Last year, injuries and fumble issues caused Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman to move linebacker Cameron Townsend from linebacker to running back during spring practice, opening tryouts at the position as the school pursued graduate transfer running back Tre Watson.
The Horns were able to land Watson over LSU and Texas Tech before he went on to lead the team in rushing, raising questions about a position that loses its most productive player and also features two players currently in the NCAA transfer portal — Kyle Porter and Tristian Houston. More specifically, the question is about whether the Longhorns will once again pursue a graduate transfer at the position.
On Wednesday, Herman was asked about the position during his National Signing Day press conference and expressed confidence about the group.
“We have a lot of confidence in that room, as far as Keaontay, Kirk Johnson, Daniel Young, and then Jordan Whittington is going to get a lot of work at that position as well,” Herman said. “So I think Derrian Brown playing football again is certainly not off the table, either.”
There’s plenty to parse in that relatively brief statement.
One is Herman is mentioning senior Kirk Johnson ahead of junior Daniel Young, which may ultimately mean nothing, but could also suggest that the Texas head coach believes that Johnson has a chance to earn his first carry since 2015 this season. While counting on Johnson as one of the team’s top two running backs seems unwise, he was able to stay healthy all of last season as a special teams player, so that’s a positive sign for his continued comeback.
Then there’s the mention consensus five-star wide receiver Jordan Whittington playing there this spring, an appealing option after Whittington ran for 334 yards in the state championship game last December. Throughout the season, he’d averaged 16.5 yards per carry heading into that game, during which he flashed plenty of vision and explosiveness to become an intriguing option at the position.
Still, despite that confidence, the staff will do its due diligence on the graduate transfer market.
“We’ll look, you know,” Herman said. “Obviously the success that Tre had last season, I hope makes us attractive spot for those kind of guys.”
Certainly, Watson’s ability to get to campus during the summer and immediately earn the starting job for the Maryland would likely be appealing to some of the top graduate transfer running backs. However, the position isn’t quite as wide open this year now that Keaontay Ingram has demonstrated the ability to be a feature back.
And there aren’t currently any graduate transfer running backs on the recruiting radar — running backs coach Stan Drayton is focused on 2020 evaluations at the moment and there’s no evidence that any of the players on the market have been in contact with the Longhorns staff.
In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if that remains the case at least through the start of spring practice, at which point the staff will be able to get a look at the players on the roster and have a better understanding of whether Porter will be back in 2019.
After all, Herman and his staff aren’t looking for a player to take up roster spot and a seat in the running backs room — they want someone who can make an impact.
“It’s going to have to be the right guy to take a grad transfer, because we feel good about the experience level of that room,” Herman said.