By Dave Glenn and Staff
September 20, 2004 UM: When Healthy, Gore Special
CORAL GABLES If there was any doubt about the health of Miami tailback Frank Gore, it was dispelled in the Hurricanes' come-from-behind 16-10 victory over Florida State in the season opener.
Gore, returning from his second consecutive season-ending knee injury, ran for 89 yards on 18 carries, including a game-winning 18-yard touchdown run in overtime.
Not bad for a player whose future was in question after he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament against West Virginia last October. That came on the heels of a torn right anterior cruciate two years ago that kept him out for all of the 2002 season.
"When Frank Gore's status gets better, my status gets better," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "I had the pleasure of coaching Barry Sanders (at Oklahoma State), and Frank Gore is the best back I've been around since Barry Sanders."
When fall practice began, there was plenty of uncertainty over whether Gore would be ready for the start of the 2004 season. But by the second week of workouts, Gore had overtaken Tyrone Moss for the starter's job.
Against FSU, Gore showed that he's better on two surgically repaired knees than most running backs are on two healthy knees. He broke off a 13-yard run to start the game and finished it with his 18-yard burst into the end zone in overtime, through the heart of FSU's defense.
Coker said no one should be surprised with the 5-10, 220-pound junior tailback's performance. After missing all of 2002, Gore returned last season and had rushed for 468 yards and a 5.3-yard average in four-plus games before getting hurt against the Mountaineers.
Moss, a 5-10, 221-pound sophomore, got far less work than Gore against FSU, rushing six times for only seven yards. But Moss' workload is expected to increase as the season matures. Coaches are excited about using Gore and Moss as a one-two punch. Gore is the shiftier and faster of the two, while Moss is more of a straight-head runner who can pound out the tough yards.
Moss, who rushed for more than 7,000 yards in high school for talent-rich, in-state power Pompano Beach Ely, played well as a freshman for the Hurricanes last season, gaining 511 yards on 107 carries. He topped the 100-yard mark against Temple (135) and Pittsburgh (115) and scored the game-winning touchdown a nine-yard run in which he broke three tackles in a 17-10 victory over Syracuse.
But questions of consistency and effort have dogged Moss. UM running backs coach Don Soldinger blasted Moss during spring practice for his lackadaisical attitude on and off the field. Soldinger was censured by Coker for his comments, but Moss appeared to get the message, and his work ethic has since improved.
Behind Gore and Moss is junior Quadtrine Hill, who was Miami's starting fullback the past two seasons before he requested and was granted a move to tailback. Hill wanted to be switched because of his lack of opportunities as a ball-carrier, with just seven rushing attempts in two seasons. But with Gore and Moss around, Hill may not get much work at tailback, either. An excellent receiver and blocker, Hill likely will be used primarily as a third-down back.
The Hurricanes also have three true freshman tailbacks Andrew Johnson, Charlie Jones and Derron Thomas all were prep All-Americans who are expected to redshirt in 2004, as long as Gore, Moss and Hill stay healthy.
Recent tailback signees: Willis McGahee (NFL) in 2000; Gore and Hill in 2001; none in 2002; Moss in 2003; Johnson, Jones, Thomas and Bobby Washington (denied admission/N.C. State) in 2004.
Virginia: Reveling In Versatility
CHARLOTTESVILLE Virginia coach Al Groh knows what the perception is, so he volunteers the information without being asked.
"This isn't one of those tailback-by-committee things," said Groh, after three Virginia running backs rushed for between 71 and 80 yards apiece in a 56-24 romp over North Carolina.
The Cavaliers' leading rusher against Carolina actually was their fullback, 5-11, 245-pound sophomore Jason Snelling, but three tailbacks combined for six touchdowns three by Wali Lundy, two by Alvin Pearman and one by Michael Johnson.
Just because Virginia plays three tailbacks doesn't mean it hasn't settled on a starter. Lundy, a 5-10, 214-pound junior, has started a combined 22 games over three seasons and was on the verge of 2,000 rushing yards for his career as the Cavaliers entertained Akron.
"Wali is certainly the first one to go in," Groh said, "and he's probably the one that gets all of the different plays, while the other ones have their ones where they major in a little bit more. It's obviously been very productive for us. We went into the season saying, 'We've got three guys here who can really do something, and we're going to use all of them in the game.'"
Virginia had such an abundance of talent at tailback last year that Johnson, a former Parade All-American, was redshirted. The Cavaliers' No. 3 tailback in 2003 was Marquis Weeks, a one-time SuperPrep All-American who had rushed for 129 yards in a 14-9 upset of then-No. 22 N.C. State in 2002.
Weeks picked up his degree in May and gave thought to transferring to a Division I-AA program for his final season of eligibility, but Groh was successful in persuading him to move to safety, where he ran with the first team virtually since his first day on defense.
Weeks flashed his old tailback form against North Carolina, when he returned a second-quarter kickoff for a touchdown, his second 100-yard kickoff return against the Tar Heels in two games at Scott Stadium. Then Pearman, who had returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown against Temple, had a 93-yard kickoff return to the Tar Heels' one-yard line.
