Some teams are in great shape, some teams are in good shape and some teams badly need spring practice and fall drills to sort of what they have to work with. Such is the case each year when top players move on to the NFL and leave behind potential major issues at their position.
As far as running backs are concerned, Oregon is in the best shape. The Ducks lost LaMichael James, but should not miss a beat with Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Texas A&M said goodbye to Cyrus Gray, but Christine Michael has been a big-time back for the Aggies. Michael is coming off a torn ACL that cut short his 2011 seasont, but at least new coach Kevin Sumlin has an experienced ball carrier who has had success at the highest level. That’s not the case with a number of other teams, however. As we did with quarterbacks last month, here is a look are who is next up at running back.
Gone: Trent Richardson
Next up: Eddie Lacy | Junior | 6-1, 220
This passing of the baton could be as seamless as Richardson taking over for Heisman winner Mark Ingram. That’s not to say Lacy will have a Heisman-caliber season like Richardson, but he is ready to bust loose. After all, it’s not like he was a spare part last season rushing for 674 yards and 7 touchdowns with an eye-opening 7.1 per tote. He did not accumulate his numbers entirely in garbage time, either. Lacy ran for 85 yards at Penn State and 96 with a pair of TDs in a tight game at Mississippi State. He capped his season with 11-43 in the BCS title game against LSU. The powerful Lacy will not be the only experienced RB returning to the Tide. Jalston Fowler, who will also be a junior, has the build (6-1, 246), the speed, strength and character to make a difference. He made the most of his 56 carries by posted 385 yards and 4 TDs.
Gone: Terrance Ganaway
Next up: Jared Salubi | Senior | 5-9, 210
No stranger to fans in Waco, the speedy Salubi has 844 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground in three years. His highlight last season (58-331-3) was compiling 101 yards and two TDs on only five carries in the Alamo Bowl against Washington…..Glasco Martin, who checks in at 6-1 and 205, is sure to see increased playing time as a junior after going 40-268-2 in 2011. Lache Seastrunk (5-9,190) will finally take the field. He redshirted as a freshman at Oregon in 2010 before returning to his home state and sitting out last season at Baylor. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
Gone: Doug Martin
Next up: D.J. Harper | Senior | 5-9, 210
The slug “Next up” for Harper is a bit off kilter in that he has been with the Broncos one less season than coach Chris Petersen. For the first time since they have been together, however, Harper will be the featured back. While Harper was a valuable contributor last season, he had ACL injuries limit him to three games in both 2009 and 2010. The NCAA recently declared Harper, who will be 23 shortly after the season kicks off, a sixth year of eligibility. With Doug Martin sidelined against TCU last season, Harper ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He was 115-557-9 rushing for the season and had 19 receptions with a TD…..Drew Wright (5-9, 198) was awarded a scholarship after rushing for 218 yards and three TDs as a junior last season.
Gone: Isaiah Pead
Next up: George Winn | Senior | 5-11, 198
With three years of experience at UC and the top returning running back, Winn will get a serious look. Forty of his 78 career totes came last season when he ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns. One of the scores was a 69-yard run against Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl while Pead was getting his helmet fixed. Winn will have plenty of company. JUCO transfer Aaron Harris, Jameel Poteat (23 carries w/UC) and Ralph Abernathy (14 carries) will all vie for playing time.
Gone: Rodney Stewart
Next up: Tony Jones | Sophomore | 5-7, 175
Stewart was Colorado’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards and Jones is very similar in size and ability. Like Stewart, he is a good receiver coming out of the back field and can return kicks. In nine games as a redshirt sophomore, Jones had 297 yards rushing, 27 receptions and four total touchdowns…..Malcolm Creer and Josh Ford will be given every chance after combining to play only eight games last season. Creer (5-11, 205) was particularly unlucky during what would have been a redshirt freshman season. Because of mounting injuries, he had to burn the redshirt only to tear knee ligaments in his second game. Ford (5-9, 195) ran for 128 yards as a sophomore.
Gone: Lamar Miller
Next up: Mike James | Senior | 5-11, 222
It’s easy to pull for somebody like James, who lost his mother in an automobile accident a few days before Christmas 2010. He finished that season with 398 yards and followed up with 275 and 7 touchdowns last year. A strong blend of power and speed, James is the only rostered RB with notable experience…..Eduardo Clements (114 career yards in two years) and Darion Hall, who did not play as a freshman last season, should play a role. Prized recruit Randy “Duke” Johnson, the state of Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year, could have an immediate impact.
Gone: Vick Ballard
Next up: LaDarius Perkins | Junior| 5-10, 185
The Bulldogs should be in good shape with Perkins, who had a nice couple of years backing up Ballard by rushing for 988 yards and totaling 10 touchdowns. He ran for 422 yards last season after recording 566 (5.6 ypc) as a freshman in 2010. While Perkins is ready to bust out, there is precious little experience behind him. Nick Griffin (108 yards) is the only other running back that had as many as 15 carries.
Gone: Bernard Pierce
Next up: Matt Brown | Senior | 5-5, 170
The Owls are actually the exception on this list because Brown has been a big-time playmaker. Though often overlooked – and not just because of his size – with Pierce receiving so much hype the last couple of years, Brown has been very productive. In five games the past two seasons in which a banged up Pierce either did not play or had no more than three carries, Brown stepped in and rushed for 570 yards and 7 touchdowns. Overall in 2010 and ’11 combined, Brown piled up 1,746 yards – seven 100-yard games -- and 13 TDs. A familiar face for sure, Brown is now the No. 1…..Kenneth Harper (128 yards) is the only other running back that ran for as many as 100 yards last season.
Gone: David Wilson
Next up: ???
Wilson truly does leave a major void because the Hokies are very thin on experience. Tony Gregory has been in the program two years, but has only 39 carries for 129 yards. As a redshirt freshman, Daniel Dyer played in the opener and was solely a practice player thereafter. Coach Frank Beamer may need a true freshman to jump in right away. That could be J.C. Coleman, a four-star recruit who committed to Va. Tech last spring. Coleman (5-7, 180) is enrolled at the school and will partake of spring practice. Drew Harris, who is much bigger (6-1, 220) than Coleman, is another recruit that could have an immediate impact. However, he will be watched closely after a pretty bad knee injury cut short his senior season in high school.
Gone: Chris Polk
Next up: Jesse Callier | Junior | 5-10, 200
Callier is a shifty runner with good size and served as Polk’s backup the last two seasons, totaling 693 yards at 5.6 per carry. He has also been the Huskies’ primary kick returner, sporting an average of 22.9 yards on 57 returns…..Bishop Sankey, who saw action in nine games last season as a freshman and ran for 187 yards, is among a trio of other running backs that could emerge and see some playing time.
Gone: Bobby Rainey
Next up: ???
How to replace a player that ran for nearly 4,300 the last three seasons? You don’t. Especially when only one returning RB had many as 100 yards last season. That would be Keyshawn Simpson, who ran for 134 yards as a sophomore. Josh Evans made his mark as a freshman kick returner, finishing second nationally with an average of 32.2 yards, but he had only eight carries. Those two will be in the mix. Recruit Anthony Wales (5-9, 170) may be called upon to shine as a freshman. His 8,213 yards rushing in high school rank third all-time in the state of Kentucky.