The search for fullbacks to replace Cody Johnson, who will graduate and likely head to the NFL, and Jamison Berryhill, who has opted to move on from football, will likely extend well into the spring for the Longhorns and will probably not include freshman running back Joe Bergeron, said Longhorn co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin on Monday.
Asked if there was any chance that Bergeron would step into the role, Harsin flatly said that it would not happen:
No. Could he do it? Yes. That is the thing. All those guys, the running backs that we have, are all a good size that could do those types of things we want at the fullback. That might be something that you can mix those guys up with that personnel group, but no. The way Joe has played and what he has done at tailback and Malcolm [Brown] and all those guys. It is what we have asked them to do, and it has been very effective for us when those guys are all healthy. That is a position he is going to continue to develop.
A feature back in high school, Bergeron was nonetheless expected to grow into a hybrid fullback/H-back role at Texas, but through a great deal of hard work both before and after his senior year of high school, Bergeron was able to trim some body fat and transform himself into a lean, mean, tackle-breaking machine.
After fellow frosh sensation Malcolm Brown suffered an injury early in fall camp, Bergeron created a great deal of buzz by performing at a level above and beyond nearly every expectation engendered by his three-star ranking by Rivals out of North Mesquite High School, quickly earning a reputation as a tough runner capable of trucking defenders at virtually any level.
And though he didn't get many opportunities early in the season with Fozzy Whittaker playing the best football of his career and Brown emerging after he shook his injury, when the opportunity to get more carries presented itself, Bergeron took full advantage against Kansas and Texas Tech, racking up most of his 454 yards on the season in those two games, including the 29-carry, 191-yard performance against the Red Raiders that led to a hamstring injury on his final run that limited him for the rest of the season.
With Johnson still in the fold for another game, a Brown/Bergeron pairing in the backfield is still in the future and will likely be something that Harsin tinkers with during the spring. As Harsin mentioned, both have the size to be effective at times as blockers, but it seems unlikely that Harsin would use either lined up in the fullback position and leading through the hole. It's a tough job and one that takes a significant physical toll.
Instead, it's much more likely that Harsin looks at the two situationally in pro sets with the two backs lined up on either side of the quarterback in the shotgun, a look that has increased in popularity in recent years, mostly in the high school game. In such looks, teams often run off-tackle sweep plays using the playside running back as the lead blocker.
Whatever the case, the Longhorns may have to find some other answers at fullback with the loss of Johnson and Berryhill, as junior Ryan Roberson was not particularly effective in limited doses this season. It's possible that another junior, Barrett Matthews, could see some time in that role after working as a lead blocker during the spring of 2010, a role that might fit the undersized tight end better than working as an in-line tight end. When he returns from his leave for personal reasons, freshman Chet Moss may also get a look at fullback, as he did early in the fall.