Ample and Capable Candidates
As mentioned, the cupboard at the running back position is hardly bare. Heading into spring ball BYU will have three running backs with a lot of game experience along another three with scant playing time. The bad news for the Cougars is that one running back will not participate due to injury this spring and another may only see time in non-contact drills for the same reason.
As has become common knowledge among BYU fans, Vakapuna's high ankle sprain suffered last season appears to be more serious that previously believed, and Vakapuna will be held out of spring ball. The good news is that Vakapuna has already shown his wares on the field and should be ready to go as healthy as ever once fall practices commence.
What Vakapuna brings is a running back with a style Cougar fans have not seen before. Vakapuna is reckless, punishing and very much exciting in his running style. Vakapuna does not shy away or even run away from contact, but welcomes it. It is an unusual style that some argue will lead to Vakapuna having to battle through injuries throughout his career. But regardless of what your opinion may be in that regard, Vakapuna has proven very effective when healthy.
Although he has shown well running the ball out of the backfield, Vakapuna will need to work on catching the ball and picking up blitzes if he hopes to approach what Brown brought to the football team. Vakapuna should be BYU's #1 option running the football heading into the 2007 season, but we will just have to wait until fall to see how he progresses catching the football and in picking up blitzes.
Tonga is obviously the other running back with a wealth of experience having started at fullback for the past two seasons. Tonga has shown to be a very steady and reliable contributor over the past two years and should see his role continue to grow entering the 2007 season.
Of all the players waiting in the wings to replace what Brown brought to the team, Tonga is the player whose skills most mirror those of Brown. Tonga is very well-rounded in that he has proven to be very adequate in gaining yards out of the backfield, above-average in his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and is very good in lead-blocking from the fullback position and in picking up blitzes.
Most importantly, Tonga has proven to be very durable. If Vakapuna is again limited due to injury in 2007 Tonga could easily step in as BYU's primary ball-carrier and do extremely well there. So for spring, Tonga is not likely to show anymore than he already has as what he has shown so far is an extremely efficient and reliable running back who can do everything well.
Unga was one of the brightest newcomers to the team during last year's fall practices. Unga battled to get to the point where he could join and practice with the team, and he did not let his opportunity pass, showing the promise of a dominating primary running back in the years to come.
Unga saw limited time last season. He had a touchdown in Tulsa game, but was held out of the practice and games for the rest of the season due to injury. Unga will not be participating in contact drills this spring due to injury, but should be doing everything else as he preps to become a contributor to the team for this coming year.
Unga is a punishing back like Vakapuna who has very good natural instincts at the position. Unga showed an ability to follow his blocks well as he proved effective last season when given reps during practices. Unga will work on matching Brown's effectiveness catching the ball and picking blitzes in the coming practice sessions.
Semanoff is still around and will again provide a very consistent and reliable backup option at the very least this coming year. As he is one of the healthy Cougar running backs, Semanoff should have ample opportunity to see a lot of reps with the ones for this spring practice session.
Semanoff has never been at the forefront of BYU's running options but has always done very well when filling in when those ahead of him go down with injury. Semanoff lacks the overall skill of the other candidates, but he has shown that he can be counted on in every single situation in which he has been called upon over the past two years, which counts for a lot.
One of the more disappointing things last season was not being able to see Latu compete with the scout team due to injury. His prospects as a primary running back are exciting. Latu burst into the memory of many a Cougar fan during the UNLV game in 2005 when he came on late in the game to gain over 90 yards showing some exciting speed rarely displayed by a Cougar running back.
Of all the RBs on the roster, Latu is the one who needs spring practice the most. After sitting out last season because of injury, Latu will be raring to go in spring and should get a lot of reps. Latu has shown effective in game-time situations albeit in just one game, but now needs to show effective in most practices and in catching the football and all other facets that Curtis Brown did so effectively over his career.
Ray Hudson and the rest
Hudson, like Latu could really use spring practices to prove his worth. Hudson has been buried on the depth chart so far in his college career, but could really use this spring to show himself as a viable option out of the backfield.
Other options that will appear in the Cougar backfield this spring include Isaac Taylor and Daniel Tervort. Both Taylor and Tervort logged scout team reps throughout last season and both practiced well throughout the year. Tervort could switch to WR as he has proven to be a versatile athlete much like Nathan Miekle.
TBS will be at spring practices from the opening whistle keeping a close eye on the progress of the running backs with every practice session. Beginning March 19th, watch for our daily updates along with the in depth analysis and player profiles that have set TBS apart from the competition.