Pearman, a 5-9, 204-pound senior, had a 45-yard reception in the same game and "reveled in his versatility," according to Groh. Pearman entered the season with more than 100 career receptions, including 63 in 2003, when he had a school-record 16 catches against Florida State.
Lundy, a former all-state wide receiver in New Jersey, had 58 receptions as a freshman in 2002 and shares Pearman's versatility. He is the Cavaliers' most physical running back and a determined goal-liner runner, as evidenced by his 11 touchdowns in a four-game span dating back to the 2003 season, including three apiece against Temple and North Carolina.
Pearman is faster than Lundy but Johnson, a
5-9, 192-pound sophomore, is the fastest of the bunch. Johnson showed promise as a freshman in 2002, but Groh wanted to create some separation behind his two older tailbacks. Groh said he can't wait for the time when Johnson has the opportunity to carry the ball 200 times in a season.
Like Johnson, Snelling also played in 2002, only to be redshirted the next year. He had 31 receptions in his first season but carried the ball only nine times all season. A converted tailback, he gives the Cavaliers a rare big-play threat at the fullback spot.
At one point last season, UVa had commitments from three promising tailbacks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Cedric Peerman from Virginia, and Andrew Pearman (Alvin's brother) from North Carolina. Andrew Pearman decommitted before eventually signing with Hawaii, and Bradshaw was released from his scholarship before enrolling at Marshall, giving Peerman the opportunity to impress the coaches with his work on the scout team.
Recent tailback signees: Hikee Johnson (non-qualifier/West Virginia), Art Thomas (moved to cornerback/graduated), Jonathan Ward (moved to fullback/injured/left team) and Marquis Weeks (moved to safety) in 2000; Pearman in 2001; Tony Franklin (moved to cornerback), Johnson and Lundy in 2002; none in 2003; Ahmad Bradshaw (denied admission/Marshall) and Peerman in 2004.
NCSU Enjoying Talented Depth
RALEIGH Last year, when T.A. McLendon got hurt and everyone knows how often that was N.C. State had very few other options.
Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato even had to burn then-freshman Reggie Davis' redshirt year after the Pack's eighth game of the season. Davis gained only 110 yards in five games, which hardly seemed worth the loss of his redshirt season.
Josh Brown was the team's second-leading rusher in 2003, with 186 yards in six games. He was the team's first option behind McLendon, who managed to get 608 yards and nine touchdowns between treatments for various hamstring and knee ailments, and Brown (who also battled injuries) did not perform well against the Pack's better opponents.
N.C. State is 7-0 over the last two years in games when McLendon has surpassed 100 yards, so when he surprise, surprise pulled a hamstring early in preseason practice, it could have spelled disaster. Everyone already was a little anxious about how the Wolfpack's offense would do under the guidance of someone besides quarterback Philip Rivers for the first time in four years.
But it's hardly worth worrying about now. The Wolfpack is loaded with talented, NFL-caliber tailbacks. Few programs in the nation are three-deep with consensus prep All-Americans at the position, but NCSU is one of them. The Pack doesn't even miss Brown, the team's second-leading rusher the last two years, who decided in August that he didn't want to play football anymore. He's now a student assistant on the sidelines.
McLendon sat out the season opener against Richmond, giving himself plenty of time to heal before the Ohio State game. He was back at practice the Monday before the showdown with the Buckeyes, trying to work his way back from the No. 4 spot on the depth chart and perhaps out of Amato's doghouse.
Amato repeated this mantra throughout the preseason when asked about McLendon's condition: "You can't make the team in the tub."
Based on what the coaches saw in the preseason, and to some extent in the 42-0 whipping of the Spiders, there is no desperate rush to get McLendon, who rushed for 1,101 yards and 18 touchdowns en route to winning the 2002 ACC rookie of the year award, back on the field.
That's because now Amato has plenty of backfield options, even if you don't count halfback Tramain Hall, one of the most versatile and dangerous weapons in the ACC. Davis, now a sophomore and much more impressive than he was last year, got the attention of the coaches in the spring with his bruising running style. The 233-pound tailback from Tallahassee was hampered in the fall with a pulled hamstring, though he managed to recover quickly enough to play in the season opener.
But the real story of the preseason were the two freshman tailbacks one who should have been in Raleigh to back up McLendon last year, and another who should be backing up Frank Gore at Miami this year. Both Darrell Black-man, who spent last season at prep school getting his academics in order, and Bobby Washington, who landed in the Wolfpack's lap in August after being denied admission by the Hurricanes, drew constant praise from the coaching staff for their differing running styles.
Blackman got the starting nod in the opener, and while neither was particularly dazzling, they continued to make a favorable impression in combining for 112 yards on 22 carries. Davis added another 25 yards on five carries and scored a TD.
Neither of the rookies fumbled the ball away, something that was a concern in the preseason, and neither had trouble handling his assignments when he didn't have the ball in his hands.
"Freshman running backs don't like to play without the football," Amato said. "Most running backs, in fact, don't like to play without the football. But I thought they did a good job in pass protection, picking up blitzes and not fumbling the ball."
But things will get increasingly more difficult for the Wolfpack, beginning with the game against Ohio State. That's still a big initiation for two very young players, even those with backgrounds as consensus prep All-Americans.
