March 19, 2010

Positional Battles: Running Back

The coolness of spring descended upon Nippert Stadium. The nip in the air in no way deterred the coaching staff from their tempo. It was immediately clear the coaches were ready to coach again. Yells across the stadium, whistles, and air horns all coalesced into a beautiful awakening of the game we love.

Sure there was weight lifting, some running, and effort put in during the winter. It is just not the same.

"Everyone is excited," said Coach Butch Jones. "You get to do what you love. Play and coach football."

Running Backs:

Colin Lozier
Darrin Williams
George Winn
Isaiah Pead
John Goebel
Quentin Hines

"I am working," said Goebel. "I think all running backs are working for the starting spot."

Pead is coming off a great year. Considering the offense ran Pead gained an impressively high number of yards. His 758 yards on the ground led the team as did his nine touchdown runs.

"I think Pead deserves it right now," said Goebel. "We are both friends. He knows I want to start."

Pead's two best games were Louisville and West Virginia. Though he busted through for a pair of rushing TDs against UConn, his 14.6 yards per carry versus Louisville sank the hearts of the Ohio River rivals. The 175 yard explosion versus West Virginia helped escort UC to the perfect regular season.

There is a void following the graduation of Jacob Ramsey. The senior back rushed for 1451 yards in his career, played in 50 games, and punched through 9 touchdowns. Finding four touchdowns to replace his 2009 contributions should be easy. The skill of the understudies will leave no ticketholder wanting more.

The aspiring backups worked out well in the first week. Darrin Williams looked supremely quick and fit. His springtime physique reflected the hours of work put in over the winter. While the common man hibernated Williams trained.

Last season Williams played occasionally (16 attempts) while thriving in the return game. He opened the second half against Southeast Missouri State with a 100-yard return for TD. For the season D-Will helped the Cats to 226 yards of improved field position. He accumulated the aforementioned yards on just seven kickoff returns.

The progression of Williams could be the same as San Diego Charger Darren Sproles. Both Sproles and Williams fight for your attention whilst standing 5'6" and 5'7" respectively.

Despite finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy race while playing for Kansas State Sproles entered the NFL with questions about his size. He ran against players at Texas and Oklahoma who would be still failing to tackle him in the NFL. The water bug born in Waterloo, Iowa kept plugging away.

He began his career as a backup behind the preeminent running back in the entire league, LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005. As durable and productive as LT was there was hardly any need for a backup. Yet Sproles plugged away. He returned 63 kicks in his rookie season for 1528 yards.

Much like Wiliams Sproles thrives on his elusiveness. Williams has such incredible change of direction that the anticipating, frothing at the mouth tacklers often can't get their hands on him.

As Tomlinson aged Sproles role grew into something substantial. He rushed 93 times from scrimmage last season recording three touchdowns along the way.

Sproles worked hard when most gave up on him or never believed in him in the first place. Williams showed up for the first spring practice with a focus and fitness level that demands the attention of the coaches.

"D Will is awesome," said Goebel. "George is great too. It is going to be a great competition."

Goebel and Winn combined to run just 16 times last fall, but you wouldn't know it from their attention to detail and grinding practice style.

"I think that especially with the type of offense we run you have to get the fundamentals perfect because if you are a little too fast here, if you take the wrong step here it can mess up the offensive line and their blocking scheme," said Goebel. "It is all about tempo. It is all about speed. It is all about timing. We have to make sure we are focused on that."

Goebel ran every drill with precision. He picked his head up high and ran with excellent technique while he pranced along the sideline following a sweep to the left. After bursting through the line he lifted his knees to pick up the fictional first down.

Upperclassmen with Goebel's effort set the tone and exemplify the commitment Coach Jones harps on everyday.

"I just hope that the best man plays," said Goebel. "I am sure that no matter who start we are going to have a great rotation too."

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