Preseason breakdown: Running Backs
Part II of the previews. This time I turn my attention to the running backs.
Consensus heading into the season
BC’s backfield is talented and diverse, but lacking depth. Most expect opposing Defensive Coordinators to loaded up the box to slow BC’s running game. This will put that much more pressure on Haden and Harris.
-- Josh Haden
-- James McCluskey
-- Montel Harris*
Backups and Hopefuls
-- Jeff Smith
-- Sterlin Phifer
-- Rolandan Finch
-- Brendan Deska
*Practically a starter
If we are hit with a rash of injuries, these are some the names that you might see floated as possible RBs: Boek, Mulrooney, Fox.
Considering the hype that surrounded his signing, Josh Haden’s freshman year was a bit of a disappointment. He had a series of nagging injuries that slowed his explosiveness. The chatter is that Haden had a good offseason and is ready to take the next step. When healthy, he should be a big play threat.
The Real Question
What will Spaz do with the true freshmen? TOB’s preference was to redshirt whenever he could. Jags felt that if a guy was good enough and ready, that he should be on the field. Spaz has yet to tip his hand on his philosophy. If Haden and Harris stay healthy, there might not be a need to play Phifer or Finch. My guess is that one will play and the other will redshirt.
My bold prediction
None of the RBs will have more than 20 receptions. Haden, Harris and McCluskey all made big plays in the passing game last year. While they may still get the occasional pass thrown their way, Tranquill’s track record at his last stop indicates that throwing to guys coming out of the backfield is not a priority. The most catches for a running back in any of Tranq’s years at UNC was 15. In comparison McCluskey had 19 catches in an abbreviated season last year. Even if Tranq opens it up, no one is going to approach Andre Callendar’s mark of 76 catches in 2007.
What keeps me up at night
Lack of a big back. McCluskey’s lingering injury and Jerry Kelly’s decision to transfer led to the Deska shuffle to offense. Can Deska –- in McCluskey’s absence -- open up holes for the tailbacks? Who will be our goal line solution? With a new QB it would have been nice to have an experienced, big running back as a security blanket.
As the season approaches my optimism grows. A major part of that optimism is due to Montel Harris. I didn’t spend much time in this preview writing about Harris but believe he is just what this team needs. Our new No. 2 is a grinder who can make something out of nothing and move the pile. As he matures things should only get better. We may have an issue with the altered running scheme, but I expect Harris to adapt. If Haden stays healthy or Jeff Smith finally “gets it” then we can really surprise people. Anything we get from the freshmen is gravy.
Last year at this time we didn’t know what to expect from our running backs and they proved to be very good. This year –- now that they are known commodities -– let’s hope they exceed expectations again.