Part 2: What did we learn from Spring practice?

Deep, talented, young and relatively inexperienced would be the best way to describe this year's crop of running backs.

The word head coach Gary Crowton uses to describe this group is "young."

"I know I use the word 'young' a lot, but when you look at what we are and where we are, that is the word that comes to mind. I feel we're talented, we have potential, but we're young."

Running Backs:

At a glance, this unit has a bit of everything you could want. They have power, speed, good lateral movement and pass-catching ability out of the backfield.

Apart from starter Marcus Whalen, they consist of two freshmen who haven't played a down of D-1 football; a junior that hasn't played a single down; and a sophomore returned missionary who played as a true freshman.

Whalen is the exception to this "young" classification. He played sparingly during his true freshman season and returned last year -- two years later -- as the featured back during his sophomore season. It was a mediocre year by his own standards.

"I'm not really satisfied with how I played last season. I did pretty good overall, but I know I can do a lot better this coming year. I'm ready to explode."

Those who attended the Spring game didn't get to see Whalen explode. What he did in that particular game is clearly not an indication of the impact he certainly plans to be this season.

Whalen has been impressive in Spring practice. He shows the same explosiveness into the line that he did during his true freshman season, coupled with a improved ability to wait for and use his blocks.

According to Whalen, he has regained that "second gear" in the open field that he lacked throughout much of last year's campaign.

One thing we really liked about Whalen after observing Spring practice is his improvement at picking up blitzes and blocking in the backfield. Mendenhall's new blitz-happy scheme will serve as good practice for most of the running backs and Whalen has met the challenge thus far.

"I think I was all right at it (blocking) last season, but it's something I've wanted to improve on."

Fahu Tahi, meanwhile, was the impressive, trim primary running back with the White team during the Spring game. He returned from his mission in great shape, dispelling widespread rumors he had ballooned over 260 pounds.

Tahi now weighs a little over 220 and it has helped his mobility, so much that Crowton drew comparisons between Tahi and Reno Mahe during Spring practice.

"I like Fahu a lot coming out of the backfield. He's shifty, a lot like Reno (Mahe) was. Probably not as much so as Reno, but he has more power."

Indeed, Tahi has great combination of speed and power that will serve him well as Whalen's primary back-up.

It was originally speculated there would be a major battle going on between Tahi and Taufui Vakapuna for the primary back-up role behind Whalen going into spring ball. Crowton dispelled that notion early on.

"We're looking at going with more two-back sets this spring and that is where we'll primarily use Fui (Vakapuna.)"

Vakapuna saw a lot of time in the backfield during spring ball at the fullback position and was extremely impressive.

His power and juking ability are Vakapuna's primary strengths. He effectively blocked blitzing linebackers while running over defensive backs in the open field on screen passes and when he bounced it outside on running plays. He showed remarkable agility for a player his size.

Like Whalen, those who watched the Spring game did not get much of a chance to see what Vakapuna is capable of. BYU fans should be pleasantly surprised this fall if Vakapuna shows the flashes of brilliance he displayed in Spring practice.

We especially like Vakapuna in short yardage situations running the football. He consistently falls forward on running plays.

Two speedsters like Thomas Stancil and Rey Brathwaite both provide great change ups in the backfield for either Whalen or Tahi. Both are fast and elusive in the open field. We especially like both these players as specialty or third-down type backs.

Thomas Stancil is small. He's listed at 5' 6" and it would be easy for anyone to assume Stancil would thrive in the open field, but struggle running up the middle and coming off of tackles. After seeing him practice at least 11 times this past spring, we can readily attest such an assumption would be incorrect.

Those familiar with Stancil's recruiting saga several years ago might recall BYU coaches were debating whether to offer Stancil a scholarship because of his diminuitive stature. Speed and shiftiness were not the issue, but BYU coaches were concerned with his durability and how effective he would be breaking tackles.

After seeing him play, they were sold. Stancil has consistently shown in practice and during the Spring game he is extremely strong for his size.

Brathwaite really emerged during the Spring game. He has looked good in practice, but was never able to bounce it outside and use effective blocks as he did in the Blue & White game.

Brathwaite appears sort of a Ronney Jenkins clone in his style of running. He's definitely a slasher with above-average speed. We didn't get to see him do as much of him as Stancil during Spring practice, but the Spring game served as an indicator the best is definitely yet to come regarding Brathwaite.

Other running backs like Curtis Holder and Kyle Wilson also deserve mention. While both may not see much playing time this season, but are valuable and capable back ups at the tailback and fullback positions.

This we noted at the outset, we really like this group of running backs. They're talented, diverse, very capable and, as Crowton points out, "they're young." Their upside is tremendous.

When you couple an above average and deep running back corps with what should be an improved, young, inexperienced and untested offensive line, we expect to see a lot more running plays called this fall.

When all-world, all everything offensive guard Ofa Mohetau reports to practice this summer, he'll likely struggle like Jake Kuresa and Eddie Keele in learning how to pick up various pass-blocking reads on passing plays.

What they won't struggle with is smash-mouth, hat-on-hat, run blocking and pull-blocking. Expect more running of the football this coming season and expect it to be vastly improved.

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