.), Thomas posted 1,434 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns and was named Central States Football League Offensive Player of the Year for Bacone in 2012.
“That is where I felt most at home,” Thomas said. “We had good team chemistry. It was good football in the south.”
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That success yielded opportunities in the Canadian Football League with Edmonton (2014) and Winnipeg (2015).
“It was a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “It was a lot of hard work as well. It got me better as a player and as a person, too. Hopefully I can get back to that high level of football.”
Thomas, 27, ran for 50 yards on 12 carries in the Titans’ 44-31 loss at Nebraska last Friday. It has been nearly a full calendar year since a Titans player eclipsed 50 rushing yards in a single game — quarterback Brion Carnes (51) on March 11 against Wichita Falls — which turned out to be the only occurrence all last season.
Factor in 19 rush yards from quarterback Jake Medlock and 16 from tailback Raphael Lawson-Gayle, and the Titans ran for 24 more yards in Week 1 this season than they did in their best 2017 game.
“We ran the ball well, surprisingly well,” Jones said. “That is something we want to do. That is something you definitely want to establish in this league.”
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