Before turning to the running backs, a follow up on yesterday's discussion on the back up quarterback job. With Harris gone, I floated the idea of using Chiles as QB2 to preserve the redshirts of Wood and Connor. As several of you pointed out, Mack quashed that idea immediately after Harris left, so it's not on the staff's radar, and while mine might be an interesting one in theory, it's problematic in practice, and in any case not on the table. My best guess is that unless we start hearing that Wood has begun to move quickly up the learning curve, Case McCoy is your back up.
Alright, let's talk tailbacks.
Eyes of Texas: Back in June, I wrote in the magazine that Cody Johnson "is best used situationally," that if the running game was still dysfunctional Tre' Newton "is the best bet to make lemonade from lemons," and that my "first choice would once again be Foswhitt Whittaker." Mostly, however, I hedged: "It is folly to predict with any authority what will happen with this group of tailbacks, in large part because it has been folly to predict how the coaching staff will approach the running game."
Now: Fast forward to today, and some revisions are in order. Cody Johnson has been the surprise of fall camp, showing up in the best shape of his career. Because Mack inconveniently ran his open practices during my vacation, I'm forced to trust the word of others on this one, but the reviews on Johnson are encouraging. Over at BC, Scipio writes:
The weight redistribution has really helped his feet and he’s still moving piles. On one play, he made a perfect read inside, made a quick sidestep laterally to exploit a hole I didn’t even see from the stands, and then he exploded for what would have been a 30 yard gain. He did fumble, but it also came after moving the pile six yards downfield. He sets up blocks better than any back on the team, he has decent hands, he’ll bury his head in there to take the tough two yards instead of risk a negative play bouncing it (I’m looking at you Fozzy) and he suits what we’re trying to do. I understand that the coaches want to narrow rather than widen their options here, but it’s a mistake to treat Cody as a pure short yardage specialist.
Horn Brain was less impressed with what he saw, but the overwhelming majority of reports this fall have been positive -- including those from Big Roy -- and it looks like at the least Johnson will be given the first crack at being our primary carrier. With Will Muschamp preparing to unleash a 4-3 version of Dick LeBeau-style defense, it's perhaps appropriate that on the other side of the ball Texas will be trying to feature their own version of Jerome Bettis. I'm cool with that, so long as that doesn't mean Gilbert is Tommy Maddox.
In both the pro and college games, teams are increasingly embracing a two-tailback approach, and even if Texas features Cody Johnson, there will be carries for Tre' Newton and Fozzy Whittaker. There's nothing flashy about Newton, but he runs the counter well, is a reliable blocker, and can haul in passes out of the backfield. If Whittaker gets banged up or is ineffective, Newton would fit nicely as Texas' third down back, a la Chris Ogbonnaya in 2008.
Speaking of Whittaker, this is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for the junior. He has to stay healthy, obviously, but just as important, he'll have to show he can give Texas the kind of inside running that the coaches are hellbent on establishing. On the bright side, we're moving towards precisely the offense in which he thrived at Houston Pearland (re-watch his junior film to get an idea), and if he's not been mentally broken by the lack of running lanes the last couple of seasons, he can be a great runner for us out of the I.
Beyond those top three, Vondrell McGee will conclude what's been a frustrating career in spot duty, while Jeremy Hills is a surprise non-transfer -- he could play for somebody. Finally, we'll get our first looks at freshmen
Demarco Cobbs (whoops, forgot he's moved to safety) and Traylon Shead.