Friday, August 14, 2009

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.

Roster Reminders

Returning Starters
-- 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.

Chatter

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.


Outlook
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.

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18 Comments:

At 2:19 PM, Blogger conlonc said...

My favorite part of our Haden/Harris combo is that both young men always fall forward and keep their legs moving regardless. That is the prime indicator of the type of RB and player they are IMO...and it shows they will continue to be successful as long as they are healthy.

Also, I feel as though McCluskey's presence has been overlooked as to its importance.

On a side note, I recently rewatched the GT-BC game from last year. Remember the missed FG at the end of the half that was preceeded by a made FG right as the TO was called by Paul Johnson? If you look at the 3rd down play right before that sequence - McCluskey pulled in a swing pass and got relatively close to a first. I don't think he got it, but it was certainly close enough for a measure, which the refs declined to do. Could it have made a difference? Ah, who cares...the 2009 season is upon us!

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger Alex L. said...

Whoa. Jeff Smith is still on the team?

 
At 11:12 PM, Blogger CT said...

You could have Barry Sanders in the backfield and it won't matter if the QBs can't throw.

I'd temper the enthusiasm until we find out who is throwing the ball and how well he throws it.

Yes, it's a position of strength, but it's pretty easy for 8 guys on opposing defenses to go up against 6 of our blockers.

Sorry to be a grinch, but most everything will come down to how well the QB plays. And we don't know who it is yet.

 
At 12:35 AM, Blogger eagleboston said...

Can someone explain to me how the leading freshman rusher in the history of BC football is the "#2" back? I like Haden a lot, but Harris is #1 in my mind.

 
At 1:22 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

I think it is the fact that Harris changed his number to 2, so that he and Haden can be the 1-2 punch. That is at least my take on the "our new No. 2 is a grinder"

I will be surprised if Haden "starts" over Montel this year.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger BC621 said...

I believe the depth chart is showing Montel as the starter, and he was the one at media day, so it's safe to assume that at his point he is the starter. With his durability and strength, I think he sees the bulk of the carries this season.

 
At 11:44 AM, Blogger conlonc said...

CT we had QB problems last year and the true freshmen had plenty of success. I'll temper my enthusiasm when I know we have a QB who can't throw. Thanks for the advice though.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger CT said...

conlonc, and you saw what happened with that strategy against better defenses. Did the ACCCG and bowl game not do it for you? Imagine having had Davis as QB for the entire year last season. Could be what we see this yr with a 6 yr-out-of-football QB. In other words, the odds are probably stacked against the failed baseball player turned QB than for.

You're welcome, btw. Anytime. Really.

 
At 1:59 PM, Blogger eagleboston said...

Perhaps it is the long awaited anticipation for the season, but I am excited about BC football. Due to their tough schedule, it may not show up in wins, but I think they are going to be better than most pundits believe.

At the end of last season, I predicted a drop-off from the Atlantic Championship seasons and given the off-season drama, a drop off is to be expected. However, expectations are so low, that BC can surprise people just by winning a couple games they are supposed to lose.

I see BC strengths in running the football, o-line, defensive backfield, and receiving. Weaknesses are d-line, linebackers and QB. However, Albright is back on the line and that could be an unexpected boost. Also, if we just get minimal play out of the QB, look out. I am optimistic that BC will emerge out of camp with a leader who will be much better than most think. The linebacking corps is a huge liability due to the inexperience, but if we get McLaughlin back, that group gets immediately better.

Therefore, I am excited and hopeful. Of course, I have yet to see a player in competition this season so that could all change by Sept 5th, but why be a fan if you cannot get excited at the start of the season?

 
At 1:59 PM, Blogger eagleboston said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12:24 AM, Blogger Ry said...

I don't think we should be down or pessimistic about any position until we have reason to be. Assuming that we have a problem at QB based solely on conjecture is kind of ridiculous. I think it's fair to say that the position is a question mark. But to write the guy off because he has spent the last six years outside football while at the same time ignoring the fact that he has been a professional athlete and is much more physically mature is similarly unfair. Maybe Shinskie plays well and maybe he doesn't, but to rule out either possibility without any substantive reason for doing so is pretty ignorant.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger CT said...

We have reason to be! Nobody has ANY experience. That's a reason. A huge one. How many freshman QBs experience success their first year? It's not me, it's the track record. Please. A "question mark" is being only too kind.

Here's this for my ignorance: everyone's first opportunity to grab the position in the intrasquad scrimmage...check out those numbers.

Don't call me ignorant.

 
At 11:50 PM, Blogger Ry said...

I didn't call you ignorant, I was saying that it is by definition ignorant to ignore Shinskie's 6 years worth of experience as a professional athlete, albeit in another sport, while pointing to his lack of experience in college football as a negative.

