If a camel is just a horse designed by a committee, then the 2011 Texas Running Backs are all dromedary. Can they guide us through the desert we've called a running game since the departure of Jamaal Charles?
Fozzy Whittaker is the Inception of running backs - more of an idea or an impression than an actual reality. Fozzy is the dream within a dream. The first allegorical running back! The entire UT English department just sprouted a powerful literary boner as if I'd read Proust aloud and made ironic air quotes when using the word "structure."
Let's see if we can apply a kick and translate some Fozzy allegory into the hard world of gridiron reality. We all know the deal on the 5th year senior by now: he's quick, has excellent hands, and appears to be made of peanut brittle and masking tape. We've been trying to start him since he was a sophomore and he still hasn't broken 1,000 career rushing yards. Dude injures himself putting pads in his pants (I don't mean maxi) but it's not a lack of toughness. He's just not built to hold up in a game played by physical mutants. Neither are any of us, which is why we all sympathize with Fozzy. I did see a pic of him recently in which he was sporting The Guns of Navorone and he's apparently added some good weight (5-10, 200). Nonetheless we'll ride Fozzy like the horse in True Grit until he gives out. That horse was named Lil Blacky. THAT IS MOST THE RACIST THING OF ALL TIME.
Malcom Brown is the least experienced running back on the team with the most experience in a real running game. He has countless reps reading the power alley, knowing when to bury it inside for four, and when to bounce it out for twenty. Malcolm is a big strong kid (6-0, 215) who is frequently erroneously compared to Adrian Peterson because both run upright and share the approximate physical specs, but that's a comparison made by people who don't understand the difference between a 10.3 100 meters and an 11.0. What Malcolm does have is extraordinary balance for a big man, will, durability and a strong understanding of how to maximize each and every run. He's split high and uses his flexibility to dead leg tacklers and step through and over the chaff. In short, I think Malcolm is far less physically overwhelming than the general public believes, but far more skilled than he is given credit for, and for this reason, he is a great fit for the HarsinWhite offense. I expect him to be in the short rotation early. From a long term perspective, Brown has the frame to easily carry 235+, which if we allow quickly and recklessly, will pretty much ruin him as a runner. Keep him hungry and let him grow into his frame slowly.
Traylon Shead is a redshirt freshman with great physical numbers (6-1, 220, 400 bench) and an upright running style. He needs to work on his pad level, which is the bane of all runners over 6', and one of the reasons he doesn't break a great deal of tackles. We haven't seen enough of Traylon to definitively know what he can or can't offer, but there's no question that he brings the right attitude and physicality to the position.
Cody Johnson looked for all of the world like a kid who was ready to break out last year, but those hopes were dashed on the shores of our offense. Right now, he's clearly our short yardage running back and the coaches are trying to rep him both at halfback and fullback so as to get the most weapons on the field. Cody has struggled with conditioning all through his career, but he appears to be in-shape (5-11, 250) and ready to go despite a tragic offseason for his family. CJ also has surprisingly good hands. Expanding his niche of playing time may hinge on his blocking at FB and HB as much as what he shows carrying the ball.
Junior DJ Monroe is a diminutive speed freak (5-9, 175, 4.4 40) with good quickness, raw speed, and the ability to drop a 60 yard run on an opponent if we block their Xs and allow him daylight and a step. He averages 7.3 yards per carry in his career and he's a dynamic kick returner. Boise State has a lengthy history of utilizing situational skill players adeptly and DJ should massively benefit from our new offensive philosophy and its stubborn insistence on giving the ball to talented players who can score. Fucking revolutionary IMHO. DJ is not without his faults though: he has bad hands, he will fumble, he can't pass protect, and you probably can't give him more than 10 touches a game without risk of injury. Because he's not great as a pass catcher, it prevents us from turning him into our version of Dexter McCluster, but we will wring every bit of production we can out of #26. If DJ grew hands over the offseason, look out.
Jeremy Hills redshirted last year and remains a junior despite seemingly being with the program since the mid 1990s when he was called Chris Butcher. Hills has dominated every scrimmage and open practice I've ever seen, he has applicable football speed with good second burst acceleration, and he has grown into his body (now 200+). When I'm not watching him, he must run backwards into the end zone where he strips off his pads and naps in a nest of blocking dummies telling the coaches to suck him off if they'd like for him to further participate in practice. Because it's so weird and inexplicable, I imagine he must just be a practice hero who routs walk-ons and freshmen but cools down when the depth chart heat increases. However, if true, why would the coaches allow him a late career redshirt? Generally, you're trying to graduate a non-performer as quickly as possible. If you have a theory, I'd like to hear it.
What if I told you that the coaches were every bit as excited about Joe Bergeron as they are about Malcolm Brown? Joe is a really gifted skill athlete who has the ability to play fullback, halfback, h-back, can catch, block, run and generally ball. It's not unlikely that we're looking at a four year starter at fullback who has may have an expanded role in one back sets depending on the performance of our halfback crop. Bergeron has good size (6-0, 220), he's physically and mentally mature, and he's pretty good at everything and great at nothing. I believe he is our starting fullback unless Cody Johnson makes his case.
Ryan Roberson and Chet Moss add depth at fullback. Roberson particularly relishes contact and the coaches like his physicality. But neither player is as skilled as Bergeron or Johnson and neither will see much playing time unless we experience injury.
I expect to see a bunch of situational running backs with several players rushing/receiving for 300-500 total yards over the course of the year. Malcolm Brown has the potential to seize the job on 1st and 2nd down to the tune of 12-15 carries a game, but that depends on what he flashes early for us. I expect it to shake out like this:
Fullback - Joe Bergeron
Short yardage - Cody Johnson
Special situations - DJ Monroe
3rd down back - Fozzy Whittaker
Bulk of snaps - 3 man rotation (Malcolm Brown, Fozzy Whittaker, 1 back from group of Hills, Shead, Monroe, Cody Johnson)