At least there are options, and if McLendon remains as injury-prone this season as he was last year, Amato has some alternatives and the team won't have to just rely on new starting quarterback Jay Davis to make all the plays. That was a big problem for much of last year, when the Wolfpack relied almost entirely on Rivers to make big plays when it needed them. There was no real confidence in 2003 that anybody on the offense other than Rivers could make those plays if McLendon was out. That's not the case this year.
"We have guys behind (McLendon) that can make plays," Hall said. "He is a big part of our offense, but if he is not out there, I don't think our offense will miss a beat."
Recent tailback signees: none in 2000; Brown, Greg Golden (moved to cornerback), Hall (non-qualifier) and Lamont Reid (moved to cornerback) in 2001; Hall (re-signed; moved to halfback) and McLendon in 2002; Blackman (non-qualifier), Davis and Brian Dennison (non-qualifier) in 2003; Blackman (re-signed), Andre Brown (non-qualifier) and Washington in 2004.
Washington, Booker Spark FSU
TALLAHASSEE In a league flush with quality tailbacks, Florida State's tandem of Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker often is overlooked by fans and media. Opposing coaches don't make the same mistake.
"They have two of the outstanding running backs in the country in Booker and Washington," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "They're the type guys who can go the distance."
Washington, the starter for the Seminoles this fall, spent two seasons in the shadow of 250-pound sledgehammer Greg Jones, who has moved on to the NFL. Since being given the opportunity to shine, Washington has been just shy of sensational.
Gifted with balance, vision and surprising strength, Washington has drawn comparisons to Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk, in part because of his diminutive (5-9, 202) size. As a freshman, Washington rolled up a career-high 134 yards on 26 carries against Florida. He backed it up last season with 121 yards on 21 carries, including a game-winning 12-yard sprint, in a double-overtime win against N.C. State.
"(Booker and I) can make people miss in the open field, and that makes a big difference," Washington said. "The last couple of years, (Jones) was a great back, but (defenses) didn't have to worry about the flats. We can run the ball or catch the ball on the edge, and that gives them a lot more to worry about."
Booker, the nation's top-rated prep rusher in 2001, debuted after a redshirt season with 132 total yards (87 rushing, 45 receiving) in FSU's 2003 season opener at North Carolina. A speedster with exceptional change-of-direction skills, he has seen his productivity diminished by ankle and knee injuries the first of his career that took a toll mentally as well.
Washington and Booker both are outstanding receivers, and FSU offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden hopes to maximize that ability this season in an effort to stretch opposing defenses and improve the Seminoles' ability to control the football.
With complementary styles, Washington and Booker provide the Seminoles with the same kind of one-two punch they enjoyed in the mid-1990s, when Warrick Dunn and Rock Preston spearheaded the FSU attack. They were at the core of the Seminoles' 1995 offense, which set the ACC record for total offense at 550.7 yards per game.
Miami, however, could have revealed the tandem's shortcoming in its season-opening 16-10 win over the Seminoles. The Hurricanes prevented Washington and Booker from getting through the line of scrimmage and into pass routes on four of five called plays, contributing to FSU's 295-game low output of 165 total yards.
As critical as Washington and Booker will be for the Seminoles this season, a pair of true freshmen Jamaal Edwards and Lamar Lewis appear ready to move up the ladder when given the opportunity. Edwards and Lewis made the most of extensive repetitions in the preseason, when the FSU coaches attempted to keep their top two backs healthy, repeatedly making big plays in scrimmages. Many of those came against FSU's first-team defense.
"The freshmen came in ready to play, and that was very encouraging," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "If they weren't ready, we would've had to move somebody back to tailback, because you don't get through the season with only two (tailbacks) very often."
Edwards (6-0, 202), a highly coveted recruit from North Carolina, is a slasher with a quick burst through the line, delivering blows along the way. Lewis (5-9, 188), a small-school star out of Jacksonville, displayed elusiveness and surprising pull-away speed with big plays in nearly every preseason scrimmage.
Jones' departure, and the relatively diminutive size of his successors, contributed to FSU's decision to scrap the power-I as its base offensive formation. Given the versatility on hand, it appears the Seminoles are leaning toward a return to the split-back sets and running from the shotgun that allowed Dunn, Preston and Travis Minor to excel. Sprint draws and direct snaps, staples of a decade ago, are now back in the play-calling sequence.
Recent tailback signees: Greg Jones in 2000 (graduated); Willie Reid (moved to receiver) and Eric Shelton (transfer/Louisville) in 2001; Booker, Thomas Clayton (transfer/Kansas State) and Washington in 2002; none in 2003; Edwards and Lewis in 2004.
Wake: Barclay Making History?
WINSTON-SALEM Traditionally, one of the weaknesses of Wake Forest football has been the program's lack of quality depth.
But the Demon Deacons have been able to carry on at running back over the last several seasons, despite academic and injury woes to some of their top players.
The tailback has regained importance under coach Jim Grobe, whose first three Wake teams averaged more than 203 yards a game on the ground. In fact, the Deacons gained 8,506 yards on the ground in Grobe's first three years and two games, compared to 9,298 in eight years under his predecessor Jim Caldwell.
