The potential starters at running back
The Horn continues to break down the Longhorn offense by taking an in depth look at the running backs.
The deepest and most reliable unit on the Texas football team is the running backs. There are no huge question marks, other than the relative health of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, who each missed games last season. But with some newly emerging backs and highly-touted newcomer Johnathan Gray, nothing less than amazing is expected from them.
Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Johnathan Gray
Last year, the gem of the 2011 recruiting class was Malcolm Brown, who ended up becoming the starting back in a 3-man rotation that included Fozzy Whitaker and Joe Bergeron. After Whitaker suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 9, the entire workload was shifted onto the shoulders of the two freshmen, with Jeremy Hills and D.J. Monroe chipping in.
They responded well, and both Brown and Bergeron are expected to expand upon that success in 2012, along with true freshman Johnathan Gray. In 2011, Bergeron and Brown combined for 1,205 rushing yards on 244 carries with 10 touchdowns. Now Gray has the chance to assume a chunk of the carries and become part of a three-headed monster in the Longhorn backfield. The Gatorade High School Player of the Year rushed for 10,908 yards and 205 touchdowns for the Aledo Bearcats. He is talented enough to play early and often, but carries will definitely be divvied up between all three backs to take full advantage of the talent and depth at the position.
Fozzy Whitaker’s departure via graduation is a huge loss of leadership and experience. He’ll be greatly missed, but Texas fans have seen both Brown and Bergeron respond well to pressure, and they are each capable leaders. There shouldn’t be any worries in that department. Johnathan Gray will be expected to mature, too, and many feel that he will.
Jeremy Hills, Heath Hohmann, Daje Johnson
Jeremy Hills only carried the football 36 times last season, and a similar workload can be expected in 2012, barring injuries to any of the top three backs. He was effective when he did touch the ball, averaging just under five yards-per-carry.
D.J. Monroe was a bit more active in the offense, utilizing his speed to find his way into different offensive sets. But he is taking his 48 carries and seven yards-per-carryaverage to the wide receiver position. Recognizing the depth at the tailback position and the speed of Monroe, Texas coaches figured he would be best served focusing all of his time on being a pass-catcher.
That leaves sophomore Heath Hohmann and freshman Daje Johnson as the only other remaining reserves. Hohmann had just one carry last season, and it’s unlikely his number will be called on much more in the running game.
Texas will have one of the deepest running back corps in the nation, and only time will tell how far they can carry this offense. With uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Longhorns have a proven running game to lean on. Big things are expected from Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, and Johnathan Gray.
Texas hasn’t had a 1,000-yard back since Jamaal Charles in 2007 and with so much depth it’s hard to say if this is finally the year that it happens again. The coaches will want to allocate the workload between the three, which may prevent one tailback from assuming a true lead-back role. But getting each tailback more than 700 yards rushing and seven touchdowns is a realistic goal that may be even more impressive than a single 1,000-yard performer.
Whatever may happen, a couple of things remain true: the running back position is loaded with depth and talent, and this group has the chance to be one of the best and most reliable units in the nation.