Fall Practice Preview: Running Backs

Harvey Unga will lead the way for the Cougar running backs yet again in 2009. Since the 2007 season, Unga has seen very good production as BYU's primary ball-carrier. Who will be backing up Unga and giving him valuable rest during the season, as well as who will be manning the fullback position, are what will be sorted out this fall.

Harvey Unga (6-0, 239 Jr.) is about as productive of a running back as anyone could ever hope for. He has locked in well over 1,000 yards rushing in each of his prior two seasons and is the very definition of an offensive workhorse.

Throw in the more than 40 receptions in each of those seasons, and it's apparent how important and critical Unga has been to the overall offensive success of BYU. The running back responsibilities in Anae's offense are massive, and Unga has been more than equal to the task.

Unga can run someone over, beat them to the outside, split a gap and do everything else as a ball-carrier. He's also someone that has to be accounted for in the passing lanes, given his ability to catch the football. Unga has been as important to the Cougar offense as anyone currently on the team over the past two seasons.

During the spring Unga seemed recharged. He readily appeared to have more giddy up and spring in his step after being beat down somewhat over the prior two seasons. Unga ended last season nursing a host of minor injuries, but looked to have put all of them behind him during the spring.

Despite his great production, Unga and the offense could use help. At the close of each of the past two seasons he's been worn down, as anyone would be after shouldering so much of the running back responsibilities. Unga has fared remarkably well despite his tremendous workload, but finding ample replacement options will be a major focus this fall practice session for Robert Anae.

Spelling Unga

It's not an easy task for anyone. Yet for Unga and the entire offense to be more productive, the staff will need to find that player that can take away 10-15 reps from Unga during most games.

J.J. DiLuigi (5-9, 198 So.) came to BYU with high expectations after dominating the California prep circuit. He hasn't been able to contribute like fans, coaches and himself probably would have liked his first two years, but he's quietly gone about his business and subsequently put forth some very good practice efforts.

DiLuigi is a very intense and hard worker. He knows what he needs to do in order to gain more trust from the coaching staff during game situations and made good strides to earn that trust this past spring.

Malosi Te'o (5-10, 199 Fr.) is the other most ready option to spell Unga this coming season. Te'o struggled out of the gates a bit this past spring, but noticeably got better with every day of practice.

Te'o showed great burst, and that burst will likely only prove better this fall as he gets further removed from his mission. Te'o needs to work on catching the ball as well as DiLuigi does, but if he can get that down he'll give DiLuigi more than a good run for his money for the primary backup duties.

Mike Hague (6-0, 210 So.) will also be joining the battle. Hague barely missed the enrollment cutoff date to participate in spring practices following his mission release, but has had the entire offseason and then some to get back into football shape.

Those three will likely be the primary candidates that will battle for the backup role, along with Tucker Lamb (5-9, 197 Fr.), who showed some good things working primarily with the twos and the threes this past spring.

A lot of unknowns exist here and TBS will therefore be monitoring the progress of each running back behind Unga very intently this coming month.

Kariya Trustworthy

Bryan Kariya (6-0, 212 So.) is someone who has received a lot of accolades from coaches since he first entered the program. While Kariya isn't necessarily a guy who'd be looked at to shoulder the load at running back, he does do everything very well, which has earned himself the trust of running back coach Lance Reynolds.

In doing everything well, Kariya will provide a lot of insurance for this year's offense at both the running back and fullback positions if the need arises. Kariya knows the assignments as well as anyone and has proven able to complete those assignments when called upon.

Tonga Returns

Manase Tonga is someone whose return is anxiously anticipated by everyone. Tonga was a fixture as BYU's primary fullback in each of his first three seasons. Last season he was unable to contribute to the team due to being academically ineligible. Since then Tonga has worked very hard to get eligible and join the team sometime this August.

The potential of Tonga's contribution is obviously quite large considering his experience and production over each of his first three seasons. When and if Tonga returns to the team, and how he looks as far as being ready for the starting fullback workload, will be something we'll be watching closely.

Other Options

Two exciting freshmen options at fullback are set to enter the program. Anthony Heimuli (5-11, 225) and Peni Maka'afi (5-10, 215) will both be entering their fist collegiate practice session and will work hard to make whatever contributions they can make to the team this coming season.

Braden Brown (6-6, 260 Fr.) is a load blocking out of the backfield. While Brown will likely take over for Dennis Pitta and Andrew George at tight end following this season, he should be seeing situational work at both the tight end and fullback positions this coming season. How he'll be used is something we'll be keeping an eye on this fall.

Other contributors include Steven McFarland (6-2, 235 So.), who will compete at fullback...

...and Daniel Hansen (5-10, 193 So.), who will compete at running back with other potential walk-ons.

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