Back in the spring, head coach Mack Brown didn't mince words when he challenged sophomore running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron to stay healthy:
You've got to stay healthy. And it's a harsh thing to say. But if you're a guy who stays hurt and can't be on the field consistently, then you'll never be a great player.
Both of the rising young backs unquestionably have the potential to be very good, if not great, so they've been taking the message from their coach to heart as they seek to make it through a full season at full speed.
A certain amount of the improvement that both have made since last fall is really just about maturity, about understanding what it takes in terms of preparation and work before games to make it through every game.
Bergeron said Wednesday that has seen a lot of improvement in his backfield mate Brown in areas in which he's been improving as well:
I see a lot. With him knowing how to take care of his body now, you see him doing a lot of stuff that he's doing now that he didn't do last year. We cold tub more. We're in the training room more. We're hitting the weights a lot harder than we did last year. I see a lot more in him this year.
All things that the head coach said they needed to work on:
So one of the things that Malcolm and Joe needed to accomplish this spring, and they've done it so far, is make sure that they took care of their bodies and they stretch properly and they eat properly and they get well and can stay well, because it's such a bruising position that we're going to have enough guys next year we can rotate guys and we can keep them out there just a limited amount of time and keep them fresh.
They haven't played any games yet, but the returns are positive so far, especially in the sense that both players are demonstrating an understanding of what is being asked of them, and then acting on that knowledge.
Speaking of knowledge, Bergeron understands that there's a large amount of responsibility connected with staying healthy. If both of the top running backs are hurt, it hurts the team in a major way, as became apparent at the end of the 2011 season:
Basically, the games we lost [last year] we could have won if we had had a lot more healthy players. With me and Malcolm having to sit out, as well as [former RB Foswhitt] Fozzy [Whittaker], [former LB] Keenan [Robinson], [former S] Christian Scott, it's not just us. It's with a lot of the other key players as well. We were brought on this team to help. When we're not helping the team, then we're hurting the team. Really what [Coach Brown] is saying is to stay healthy so we can help produce and bring the team back up to the top.
Hurting the team by being hurt. As much depth as Texas has at running back -- often characterized as an embarrassment of riches -- it can start eroding extremely quickly with a couple of injuries. The 2011 season provided ample evidence of that.
To be great, Brown and Bergeron have to stay healthy. Now with a whole year on campus and in the Texas strength and conditioning program and some hard work put in learning how to maintain that health, both backs may be ready to unlock that potential for greatness.