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Chris Warren now focal point of Texas running game

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The loss of D’Onta Foreman puts the NFL legacy in the spotlight.

NCAA Football: Texas at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman declared for the 2017 NFL Draft, leaving only one Smash Brother in Austin — sophomore Chris Warren III.

A PCL injury kept the Rockwall product out of the lineup since he sustained the injury in early October against Oklahoma State, but with freshman Kyle Porter largely struggling in 2016, it’s Warren who will take over the role as the feature back for new head coach Tom Herman’s debut season in 2017.

At 6’2 and 252 pounds, Warren is a unique player — he’s the size of a defensive end, but has legitimate top-end speed that he showcased on his bruising 91-yard touchdown run against Texas Tech in 2015:

With Foreman missing that game due to a finger injury, Warren took advantage by posting 276 rushing yards, the single-game freshman record at Texas and the third-best performance of the 2015 season. He also scored four touchdowns against the Red Raiders.

The question is whether Warren can translate that type of performance to a full season — he only played in three and a half games in 2016 and missed four games in 2015 due to an ankle injury.

In that regard, the height of Warren is a detriment, as he has a high center of gravity and much larger striking surface than smaller backs. It also takes him longer to generate momentum — despite breaking a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on that iconic run against the Red Raiders, he’s typically struggled when he gets hit early in his runs.

As a result, he’s much more effective from the pistol formation, which allows him several steps to gain speed before he encounters defenders and gives him a better chance to find a crease, since lateral movement is also difficult at his size and weight.

The good news is that Warren appeared to find his stride in 2016 before suffering his knee injury — in the first half against Oklahoma State, his 46-yard run was the longest of the season and was only part of a strong performance, as he gained 60 yards on his other nine carries.

Because Warren played in three and a half games in 2016, he’s right at the threshold for a medical redshirt — if the NCAA only counts the half against him instead of the entire game, he would come in less than a percentage point below the 30-percent threshold.

However, the more important factors are whether or not he can stay healthy for a full season and whether Herman can recruit depth behind him.

The only other running back to receive a carry in 2016 besides Porter was redshirt freshman Tristian Houston, who carried the ball three times for three yards against UTEP. He’s a transfer candidate.

So with little proven depth at the position, there will be significant pressure on Warren to carry the load in Herman’s first season.

Time for Warren to step up.