Wake has posted three 1,000-yard backs in the last five years, an accomplishment matched only by Maryland in ACC play. League newcomers Miami and Virginia Tech (four times in five years) also turned the trick.
During that time, the Deacons have survived injuries to their top backs, such as Tarence Williams, Chris Barclay and Cornelius Birgs, as well as the academic difficulties of Fred Staton and Nick Burney.
Barclay, a junior this fall, has been the driving force for Grobe, from helping smooth over the Williams injury as a true freshman in 2001 to now becoming one of the nation's top backs. Since recovering from an ankle sprain at the start of last season, Barclay has been dominant. He averaged 131 yards a game over his last seven in 2003 and first two of 2004. He's already among Wake's top 10 all-time leading rushers, and if he stays healthy he should challenge for No. 1.
Barclay wasn't ranked too highly coming out of high school, with only Wake, hometown Louisville and Boston College offering scholarships. He was a track star, but his size 5-8, 175 pounds caused most programs to pass him by. His statistics didn't help, either. Although he caught 52 passes as a senior and averaged more than seven yards a carry, he didn't rush for even 1,000 yards.
Barclay, now listed at 5-10 and 173 pounds, has proven to be a perfect fit for Grobe's offense. He uses his size to sit down behind the ever-moving offensive line, then cuts quickly as a hole develops, usually fooling the defense.
"I think he's somewhat underrated, because of his size," Grobe said. "He's a track guy, but he doesn't fall into that east-west (running style) trap very often. When he sees a hole, he's not afraid to stick his nose right up in there."
Birgs is similar to Barclay in height, at 5-10, but he's 214 pounds and hasn't proven as mentally tough. The coaching staff has raved about Birgs at various points in his career, but they've also blasted his habits as what's holding him back. Among other miscues, Birgs actually overslept for a Saturday scrimmage during spring practice in 2003.
This year, Birgs had a good spring, and he'll likely get at least 10 carries a game while spelling Barclay. Birgs is not a power back, but he does run with a little more of a blast than Barclay.
Power helped D'Angelo Bryant grab a little piece of the spotlight last season as a true freshman. Grobe decided to play him after injuries hit, and Bryant at 6-2, 239 pounds quickly became a fan favorite as Wake's version of "The Bus."
Despite some nice runs, though, his playing time dwindled as the top backs got healthy and as he continued to fumble the ball. He didn't appear in the first two games this season and has been bothered by knee problems. Grobe would like for Bryant to get his redshirt year back, but he could be asked to fill in at fullback this fall for the injured Damon McWhite.
The Deacons are high on redshirt freshman Micah Andrews, a 5-10, 206-pounder who is the son of former NFL back William Andrews. Micah was a well-regarded prospect from talent-rich Georgia, after he gained 2,871 yards as a senior. He's more of a straight-ahead runner than Barclay or Birgs, so it remains to be seen how he'll function in Grobe's system. Andrews served a two-game suspension to begin the 2004 season but was very impressive in his debut against North Carolina A&T.
Recent tailback signees: Mike Hamlar (moved to linebacker) and Fred Staton (academics/dismissed) in 2000; Dominic Anderson (moved to safety) and Birgs in 2001; Barclay in 2002; Andrews and Bryant in 2003; none in 2004.
Daniels: Walk-On Now All-ACC
ATLANTA P.J. Daniels packed up his car and made the trek from Houston to Atlanta, unwanted and unheralded. A descendant of Ghana royalty, Prince Adazie Daniels Jr. arrived on the Georgia Tech campus as the ultimate commoner a walk-on.
Now Daniels is living the ultimate rags-to-riches story. A seventh-string tailback last spring, Daniels led the league in rushing and was a first-team All-ACC selection. He rushed for 307 yards in the Humanitarian Bowl and 240 yards against North Carolina, the second- and third-highest rushing totals in Tech history.
The story of his unbelievable climb now tires Daniels, an out-going, unassuming and humble person.
"That's in the past," Daniels said in the preseason. "Let's move on."
He'd rather be known as a top-notch running back than a walk-on made good. He's on his way. A tough, up-the-middle runner who also is the Yellow Jackets' best back at picking up the blitz, Daniels could become just the sixth player in ACC history to lead the league in rushing in back-to-back years. Just a junior, he has a chance to lead the league in rushing an unprecedented three consecutive times.
Daniels' success story is rooted in hard work. He often can be found looking for ways, sometimes unique, to improve his running skills. He considered taking ballet classes to improve his balance. He studies film of quicker backs to learn additional moves, and he added a leap last season to get over tacklers who try to take him out low.
Not equipped with the most impressive physical skills, Daniels simply does everything coaches want out of a running back. He's a good pass protector. He holds onto the ball. He moves the pile forward. He stays up after first contact. He catches the ball well out of the backfield. And he's tough.
Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey prefers to ride one tailback, and Daniels has held up well with heavy use. He set a school record with 283 carries last season, and despite nicks and bruises throughout the year he played in every game.
The Yellow Jackets are using more two-tailback sets this season to get Morris Brown transfer Chris Woods on the field more often. Woods had trouble holding onto the ball and picking up pass rushers last season. But his explosiveness showed in the spring, and Woods has worked on his deficiencies. Woods and Daniels make a good tandem because of their contrasting styles.
