Tuesday, June 10, 2008

2008 Position Previews: Running Backs

This is the second part of my position by position breakdown of the 2008 roster.

The move to the zone blocking scheme was supposed to re-energize BC’s once mighty rushing attack. Though the scheme changed, the productivity didn’t. BC averaged 3.4 yards a game in TOB’s last year. We averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season. This year the running game becomes that much more important…just as BC is nearly replacing its whole backfield.

I would be more concerned about our lack of experience in the backfield if we hadn’t gone through this just a few seasons ago. Think back to 2004. Our most experienced running back that season was Jeff (a.k.a. Survival) Ross, who entered 2004 with a whopping seven carries for 33 yards. A trio of freshmen (Callender, Brooks and Whitworth) filled the void adequately. This year BC will rely on a pack of freshmen again.

Although it is just a glorified scrimmage, the Spring Game did provide a glimpse into how BC will run this year. First, I think you’ll see more rushing attempts. Last season we passed 61% of the time. (As a reference point we passed 51% of the time in TOB’s final year.) I imagine the staple play will be the draw/spread read from the shotgun (you’ve seen it as part of West Virginia and Florida’s offense). But I also think you’ll see a variety of plays that emphasize the varied talents of the freshmen and take advantage of the stretch plays available in the zone scheme.

Replacing our departed’s yards per carry shouldn’t be hard. The challenge will be who can fill the void left in the passing game. Callender was a game-changer out of the backfield. I expect the swings and screens will remain part of the offense, I just don’t know which one of these newbies will step up.

The Players
FB – James McCluskey, SO, 6’2, 231lbs
TB – Dan Mulrooney, SO, 6’1, 197lbs
TB – Josh Haden, FR, 5’8, 190lbs
TB – Montel Harris, FR, 5’9, 195lbs
TB – Eric Reynolds, FR, 5’10, 195lbs
TB – Jerry Kelly, FR, 6’0, 220lbs

McCluskey returns as the leading rusher from last season. He carried the ball eight times for 14 yards and three touchdowns. I think he’ll get more carries this year, but will not be a feature back. Don’t be surprised if he is occasionally used as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Dan Mulrooney spent time on special teams and defense last year. He moved to the offensive side for depth reasons and looked decent in the spring. If the freshmen step up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mulrooney flip back to defense eventually. Haden was the prized recruit of his class and has been on campus since January. That should give him a leg up vs. his fellow freshmen. He is a bit undersized, but small backs have thrived in this type of scheme before. If he is the primary back, will he hold up? Jerry Kelly is another signee likely to play as a true freshmen. The largest of the recent commits, he can provide a nice change of pace to the smaller guys in the mix. Reynolds and Harris were well regarded recruits with similar frames. I imagine one will get regular playing time. I wonder where the other would fit in. I don’t think Jags wants to play all four freshmen. Redshirting one would help depth and recruiting in future seasons.

I think the rushing game will improve beyond the 3.4 yards per carry. I also think at least one of the frosh will break out and become a big play threat. My biggest concern? Pass protection. Last year Callender was very important in blitz pickup. Can an untested played do the same?

Though unproven and raw, this group should excite most BC fans. I think there is enough diversity and talent to be effective. I also think the progression to Logan’s preferred offense will provide more balance.

If the running backs are decent, we’ll be okay. If any of them are great, we’ll be one of the surprise teams in college football.


Big Jack Krack said...

Is your prediction that the rushing game will improve beyond the 3.4 yards per carry based on the new scheme and/or the speed of the freshmen? Are they faster than Callender and Whitworth? Will there be potentially bigger holes for them with these stretch plays in the zone blocking scheme?

Which freshman will be the big play threat - Haden?

ATL_eagle said...

I think the production will increase due to better oline play and the change in talent. I don't think speed is an issue. More style.

As for the freshmen...Haden would be the safe bet, but it is wide open.

Big Jack Krack said...