This past week at the Cardinal Caravan, U of L running backs coach Kenny Carter spoke highly of this team’s corps of running backs. According to Eric Crawford of WDRB Sports, Carter claims this group is “as talented as any backfield I’ve had, and I’ve had some good ones.” His coaching profile backs that up. As running backs coach at the University of Florida in 2008, Carter coached a backfield that included All-SEC running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey to the no. 1 SEC rushing offense in 2008 (of course other backs, including some guy named Tebow, helped as well) on the way to a national championship. He also coached Bilal Powell to an All-Big East season in which he rushed for 1,405 yards (second best in school history, a record he would have broken had he stayed healthy all year). Yes, the man has coached some good backs, so saying this is as talented a group as he has had is saying something. This is no doubt a talented group of running backs that includes juniors Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright, and Senorise Perry; sophomore Jarel McGriff-Culver; and freshmen Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff. With what appears to be a much improved and seasoned offensive line, a lot will be expected and needed from this group if the team hopes to live up to the preseason hype.
The leading returning rusher is Dominique Brown, who is likely going into this season as the primary ball carrier. He carried 140 times for 533 yards (all stats courtesy of ESPN.com) and despite being switched to running back after the season had already started, he proved to be one of U of L’s most valuable offensive weapons. Originally recruited as a quarterback, he was being incredibly underutilized in that position. The only time he saw the field was in the wildcard formation, and he ran the ball every time. He was too talented and too athletic to be reserved to just that role. In a way, his career has mirrored that of former Cards superstar Michael Bush. They both came in as highly touted athletic quarterbacks. Both had an elite recruit coming in behind him who was more of a traditional quarterback and would likely jump him on the depth chart. Bush had Brian Brohm. Brown had Teddy Bridgewater. Both Bush and Brown were too talented to keep off the field, so Petrno and Strong did what was wise and moved them to running back. Bush has been one of the best change of pace backs in the NFL. Brown has the potential to be as well. Brown was very productive last season due to his superior athleticism, but still showed he was still learning the position. He was sometimes hesitant to hit the hole, his lateral quickness and cutback ability was lacking, and he was mainly a straight up and down runner. With a full offseason to tone his running game skills, he should come into this season a much more complete back. Reports indicate he has been a beast in the weight room, and for his skill set, it could be scary how much he improves because of it.
I will not go too deep into Senorise Perry, as I already did a piece on him. Just know he has all the potential in the world and with a Bilal Powell-type skill set with superior speed, he could prove a major home run threat. The other junior in the group is Jeremy Wright. Out of the three upperlassmen, he is probably the most traditional running back. He has good size, great burst, and above average cutback ability. He was the only one of the three to be recruited solely as a running back. In order to have a successful season and separate himself from the pack, he has to cut down the mental errors. Wright, at times, had slippery hands when carrying the ball and had more than his share of fumbles. He has also been hindered by nagging injuries and we are going to need him to be completely healthy for the run game to be fully utilized. As of right now, he is in the best position to be the group’s home run threat, and his 4.6 yards per carry were 2nd best on the team last season after Victor Anderson’s 4.7. He is not someone brought down easily in the open field, and if an opponent gets a handful of his jersey, he should feel proud. If he stays healthy and stays mentally tough, he could end up having a better season than Brown.
Out of the three underclassmen, the one most likely to fall out of contention for carries is McGriff-Culver. He can still prove to be a nice receiving threat out of the backfield, but he would have had to have a HUGE offseason to crack the backfield rotation. It is the other two young guys who fans need to keep an eye out for. First, we have redshirt freshman Corvin Lamb, who has been highly anticipated by fans since he became Charlie Strong’s first verbal commitment over two years ago. Seeing him commit to U of L over schools like Ole Miss, Mississippi St., Nebraska, and other BCS schools was very pleasing to U of L fans, who had become used to losing recruits to schools like Georgia Southern. He is a bit undersized at 5″9, but his 205 lb frame should make up for it. If that doesn’t, his blazing speed will, as he is someone who is liable to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. It has been a while since he has played in any organized games, though, as he had to miss his freshman year due to grades, and he redshirted last season. He may be a little rusty coming out at first, but once he gets his feet wet, he could prove to be dangerous to opposing defenses.
Fans will be able to witness Radcliff for the first time in open practices being held August 3rd and 4th. As a true freshman competing for a spot in an already crowded backfield, it would not shock me if he ended up redshirting. A highly touted running back coming out of high school, he is a quick hard-nosed runner not afraid of a little contact. It is also of note that he does not care for people in Louisville supporting the other school down I-64 East.
I’m Tired Of Seeing Everyone Wear UK In Louisville, Even The People On T.V. That Has To Change.
— Brandon Radcliff (@BrandonRadcliff) June 10, 2012
It will be difficult for a true freshman to get significant carries with this group, but we shall see just where he stands during the open practices.
Having so many talented running backs is a good problem to have. However, it would be great to see someone step out of the pack to become THE primary back. Just as in basketball when you need to have a go-to guy to take the last shot, it is a good thing to have a back you just know you can rely on any time during the game. The great thing about this group is they all want to be that guy. The more these guys push each other in practice, the better the result will be on the field. It will be interesting to see who the most valuable back of this group will be. We are in good hands with this group, and this will be one fun position to watch this year.