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Stan Drayton waiting for bell cow Texas RB to emerge

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The associate head coach isn’t ready to anoint sophomore Kyle Porter just yet.

UTEP v Texas Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

On the surface, it would seem that Texas Longhorns junior running back Chris Warren III would be the easy choice as the starter this year for position coach Stan Drayton.

However, due a variety of injuries and a summer setback after contracting mumps, Warren is currently working with the second team offense as sophomore Kyle Porter takes the majority of snaps with the first team.

Head coach Tom Herman also expects true freshman Daniel Young to play, fellow true freshman Toneil Carter is the best pass catcher of group, and junior Kirk Johnson has as much upside as either, if he could just stay healthy.

So while Drayton would prefer one running back to emerge as the clearcut starter, that hasn’t happened yet through eight practices.

"I wish I had a bell cow,” Drayton said on Tuesday. “We are using a committee of backs... a bell cow hasn't emerged."

As a result, Drayton isn’t ready to anoint Porter as the starter.

“The one thing about Kyle Porter is that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes — systematically, he’s sound,” Drayton said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing, so with that being said, he’s able to play fast. He’s actually playing faster than anybody in the room because of his knowledge of the system, but he still has a lot of work to do.”

In watching film from last season, Drayton thought that the Katy product was too much of a one-speed back and struggled in tight spaces. Now Porter’s position coach wants him to trust his reads and become more explosive hitting the holes that he sees.

Despite those areas for improvement, Porter is in front of Warren because the big back has suffered so many recent setbacks, from his season-ending knee injury in 2016 to his spring hamstring injury to his mumps.

So one of the biggest keys for Warren will be to better acclimate himself to the new offensive system, which could be a simple matter of taking more reps. However, Drayton is also pushing Warren to grow as a practice player.

“The thing that he's doing the best right now is that he's respecting the game,” Drayton said. “He's been a little bit of a lethargic football player in the past, in regards to practice. He's becoming a better practice player and he needs to continue to do that for the rest of his career, play the game on the practice field. And I think that's been the big improvement and it was the biggest need for improvement going into training camp.”

A bigger long-term improvement would be Warren showing the ability to stay healthy for an entire season — something he’s struggled with going back to high school, when he tore his ACL as a junior at Rockwall.

Now listed at 6’4 and 250 pounds, Warren is too tall to get behind his pads and present the small tackling surface of smaller running backs, which exposes him to more hits and more potential for injury.

So even if Warren does end up earning the starting job, the ‘Horns will almost certainly have to count on Porter and the other backs at some point during the season.

As much as Drayton would prefer to have a bell cow to carry the Texas offense as D’Onta Foreman did last season, the odds are that it won’t happen this year unless Porter or another back significantly overachieve and take control of the position.