The gist of what I am trying to say is that realism and pessimism shouldn't be confused for the other. Until there is something other than the spring game to validate the concern about the lack of experience, assuming the worst would be pessimistic and not realistic in any way. So I will call it a question mark because there's no way I know enough at this point to call the position our Achilles Heel.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger conlonc said...

CT - I see you're making a bunch of friends. Shocker.

What "strategy" are you referring to? The being forced into having your top 2 RBs be true frosh and having terrible QBs "strategy"? Do you realize at all that the running game revolved solely around option reads under Logan? You know he's moved on, correct? You know that the running game will be better than last year, correct? That in and of itself is a reason why whoever is QB will have less pressure on them. In Logan's offense, he insisted that the QB put the load on his shoulders. He was inflexible. I believe Tranquill will design the offense around the personnel he has.

Of course there's a possibility that the QB is worse. But a 94th ranked offense combined with 114th ranked in TOs given up would be extremely difficult to replicate with even the worst QB. But again, thanks for your smugness.

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger CT said...

RBs are the easiest position to fill. Freshman RBs experience success far more readily than freshman QBs do for a reason. It's not a judgment oriented position. The running game last year was not solely a read option offense (btw, was Haden what you thought he'd be? Really?). We lined up fairly regularly with two backs. I know that Logan has moved on. Thank you for your dose of smugness. I don't know that the running game will be better, but you do. That's great. Could you tell me our final record, while we're at it? The QB will have less pressure on him? When the running game is so good, defenses tend to adapt. The irony being that there is actually more pressure on the QB once that happens. Which it will. BC is never loaded with incredible athletes, so that tends to impact us a bit more than others (am I offending you by saying that? That speed compensates, but that we rarely have any?) You believe Tranquill will design the offense around the talent? Novel concept. Very bold. Few were complaining about Logan's attacking style with Ryan here. Now, everyone is glad he's gone. Hmm.

I guess I'm just not making friends with you. That's crushing.

My concern, again, is that a fairly talented defense--one far less talented this year than last, though--will get plenty of practice this year in preparation for 2010. Right about when the basketball team should be pretty good. And the hockey team. At that point, conlonc, perhaps we can be friends again.

 
At 4:37 PM, Blogger conlonc said...

CT - you sure make a fair dose of assumptions in your post and are the master of tangents. maybe I should just let you respond for me since you continue to try to put words in my mouth.

Let's start where you started. Yes, RB is an easier position to be successful at as a freshman than QB. Did I say it wasn't?

Haden had all kinds of injury issues last year, so no he didn't end up being exactly what I thought he would be - what does this have to do with anything? Can we focus here? Still a good blocker, good hands out of the backfield, and always is churning those legs. I like his drive and his ability.

Logan's attacking style was great when we had the right bodies for it. He didn't care that the results were telling him that he was running the offense poorly in 2008, he continued to be stubborn. And the running game was very much only (as in 80%+)option read. Lining up with two backs in the backfield doesn't mean anything. I wasn't trying to be bold by saying Tranquill will run the offense around the talent he has - I was pointing out that Logan refused to do that last season. I never said I'm glad Logan's gone, I said he did not make adjustments last year that could have improved the team on the offensive side of the ball. Try and keep up.

A QB with a solid running game is under more pressure? So he's under less pressure if he has a crappy running game? How do you figure? Just because the defense adapts? Are you serious? So the defense adapts by putting more men in the box to stop the strength of the team, right? Which gives the QB more room on the outsides to get the ball to his receivers, especially on quick routes (aka easier passes) because the defensive backs don't have as much help and are taking more of a chance. Therefore the strong running game makes it easier on the QB. Tough concept, I know. If the defense doesn't crowd the box, then we continue to lean on the run and the passing game is secondary and not relied as heavily. In short, sure the defense adapts, but it actually makes it easier for the QB when he has to make plays than when the running game is bad.

Not sure why my prediction for next year is relevant, but I am right at about 6.5 wins (can't decide between 6 and 7 in case you don't know what the half is for) until I know more about our question marks. With your general attitude I'm guessing you're a 4-5 win guy.

Leave it to a poster like you to focus on the "friend" comment. Having no substance to an argument leads to reaching for straws. Hope ya got a good stretch in.

 
At 8:32 PM, Blogger CT said...

Oh conlonc, I almost enjoy the hypocrisy of you complaining about smugness and then getting these gems in--"can we focus here," "in case you don't know what the half win is for," "hope you got a good stretch in," etc.

Anyway, I didn't put words in your mouth. You should be so lucky. This is what you typed: "You know that the running game will be better than last year, correct? That in and of itself is a reason why whoever is QB will have less pressure on them. In Logan's offense, he insisted that the QB put the load on his shoulders. He was inflexible. I believe Tranquill will design the offense around the personnel he has."

