(Editor's Note: This is the second installment of positional previews. Also check out the preview on running back recruiting from last week.
Previous: The Breakdown: Quarterbacks)
Big Man on Campus: Le'Veon Bell
Bell has been dynamic since he set foot on campus in East Lansing, but he has yet to be the featured back. After really breaking out in 2011, Bell forced the hand of Edwin Baker, who declared early for the NFL Draft. So, Bell is left to be the main running back and is primed to break out.
Bell ran for 948 yards in 2011, and 13 touchdowns. He also caught 35 passes for 247 yards as he became a viable option not only on screen passes, but lining up as a fifth receiver, as well.
With new quarterback Andrew Maxwell under center and a new nucleus of wide receivers, that production and then some will be expected from the junior running back.
Thankfully for MSU, the 6-foot-2, 237-pound back is an absolute monster when it comes to blowing through defenders and breaking tackles -- and as such, should be able to take the punishment of taking more snaps (he had 182 carries last year, for comparison, Wisconsin's Montee Ball had 307).
How important will Bell be to the team in 2012? He barely played in the spring game to prevent any chance of going down with an injury after having a slight ankle sprain earlier in the spring.
A lot falls on him, and he looks ready to run with it.
**More after the jump**
The next best thing: Larry Caper
Caper started as a freshman at MSU, scoring the game-winning touchdown against Michigan, but faded in the past two seasons due to various injuries -- and the emergence of Bell behind Baker. Now, healthy and ready to go for one more season, Caper is the backup to Bell. Last year he saw plenty of time as a third-down back because of his pass-catching ability and his dedication to being a good blocker. This is a role he likely will fill again, but also to spot Bell -- who is a good pass catcher out of the backfield and was used plenty in motion out of the backfield late in the 2011 season.
The rest: Nick Hill, Jeremy Langford
Behind Caper are a pair of smaller, speed backs. Hill has spent time on special teams as a kick returner and shown good vision and explosiveness in that role, and in the spring game, shows he isn't afraid of contact despite his size at 5-6. Not to mention, he has a wicked tattoo. Langford moved back to the offensive side of the ball after playing cornerback last season and has impressed at both running back and wide receiver, giving the impression he will play both spots in 2012.
Incoming: Nick Tompkins
Tompkins is a burner -- no other way to put it. He brings flashes of Hill in his ability to return kicks, but has a bigger frame which allows him to do a little more in the running game. At 5-10 and 185 pounds, he has the frame to hold more weight and be able to run between the tackles more. There is no denying Tompkins has the speed and has the moves/shiftiness to have an impact in the running game in the near future (likely after a redshirt season).
Storyline: How does Bell hold up?
As was alluded to earlier, Bell will take a beating this season. His carries will jump from the 182 last season to somewhere around 250, most likely. That is about 70 more times he gets hit -- at least. Bell being on the field and being a difference maker will dictate a lot of the success of the Spartans in 2012, especially early in the season and Maxwell and the wide receivers get game experience under their belt.
It is simple: When Bell is on the field, MSU is a better team. Caper and Hill are capable backups, but don't bring the same smashmouth and power abilities that Bell possesses.