However, the Tigers' running backs coach says that halfway through spring drills he is excited about the potential of his new weapons in the backfield for the 2005 season. "I think for their first test, that scrimmage on Saturday, I was excited about them just knowing what we have put in so far," Gran explains. "That is exciting because we have some young guys that haven't really been under the gun like that.
"Tre has, and I expected his grade to be like that," the coach continues about junior tailback Tre Smith, who is currently listed as the starter on the depth chart. "He was real solid, but Carl Stewart and Kenny Irons they graded out--Carl graded out not really missing anything in terms of assignments and Kenny only missed one. So, that was really exciting for the first time out."
Tre Smith is currently at the top of the depth chart.
As for the style of rushers that he has at his disposal, Gran notes that each of the three healthy backs he has available for spring practice will bring something different to the game once the season starts.
"Kenny brings to the table some explosiveness," the coach explains. "It kind of reminds you a little bit of--everybody always compares backs, you know. He is a little bit like Carnell in terms of in the hole and he has got this explosive start. And Carl, Carl got outside a couple of times, which I was pleasantly surprised about and it looked like he has gotten a little bit faster and Tre is Tre. He is hard to tackle and he just runs with such great leverage."
Still, Gran says he knows that optimism has to be tempered because it is very early in the learning process for his group of players, especially with two of them only going through their second year of spring practice. "It was exciting for the first one, but we haven't even touched the surface in terms of what we have put in," he says about the installation of the offensive game plan. "For example, on Tuesday we added a lot and it was like, 'hold on, slow down a little bit coach.'"
With eight of the 15 spring practice sessions in the books, the coach notes that there have not been any adjustments to the depth chart as of yet.
"I think one is Tre, two is Carl and three is Kenny until we can get through a couple of scrimmages and see where we are," Gran explains. "They are competing like crazy and it is awesome. There is not a lot separating all three of them and that is great because that is where this competition thing comes in again at this position.
"I can see them all playing," he adds. "I don't think there is any question. Coach (Al) Borges is starting to put them out a little bit more. We are more spread with our back personnel then we have been. We are doing things like stretching the field vertically and they are having fun with it."
Kenny Irons will be a redshirt junior this fall.
Gran explains that along with his previous in-game experience, Smith's performance last spring certainly shows potential for great results in 2005. "Last spring he was every bit as productive as Carnell and Ronnie were out of all three scrimmages," he notes. "If you were to take the production going with the ones, Tre Smith had as much production as those two."
The coach adds that even with limited time in the program, Irons has also shown tremendous potential with his work on the practice fields. "There is no question, he had a great spring last year as well and that helped him immensely," Gran says. "It gave him all of those reps and now he is a lot farther along than most people might think."
As for Stewart, who is more of a bruising back who is knocking on the door of the 220-pound range, Gran says he likes what he is seeing from the redshirt sophomore.
"I was on the far side every time he ran the ball away from us and he just kept going," he says about Stewart, who led all of the Tigers' backs with 120 yards in the first scrimmage. "I was thinking he was going to maybe get caught right there, but he just kept going. You saw later on, even as the scrimmage went on, I thought he was going to get tired, but he had three or four big runs and that was against a fast defenses so that is exciting. He also showed a little bit of pop there and broke a couple of tackles and that is a big thing.
"You have got to be physical in this league and that is the one thing that we pride ourselves on," Gran adds. "None of them ran out of bounds. We don't run out of bounds. That isn't going to happen here because they'll be on the sidelines. We are going to take it to them and make those safeties, hopefully, at the end of the day not want to come up and tackle them like they were at the beginning. I think that is where Ronnie and Carnell were so great."
Carl Stewart had his best scrimmage at AU last Saturday.
Along with focusing on increasing their speed and playing a physical brand of football, Gran says that making sure his guys hang on to the ball is always a key point in the spring. "Tre put three on the ground last spring and that is three way too many," he explains. "So, that was one of our emphasis we talked about before we came out here. He has got small hands so he has got to do a great job of reducing the surface when he gets into traffic. He has got to get that ball up tight and he will be fine."
One other big point of emphasis for Gran's backs these days is leaning both the tailback and fullback position because of the multiple uses for backs in Al Borges' offense, and Gran says that his players are doing a good job with that tough task.
"I think Carl will start to kind of mold into that position, but you look at the scrimmage and Tre and Kenny both played that F position and stuck it right up in there and ran basically iso plays," Gran says about the modified fullback position that the Tigers used Ronnie Brown in at times last season. "They were all going head on with those linebackers in this last scrimmage."
The coach adds that he knows all of his backs may not be the prototypical size to play the fullback position, even in a limited role, in the rough and tumble SEC. However, he explains that if they know what they are doing they can do a great job of taking on those big linebackers as well as catching passes out of the backfield from that position, which will give his team a lot more weapons this fall.
"That perfect block of hitting somebody in the chest, driving their feet and flat backing them, that only happens once in every 25 blocks," Gran says. "It is technique, moving, getting in a better position and understanding where the scheme of the play is going. That is what it is all about. It is about technique and getting your body where it is supposed to be. So, for somebody that is not as big they have got to rely on their technique and if they do that they have got a chance."
The Tiger running backs and their teammates will have their second spring scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday at the football complex practice fields.