2013 Texas Longhorns Positional Previews: Running Backs
The 2012 Texas Longhorns had a three-headed backfield which would be the envy of any program across the landscape of college football. At times, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray each had moments of brilliance which suggest they could be the No. 1 guy. This same trio returns to the Forty Acres this fall, along with the arrival of a few intriguing additions which promise to make game-planning for one of the nation’s best positional units a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
Daje Johnson returns as the unit’s primary dual-threat back, able to spark big gains on direct snaps, jet and sprint sweeps as well as in tallying a few receptions out of the backfield. His big-play ability will be complimented by the positional change of former quarterback Jalen Overstreet. Overstreet will be just as likely to line up behind David Ash as in the slot as an additional wide receiver in spread and empty set packages, both of which will be a large part of the new Texas offensive attack.
Upon his arrival to Austin prior to the 2011 season, rising junior running back Malcolm Brown was crowned the savior of the Texas offense before he ever took a snap. While injuries have prevented him, at least in part, from being the second-coming of Earl Campbell — this isn’t much of an exaggeration of the initial pressure placed on him — Brown has still been a first-tier back when healthy.
Brown only played in seven games last season, seeing featured back carries in only two of those games after rushing for 742 yards and five touchdowns his freshman season. The former Cibolo Steele star once again wowed Texas coaches this spring with his downfield running and appeared to have rehabilitated from an ankle injury while nagged throughout 2012. While speed is the new premium at Texas, this hardly suggests there won’t be a home for a guy like Malcolm Brown.
He will see his share of the pigskin for the 2013 Longhorns, but I don’t anticipate him to be the featured back.
Mesquite native Joe Bergeron was the Texas workhorse in 2012, racking up an impressive 567 yards on 127 attempts. Bergeron scored 16 touchdowns last fall, most in short-yardage situations where his pure, brut strength allowed him to steamroll defenders. Some of these scores were as impressive as I’ve ever seen in terms of trucking and an understanding a low center of gravity and leverage.
Bergeron has had minor injury issues you would expect of a punishing back, but injuries less debilitating than those Brown has been forced to deal with. Rare are the games where Joe Bergeron will rack up 150 yards in an afternoon, but give him the ball inside the five, and you can ring it up. His finishes in those situations are virtually automatic.
Bergeron’s five-touchdown performance against the Baylor Bears last season was a glimpse of what could be on the right night in a featured role, if it’s necessary given the available personnel for him to have a game or a few games of 20+ carries.
I expect Bergeron’s role to be as the short-yardage workhorse once again, but other Texas-focused writers believe he is in a close race with last season’s breakout star for the No.1 slot.
We’ll find out quickly.
The starting job is Johnathan Gray’s to lose.
Gray saw the lionshare of the carries down the stretch in 2012 with the nagging injuries to both Bergeron and Brown, and an increased emphasis on speed. Gray’s elusiveness and rare combination of lateral quickness and blazing straight-line speed made for more than a few explosive runs in 2012.
If there’s a knock on Gray it’s that his smaller frame — at least in comparison to Bergeron and Brown — doesn’t allow him to finish in the red zone. However, Gray has worked hard in the off-season to pack on the extra pounds necessary to a frame that can hold the weight, and this concern should be minimized in 2013. John Gray will see the ball first in the Texas offense this season. Only once he has had a chance to perform will carries go a different direction with a lack of production.
Needless to say, Mack Brown has a wealth of options at running back which should help a new, dynamic Texas offense to be one of the best in the Big 12 this season.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer for Rant Sports. You can follow Kris on Twitter, Google and Facebook. Kris is also featured in the print publication, Lindy’s In the Huddle – Texas Edition which hits stores on July 16th.