Rashaun Grant worked at wide receiver this spring, hoping to find more playing time. Like Woods, Grant is an explosive back. He's the fastest of the Tech backs and, just a redshirt freshman, should be a factor down the road.
True freshman Mike Cox, a big burly back (6-1, 248) nicknamed "Alstott" for his resemblance to Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott, already has earned some playing time in short-yardage situations. Classmate Drew Gause, a short (5-9) but powerful (220 pounds) runner, is expected to redshirt this season.
Recent tailback signees: Dixon (moved to fullback) and Tony Hollings (academics/NFL) in 2000; Daniels (as a walk-on) in 2001; Ajenavi Eziemefe (moved to fullback), Eddie Lee Ivery Jr. (moved to cornerback) and Michael Sampson (academics) in 2002; Grant and Woods in 2003; Cox and Gause in 2004.
Friedgen's Decisions Paying Off
COLLEGE PARK During his relatively brief tenure as the head coach at his alma mater, Ralph Friedgen has set a policy of never turning away talented players who desperately want to play football for Maryland.
Friedgen seems to feel there is always room for good players, even if a particular position appears stocked at the time or if there are questions surrounding the individual.
That philosophy is a primary reason why Maryland's tailback situation is healthy in 2004. Friedgen recruited Josh Allen to keep him away from the competition, and the coach accepted Sammy Maldonado as a transfer against the recommendation of several of his own assistant coaches.
Now Allen and Maldonado comprise a reliable, efficient one-two combination for the Terps. That fact was illustrated in Maryland's initial two games of 2004, as Allen rushed for 102 yards against Northern Illinois and Maldonado gained 106 versus Temple.
Friedgen has mentioned many times that he didn't initially want to offer Allen a scholarship in 2002, because he felt the Terps were loaded at tailback. The plan was to sign just one tailback that year, and J.P. Humber of Florida was the first to commit.
Yet Friedgen couldn't stop thinking about Allen, who rushed for 2,999 yards and 35 touchdowns in two seasons at Eleanor Roosevelt High, which is located just 15 minutes away from the Maryland campus. Allen, who also was a county champion sprinter and triple-jumper, already had scholarship offers from other ACC schools.
"My assistants kept telling me we didn't need another tailback, but I could see Josh going someplace like Georgia Tech or Virginia and coming back to haunt us," Friedgen said. "I'm glad we were smart enough to get Josh on our side."
Allen has proven to be an effective combination of speed and power. The sturdy 202-pounder has the strength to run between the tackles, while also displaying breakaway ability once he gets into the clear. He was slowed by a hamstring injury early last season and started only eight games, but he still managed 922 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He proved he could excel in the role of featured back by breaking loose for 257 yards on 38 carries against Virginia. It was the third-highest single-game rushing total in school history.
Friedgen praised Allen during the preseason, saying the junior finally was injury-free and in the best shape of his career. Strength and conditioning coordinator Dwight Galt reported that Allen had an outstanding summer in the weight room, sculpting his body to better absorb hits. Running backs coach Bill O'Brien said Allen had improved at pass protection but needed to do a better job of catching the ball out of the backfield.
Former Maryland recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley was very unsure about taking Maldonado, a transfer from Ohio State. While Maldonado had been a record-breaking running back at Harrison High in upstate New York, there were some questions about his attitude and work ethic.
Maldonado, unhappy about being turned into a fullback at Ohio State, simply wanted a chance to run the ball. He rushed for more than 7,000 yards and 99 touchdowns during an illustrious prep career and was not willing to settle for being a blocking back at the collegiate level.
Friedgen ultimately decided to give Maldonado a shot at tailback, and he's made the most of it, displaying a powerful, straight-ahead style that makes him an ideal complement to Allen. Maldonado excelled in the role of short-yardage specialist last season, rushing for 305 yards and three touchdowns in just seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He underwent reconstructive surgery and was limited to non-contact drills in the spring.
So far this fall, Maldonado seems completely recovered from the injury and is running harder than ever. The fifth-year senior's toughness between the tackles and ability to run over linebackers has earned him the nickname "Sammy the Bull." Maldonado's strong early season performance had the coaching staff seriously considering increasing his workload. It would not be a total surprise to see Maldonado and Allen splitting carries at times this season, depending on game situations and who has the hot hand.
There isn't much difference between the remaining running backs, all of whom have shown promise at various points.
Redshirt junior Mario Merrills is currently third on the depth chart by a thin margin over Humber. Merrills' advantage at this point is playing experience, as he's now appeared in 14 games, albeit mostly in a mop-up roles. Humber, a redshirt sophomore, entered this season with just 14 carries in four games. Ball protection has been a problem for both players.
Coaches are high on redshirt freshman Lance Ball, who has extremely quick feet for a 221-pounder. O'Brien said the New Jersey native was the team's most improved tailback during spring camp.
True freshman Keon Lattimore, who spent 2003-04 at Hargrave Military Academy, was on the verge of being named the No. 3 tailback before suffering a knee injury. A half-brother of Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Ray Lewis, Lattimore is by far the shiftiest runner of the bunch, able to stop on a dime, make sharp cuts and juke defenders.
