Spring: Running back spot wide open

Star Army running back Carlton Jones is gone. So is capable back-up Scott Wesley. Durable third-stringer Seth Gulsby is also ticketed for graduation in May. That leaves head coach Bobby Ross with an important question that needs to be addressed during spring drills.

Who will be Jones' successor? The answer may not come until preseason camp in August with seven inexperienced players fighting for the job. Entered in the Army running back sweepstakes include five freshman - Jamal Robinson, converted quarterback Carlo Sandiego, Tony Dace, Jerry Jones and Wesley McMahand.

"There's a lot of competition out there at running back," Dace said. "I'm just having a lot of fun and working hard. I have a long way to go. Every day you've got to go as hard as you can and see where the cards fall in the end." The two early favorites for the job could be juniors Rick Lay and converted linebacker Michael Herndon. Lay has the most experience as far as repetitions go and Herndon starred at running back at The Greenhill School in Dallas, where he earned all-conference honors twice.

"Things are coming back to me," Herndon said. "(The coaches) have told us (the starting running back job) is wide open. I'm definitely excited for the opportunity to get on the field more than just as a special teams player." The running back could be the most important position on offense for the Black Knights. The key to their scheme is ball possession and Army was at its best when it controlled the clock last season via the run. Jones led the way with 1,024 yards and six touchdowns.

He finished his career with 3,536 rushing yards - second on the Army all-time list behind Mike Mayweather (4,299). Wesley made the move from wide receiver and rushed for 528 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns in 2005.

None of the rookie seven have ever had a carry in college.

Extra points: Jones and Wesley have both been spotted running around Michie Stadium, workout garb and all, during spring drills. Both are serving as graduate assistants as is outgoing quarterback Zac Dahman and cornerbacks Ray Stith and Dhyan Tarver ... Notre Dame's senior associate athletic director, John Heisler, said this week that he doesn't think the Fighting Irish will take on Army after this fall's tilt until at least 2009. "We are just so booked," Heisler said. There have been discussions between the two schools about a neutral site game in the state of Florida ...Army coach Bobby Ross continues to praise the play of 5-foot-5, 171-pound freshman running back Wesley MacMahand. MacMahand has been impressive, as has (freshman Jerry) Jones," Ross said after Saturday'spractice. "Those two have done a very good job and I've been pleased with what they have done. They are the two who have shined thus far, in my mind."...Meanwhile, top quarterback David Pevoto came down to earth for one practice. "He didn't throw the ball quite as well today as he has been,"Rosssaid. "He's been throwing the ball very well. Today wasn't as good. I'm very pleased with where he is at this point in time."

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