Um, where will the stock market be in three years? To answer your question, no, I don't know.

You said, "The running game revolved solely around option reads..."

No, it didn't. Even you said as much in your next post.

My point about the nexus between QB play and the running game: teams will adapt, no? They'll know coming in that our strength is that line and the two kids in the backfield. The rest is an unknown. If we can run the ball productively 45 times a game, great. Rarely happens. The pressure will indeed be on the QB b/c, as I've said, BC isn't fast, lacks playmakers and game-breaking speed (on simple plays like quick slants, etc.) and will need the QB to make plays himself. You know, we spoke a lot before last season about Crane "managing" the game. That concept only works if you have the Baltimore Ravens defense. It didn't work out so well for us and Mr. Crane last year.

To the point about designing the system around the talent, perhaps we're making an assumption there, too, eh? How do you know what Tranquill will do? Or how he'll adapt? If he'll adapt. You said Logan didn't adapt enough last year (was the spread-read option not Jags' baby and even affect the recruits he went after?), but you believe Tranquill will. Hmm, okay. Are we not assuming this, too?

You said Logan "didn't care" about how we was running the offense last year? Really? Are YOU serious? That we didn't have talent to run the read-option last year neglects the fact that we had no talent to do much of anything last year. Thank goodness for that 5th ranked defense, huh? You and I watched Crane have a good NC State game. We also watched the VT game, where he got to drop back and score for the Hokies. The ACCCG game, where Davis looked HORRIBLE dropping back and throwing. And the Vandy game, where Davis had approximately one good throw the entire game. Again, no talent to do anything. It's not about adjusting at that point. It's about surviving.

"But a 94th ranked offense combined with 114th ranked in TOs given up would be extremely difficult to replicate with even the worst QB." Were we not also first in the country in INTs? 5th in overall defense? Will we likely replicate that? Do tell.

I won't go 7.5 wins this year, b/c then you'll just call me a copycat. Or smug.

This is fun and all, but I'm thinking you might take this a bit more seriously. My original point stands, "you could have Barry Sanders in the backfield and it won't matter if the QB can't throw." How many Super Bowls did Mr. Sanders win partnered with his "No Pressure" QB?

You know, a "poster like me," just a dumb, ignorant, redneck southerner who happens to be a BC grad and a devout fan since '92 needs a good stretch every once in a while.

 
At 11:56 PM, Blogger conlonc said...

Here we go with more of your inability to follow simple logic.

This is the last time I'm gonna go over this stuff because frankly it's turning into a huge waste of time.

"Um, where will the stock market be in three years? To answer your question, no, I don't know."

This is a blogpost - I didn't think I needed to present every prediction with "in my opinion" or "I believe". But just so we're clear, it is my belief the running game will be better in 2009 than 2008. Dang.

Saying that the running game solely was the option read was called an exagerration, which I expanded on in my next post, yet you still harp on. Ever hear a play-by-play guy say a pitcher relies solely on his fastball? Do you really think he's saying he throws 100% fastballs?

"You know, we spoke a lot before last season about Crane "managing" the game. That concept only works if you have the Baltimore Ravens defense."

This is completely untrue. We won 9 games last year and Crane didn't even happen to "manage" the game. he was inferior to what was spoken about as a "game manager". Yet we still won 9 games, despite the horrible offense.

Where did I say the defense being so stout would be replicated? Again - putting words in my mouth.

Logan didn't care enough to make the effort to make adjustments that could have improved the offense. You've mentioned faster players aren't what BC has, so why then run the option read over and over when you can simply cram it down the throat of a faster opponent with your big guys who played better as the year went on - therefore making yourself less exposed to lack of team speed? Logan was too proud and stubborn to recognize that his was wasn't the only way. This is just one example.

I predicted 6.5 not 7.5.

Barry Sanders' SB history has what to do with this exactly? There are plenty of Trent Dilfers and Doug Williams' out there to counter every Brady and Manning who won a SB and same for RBs. Again, not really on point.

"a dumb, ignorant, redneck southerner who happens to be a BC grad and a devout fan since '92 needs a good stretch every once in a while."

Where did I say anything like this? You take anything I say and up it to the nth degree. It's ridiculous.

My main point about assumptions is that I make assumptions/predictions about the season on hand, while you make assumptions about what I'm saying (and are mostly wrong and ill-conceived).

Lastly, and probably most importantly is the distinction between our arguments about the running game and QB. You are saying that the opposing defense will put more pressure on the QB to beat them by trying to take away the running game. That's fine and I have never disagreed with that. I'm saying a quality running game takes more pressure off the QB than it would if it was a bad running game because then the QB would need to be relied on MORE often and for bigger plays. See the difference?

 

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