Tonga Talks Running Backs

BYU has a talented group of running backs that can do more than simply run the football. In BYU's offensive scheme, running backs have to not only be effective runners - Harvey Unga was named a Freshman All-American last season - but they have to know the fundamentals of being an all-around complete back. So where does this group go from here?

Former BYU running back Curtis Brown once said that the offense does not run through the receivers, but through the running backs. When one considers that the running backs have to possess a variety of skills in order to become an asset within BYU's multifaceted offense, he may be right.

Last season Freshman All-American Harvey Unga averaged 94.4 rushing yards per game. Those stats don't include his many receptions and blocks he made for top sophomore quarterback Max Hall either. Unga, Fui Vakapuna, Manase Tonga and J.J. DiLuigi - for whom there is an expectation of great things - should make for another great year from the backfield. So where do these horses go from here?

"We're just working on the details," said Tonga. "There are always little things that we can work on, and that's what we're doing."

One of those little things the group is focusing on is providing better blocking for Hall.

"We're working more on our pass blocking, getting better at picking up blitzes and blocking," said Tonga. "That's our main focus right now. For the most part, the majority of the running backs know how to run the ball and how to catch the football. We all pretty much know how to run decent routes. For a lot of us having previous experience, we're able to focus more on the details of the game."

Some details of the game can include blitz recognition and being in the right spot to pick those blitzes up. Those details may also include knowing how to work with the offensive line in order to pick up a stunting defensive lineman, and knowing when to break from pass blocking into a route as a safety valve for the quarterback at just the right time.

"As a group we always emphasis protection and route running," said Tonga. "We always stress as a corps route running in order to stretch out the defense and to give our quarterbacks more options. Also, [we stress] running the ball and knowing the tendencies of each of our offensive linemen and how they block. We have to be on the same page by knowing how our offensive linemen block so we can be more effective as runners."

That's quite a bit of details to learn, so with Tonga heading into his senior year, what types of things is he working on for personal development?

"I think I made a name for myself as being a very reliable pass blocker and run blocker," said Tonga. "For the most part my main focus is getting better with blitz pickup and reading defenses. That's my key right now. I know that a lot of defenses are going to try and key on our offensive scheme this year, so [we know] that we have to be able to do specific things better in order for the offense to continue being successful."

Coach Omer plays a large role in furthering the development of each position out on the field by training the athletes differently in the weight room depending upon what position they play. For the running backs, Omer helps them develop specific muscle groups to further complement their abilities on the field.

"One thing we do as running backs is power cleans," said Tonga. "It helps us to be more explosive out of our sets and being able to be explosive through the hips in order to deliver a blow."

So how much can Tonga power clean?

"Well, I can power clean enough," said Tonga with a chuckle. "I can power clean over 300 pounds. It's about the same with Fui. We're all around the same."

However, Tonga's spring hasn't been as intense as it has been for other players because of an ACL sprain he suffered.

"I've been taking it easy because I have a slight ACL sprain," Tonga said. "They're kind of taking it easy on me so far until I can get back 100 percent."

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