Remember when the Texas Longhorns enjoyed the luxury of a healthy 2,000-yard rusher in the backfield awaiting handoffs from Shane Buechele?
A winter conditioning schedule and half of the spring practice slate later, with D’Onta Foreman now gone to make money playing on Sunday, Tom Herman’s first offseason in Austin has been plagued with injuries at the position that carried the Texas offense in 2016.
I hope you like lists because this one is pretty lengthy:
- Chris Warren III (hamstring)
- Kirk Johnson (knee)
- Tristian Houston (ankle)
- Toneil Carter (ankle)
- Roderick Bernard (leg, medical retirement possible)
“It makes you nervous,” Herman said regarding Texas’ current lack of depth at running back due to various injuries. “I’m glad we signed two.”
The two Herman was referring to are early enrollee Toneil Carter and freshman Daniel Young, who will be arriving on campus this summer. Due to injuries, Herman essentially spent the last week without a single freshman running back as Carter dealt with a slight ankle sprain, which is also what has kept Tristian Houston out of action and sidelined him for Saturday’s scrimmage.
Carter and Houston are both expected back as early as Tuesday, though.
That’s a very physical position,” Herman said regarding his banged up running backs. “I don’t know that I've had a back go an entire season without missing at least a little bit of time here and there. You’d better be deep in that room."
All things considered, deep doesn’t exactly describe the Longhorns running back room at the moment.
While one could examine the roster — what’s expected to be there during the summer and fall, that is — and see plenty of potential, there’s very little proven productivity in place.
Texas has spent the past week with just one scholarship running back on the roster — Kyle Porter. As a freshman, Porter saw limited action and rushed just 46 times for 205 yards, which is quite literally the only healthy experience at the position right now.
The two backs that saw practice reps behind Porter last week were both walk-ons in Trenton Hafley and Tim Yoder.
At this point, any healthy body is essential, but the one most vital to Texas’ success in 2017 is undoubtably Chris Warren III.
For obvious reasons, Warren’s injury appears to be the most concerning among the bunch is projected. Unlike Carter and Houston, and possibly even Kirk Johnson, Warren has already been ruled out for the entire spring, and given his increasing injury history, one may question Warren’s long-term durability.
Herman isn’t one of those that’s worried about his projected feature-back-to-be, though.
“No,” Herman stated when asked if he’s concerned with Warren’s durability. “Two injuries is not something to be concerned about; both unrelated. The knee is fine and he got twisted around and kind of torked his hamstring a little bit.”
“If you get into the four, five, six injury category, God is probably trying to tell you something,” Herman added. “But at this point [I’m] not concerned at all.”
In the long-term, Herman’s lack of concern is justifiable. As noted, Texas will jump from one healthy scholarship running back to three on Tuesday when Carter and Houston return, and even beyond spring practice, the summer should provide Stan Drayton with a healthy Warren, Johnson and the arrival of Young.
If we’re having the same conversation in the fall then Herman is face-to-face with a very real problem. For now, though, it’s better to be bitten by the injury bug — minor injury bug, at that — in the spring than when the games matter once September rolls around.