Recent tailback signees: Chris Downs (juco/graduated) in 2000; Jason Crawford (left team), Merrills and Parson (moved to slotback) in 2001; Allen, Humber and Maldonado in 2002; Ball in 2003; Lattimore in 2004.
UNC Hoping To Revisit History
CHAPEL HILL Being a running back at North Carolina used to be glamorous.
The school has produced few outstanding quarterbacks, but there have been many excellent rushers. As a matter of fact, UNC has had more 1,000-yard runners than any school in NCAA history. But, as with the football program itself, the running game died on the vine after Mack Brown left for Texas in 1997. The last 1,000-yard rusher, Jon Linton, accomplished the feat in Brown's final year at Carolina.
The overall performance of the team isn't any better these days, but the running game is one area that does work. The problem is, Carolina doesn't get to run enough, because quarterback Darian Durant spends most of his time throwing the ball in an effort to catch up, thanks to a porous defense.
Ronnie McGill, a 5-11, 215-pound sophomore, is the starter. An unheralded
signee from South Carolina in 2004, he has developed into
a powerful, slashing back with good vision. Some teammates have taken to calling him "The
"He's a very durable guy," UNC coach John Bunting said. "I also think he is very instinctive."
In the opening game against William & Mary this fall, McGill had to leave the field for the locker room twice to get attention for a bruised hip. He refused to stay on the sideline. In the fourth quarter, when the Tar Heels really needed him, McGill produced. He carried the ball 13 times in the game for 133 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 10.2 yards per carry. He earned 116 yards and his three scores in the fourth quarter, long after he had injured his hip.
"He is everything you want in a back," Bunting said.
Jacque Lewis, a senior, is a tough guy as well. Listed at 5-9 and 190 pounds, Lewis isn't nearly as physically imposing as McGill. Nevertheless, from his freshman year forward, Lewis has shown the ability to break tackles and defy his stature.
Lewis, a former prep All-American, grew up in Elizabeth City. His father, Anzell Harrell, coached running backs for many years, including at the college level. So Lewis understood how to play the position from the beginning, and he's never been afraid to run the ball off tackle.
"I like the physical contact," Lewis said.
Chad Scott, a 5-9, 196-pound transfer from Kentucky, is the third man in this rotation. His chief asset is quickness. He can squirt through holes and be five or eight yards downfield before a defense realizes it. He's also a good receiver out of the backfield.
Scott started to come on strong toward the end of 2003, but a concussion knocked him out of the game against Wake Forest. McGill replaced him and responded by rushing for 244 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries. Since then, McGill gradually has taken over as the featured back in Chapel Hill.
"I just wasn't getting the opportunity," said McGill, who graduated from high school in December 2002 so he could enroll a semester early at UNC. "It showed what I can do if I get a chance."
Of course, all three backs would say the same thing, but they have been forced to share playing time and the spotlight.
"I'm fine with the rotation," McGill said. "It keeps a fresh back in, and it keeps the defense on its toes, not knowing what to expect. As long as it helps the team, I have no problem with it."
UNC has tailbacks for the future as well. Barrington Edwards, a 6-0, 213-pound transfer student from LSU, is sitting out this season and will be eligible for 2005. He was ranked among the top backs in the nation coming out of high school. Vince Wilson (5-9, 190) is a freshman tailback from Florida, and Antwain Carey (6-0, 205) is a freshman from Virginia. Wilson and Carey are expected to redshirt this fall.
Recent tailback signees: Jason Crawford (non-qualifier/Maryland), Brandon Russell (moved to receiver/graduated) and Andre Williams (medical/back) in 2000; Lewis in 2001; Mahlon Carey (moved to linebacker), Scott and D.J. Walker (moved to safety) in 2002; McGill in 2003; Carey, Edwards and Wilson in 2004.
Eddy Landreth, Chapel Hill (N.C.) News
Bowden Still Looking For Star
CLEMSON When Tommy Bowden took the job at Clemson, he said one of his first goals was to find a running back to plug into his high-octane offense who could take the ball and go the distance.
Five-plus years later, Bowden is still looking.
Again this season, Clemson is trying to get by with several backs who sometimes do nice things but don't qualify as consistent difference-makers. The team's depth chart at running back is full of one-dimensional players. That's why the Tigers' 2005 recruiting list has running backs listed at the top in bold print.
During its dramatic four-game run at the end of the 2003 season, Clemson improved its running game mainly because of two players quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and fullback Chad Jasmin. Whitehurst, who rushed 19 times for 39 key yards in Clemson's 26-10 victory over Florida State, is not really a runner at all. Jasmin (523 yards, nine touchdowns) has departed, so someone else must step into the void.
The top candidate entering August camp was junior Duane Coleman, whom some Clemson fans have dubbed "The Predator" because of his distinctive dreadlocks. Coleman, one of only two backs in school history to have 600 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving in a single season, is considered the Tigers' most talented back because he can run and catch the ball. But a broken foot put him on the shelf for the first part of the 2004 season.
With Coleman out, senior Yusef Kelly stepped into the starting role. Everyone associated with Clemson has been waiting for Kelly to approach the skills he showed as a freshman, but it has been a very long wait. In this year's opener against Wake Forest, Kelly managed just 57 yards on 19 carries. He simply can't get to the hole quickly enough to make a major impact.
Clemson insiders have said that one big reason Kelly is staying ahead is because of his pass blocking. But some believe that if Whitehurst is going to be effective, he's going to need the running game to take away some of the pressure.
Behind Kelly are two of the most asked-about backs at Clemson, Reggie Merriweather and Kyle Browning. Many observers want to know why Merriweather and Browning don't get more carries.
Merriweather is a thick 5-8, 212-pound back who rushed for almost 2,600 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior in high school. A redshirt sophomore, he had just 62 carries last season. Browning (5-7, 172), a redshirt junior, is more of a waterbug. He's not going to run over people, but he is capable of running away from them.
Both backup tailbacks showed the impact they can make on the Clemson offense in the Tigers' loss to Georgia Tech. In the second half, Merriweather went 62 yards for a touchdown, then Browning followed him with a 54-yard scoring run. Not surprisingly, Merriweather's run was the longest run from scrimmage in the Bowden era.
Late in the Tech game, however, the Tigers showed their running game is still a problem. Needing one yard for a first down to close out the game, they failed in two attempts. That set the stage for the bad punt snap that led to Tech's winning touchdown.
Recent tailback signees: Terrance Huey (medical/seizures) and Kelly in 2000; Browning, Tye Hill (moved to cornerback) and Micheaux Hollings-worth (non-qualifier/North Carolina A&T) in 2001; Coleman and Merriweather in 2002; Tramaine Billie (moved to linebacker) and Brandon Nolen (moved to rover) in 2003; none in 2004.
Without Jones, Hokies Searching
BLACKSBURG The night before Kevin Jones' press conference in December, when he announced his intention to turn pro, Virginia Tech's standout tailback had a conversation with his teammate and fellow tailback Cedric Humes.
It was more of a pep talk than anything else. Jones' message was something along the lines that he was passing the torch to Humes. Don't screw it up.
Humes is doing his best to live up to Jones' expectations, but he's feeling the heat. He started Tech's first two games this fall, but he has split carries with fellow junior Justin Hamilton. It's not that Humes has been unimpressive. He has just been a little slow to recover from a broken ankle he had April surgery on to repair.
Despite sharing time almost 50-50 with Hamilton in the backfield, Humes believes the pressure of having to compete for the job has been a positive experience. He's making sure to leave an impression when he's on the field.
"I do think it's a good thing, because sometimes when I feel like there's pressure, it makes me play that much better," said Humes, a 6-1, 231-pound native of Virginia Beach, Va. "The thing that has been holding me back is my ankle. It's pretty much healed, and it'll be a good thing if I can just go out there and play my game."
Hamilton has been a pleasant surprise. He spent the last two seasons as a receiver before being moved to tailback in the spring following Humes' injury. It's not exactly a new position for the 6-3, 222-pound Hamilton, who, like Humes, was a high school All-American.
While Humes may have more of a power running style, Hamilton has a slight edge in the speed category. Hamilton also has a distinct advantage in receiving ability. Neither back rushed for more than 51 yards in Tech's first two games.
"They are both tailbacks for us, and I think they are both doing very well for us," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "Justin Hamilton impressed me during the (Western Michigan game). The blocking for pass protection and running hard worked for him that day. He even had a tackle on (quarterback Bryan Randall's) interception. He is a valuable, consistent player for us."
Beamer denies that Humes and Hamilton are dueling for the starting job, but it's clear he wants one back to emerge. No matter who emerges, it may not matter much in the long run. Humes and Hamilton could be keeping the spot warm for Elan Lewis, a top tailback recruit from Hampton, Va., who committed to Tech on Sept. 12.
Tech's other options at tailback this fall include freshmen George Bell and Branden Ore. Bell, a highly recruited 5-10, 225-pound player from Fayetteville, N.C., has been strong at times in practice, but he hasn't regained all of his speed after major knee surgery almost two years ago. Ore, a 5-11, 196-pound back from Chesapeake, Va., was impressive in preseason practices and has excellent speed, but he is almost certain to be redshirted.
Mike Imoh, a 5-7, 196-pound junior from Fairfax, Va., has a lot of catching up to do after being suspended for Tech's first three games. Imoh is an outstanding kick returner and also can line up at receiver. It appears that either Bell or Imoh will be redshirted.
Recent tailback signees: none in 2000; Hamilton, Humes and Jones in 2001; Imoh in 2002; Kenny Lewis (baseball) in 2003; Bell and Ore in 2004.
Blue Devils In Rebuilding Mode
DURHAM The only thing that has held Cedric Dargan back is injury.
Duke's junior running back, from Jacksonville, N.C., missed the final 10 games of his sophomore season after suffering an ankle injury against Northwestern. Last year, as a backup for All-ACC tailback and all-time Duke rushing leader Chris Douglas, the 6-0, 200-pounder missed two games and was gimpy for several others.
When he was healthy enough to play, Dargan showed a nose for the end zone. He scored four touchdowns in the final three games of 2003, after Ted Roof took over as the head coach in place of Carl Franks. In the season finale at North Carolina, Dargan carried 17 times for 52 yards and two touchdowns, as the Blue Devils beat their archrival for the first time in 14 years. Previously, at Tennessee, he had 54 yards in 13 carries and a score. He also had a TD in the upset of Georgia Tech that ended a 30-game ACC losing streak.
With Douglas and Alex Wade gone to the NFL, Dargan took over as the featured back for 2004 and ran for 101 yards in the first half at Navy in 17 productive carries. However, he suffered a turf toe and, in compensating for that problem, hurt his leg in the second half. He finished with 114 yards in 20 carries. He has good not great speed but is a tough runner, especially inside. He's good enough to be a major factor, but he has to remain on the field. A regular resident of the weight room, he has a 4.6 body fat percentage that is the lowest on the squad.
"(Dargan) doesn't need to worry about replacing Chris Douglas. He needs to worry about being the best that Cedric Dargan can be," Roof said. "He has done some good things. He makes a lot of those four-yard runs that get to be eight-yard runs. You always pull for the guys who stay the course, guys who keep going to work, keep working hard."
Dargan made the trip to Connecticut but was still gimpy and did not play. He was replaced by Aaron Fryer, a 5-10, 215-pound sophomore from Tampa who had 20 carries for 55 yards against the Huskies.
Fryer, highly rated coming out of Jesuit High, was being redshirted as a freshman when Franks suddenly used him sparingly against Florida State in the fifth game. All told, Fryer played in just three games and carried the ball eight times for 25 yards. It made no sense to use Fryer against the Seminoles, but by then Franks had panicked. Fryer did not play in the Navy opener but won the starting role in practice, after it became evident that Dargan was still hurt.
Against Navy, true freshman Justin Boyle saw action in the second half when Dargan was sidelined. He had runs of nine and six yards to lead Duke to its only touchdown. A 6-1, 220-pounder from Acworth, Ga., Boyle is a straight-ahead runner with good speed. He had two carries against UConn. He needs to learn more about being elusive.
Duke likely will redshirt Ronnie Drummer
(5-9, 165) of California, a burner who could help at a variety of positions. Another true freshman, Tim Ball (6-1, 205) of Texas, has played this fall on special teams.
With all five running backs, including three freshmen, returning next season, and already with commitments from three others, the position is in great shape numbers-wise. Dargan, however, is the lone proven commodity, and he needs to find a way to remain healthy.
Recent tailback signees: none in 2000; Dargan, Brendan Dewan (moved to linebacker) and Jamin Pastore (moved to cornerback) in 2001; Von Bryant (moved to cornerback/left team) and Malcolm Ruff (moved to linebacker) in 2002; Fryer in 2003; Ball, Boyle and Drummer in 2004.
ACC TAILBACKS: THREE-DEEP DEPTH CHARTS, RANKINGS
|Rank/School||First Team||Second Team||Third Team||The PooP|
|1. Miami||Frank Gore/Jr.||Tyrone Moss/So.||Quadtrine Hill/Jr.||Gore, Moss Both Have Ability To Finish Among Greatest UM Backs|
|2. Virginia||Wali Lundy/Jr.||Alvin Pearman/Sr.||Michael Johnson/So.||No Group Offers Better Combination Of Proven Running, Receiving|
|3. N.C. State||T.A. McLendon/Jr.||Bobby Washington/Fr.||Darrell Blackman/Fr.||NFL-Caliber Prep All-American Trio Slowed Only By Injuries, Youth|
|4. Florida State||Leon Washington/Jr.||Lorenzo Booker/So.||Jamaal Edwards/Fr.^||Washington, Booker Bring Old-Style Versatilty After Jones/Power Era|
|5. Wake Forest||Chris Barclay/Jr.||Cornelius Birgs/Jr.||Micah Andrews/Fr.||Smallish Barclay Already On His Way To Making History For Deacs|
|5. Georgia Tech||P.J. Daniels/Jr.||Chris Woods/Jr.||Rashaun Grant/Fr.||Daniels Deserved All-ACC Recognition (2003), But Depth Is Lacking|
|5. Maryland||Josh Allen/Jr.||Sammy Maldonado/Sr.||Mario Merrills/Jr.||Nothing Special Here, Unless You Like Consistently Solid Production|
|5. North Carolina||Ronnie McGill/So.||Jacque Lewis/Sr.||Chad Scott/Sr.||Solid, Hard-Nosed Group Actually Closer To Top Trios Than Bottom|
|9. Clemson||Duane Coleman/Jr.||Yusef Kelly/Sr.||Kyle Browning/Jr.||Injury Set Coleman Back; Others Have Displayed Occasional Flashes|
|10. Virginia Tech||Cedric Humes/Jr.||Justin Hamilton/Jr.||George Bell/Fr.^||Early NFL Exit (Jones), Suspension (Imoh) Upset Would-Be Rotation|
|11. Duke||Cedric Dargan/Jr.||Aaron Fryer/So.||Justin Boyle/Fr.||Backfield Still In Rebuilding Mode After Departures Of Douglas, Wade|