Fall Practice Preview: Running Back

The Cougars lost a lot when Harvey Unga withdrew from school to pursue a career in the NFL, and one of the team's main focuses will be finding adequate replacements to everything he brought to the team over the past three years. It certainly won't be an easy task, but there are some promising players that could ease the pain from the loss of Unga.

Harvey Unga wasn't only a great runner, but he was very well-rounded in his abilities to pick up blitzes, catch the football out of the backfield and even lead-block on occasion. Running back coach Lance Reynolds has always harped on the fact that running the ball effectively is only the beginning of becoming a great or even adequate Cougar running back.

Old Dependables

Fortunately for the Cougars, they'll have two seasoned veterans returning for the 2010 season in Bryan Kariya (6-0, 214 Jr.) and J.J. Di Luigi (5-9, 198 Jr.). Although neither of them have played the role of a featured back, they have seen a lot of game-time situations and proven effective enough to give stability to the running back position entering fall camp.

Kariya filled in quite admirably for Unga during the season opener against Oklahoma last year and is the very definition of a dependable back. He won't wow anyone with his speed, quickness or even straight-ahead power, but he does everything well enough to be perhaps the primary running back option entering fall practices.

Di Luigi, meanwhile, has the edge on Kariya in quickness and in his ability to catch the football, which may earn him the nod as the primary running back this season. It's a role he's patiently waited for since arriving to BYU as a much publicized and hyped high school prospect.

At the very least, they'll both combine to give consistent play in hopes of replacing Unga, and at most, one of them will rise to become the primary back that coaches will give 20+ touches per game. Running back by committee will likely be a phrase that fans will hear a lot during the coming month of August, but both Kariya and Di Luigi will be doing their individual best to do away with the phrase through their practice performances.

Great Promise

Two other running backs in particular rose to the forefront during the spring practice session and look to continue that progress and possibly earn starting roles this season.

Joshua Quezada (5-11, 210 Fr.) put on a very good performance during the spring, showing the best running ability of any back currently in the program. As mentioned, running the football isn't even half the battle in playing running back for BYU, and it will be up to Quezada to prove able in both catching the football and especially in blocking should he hope to be a featured back within the offense.

Zed Mendenhall (6-0, 245 So.) entered spring practices without any hype, but filled a key role as a lead-blocker. It's a role that could earn him a lot of playing time this fall. His advantage is that he's best suited for the fullback role in a two-back set, having proven to be a punishing lead-blocker.

Meanwhile, Mike Hague (5-10, 223 Jr.) will be looking for a role after a relatively unspectacular spring practice performance. Hague needs to find a role this fall or he'll get buried behind some very good and anxious incoming players waiting to take their own spots in the Cougar backfield.

Young Guns

The 2010 recruiting year was a very good one for the running back position, and three other new signees besides Quezada will be entering fall camp to prove their worth.

Drew Phillips (6-0, 185) may be the most intriguing of the incoming lot due to his unique athletic makeup relative to what type of back BYU usually attracts to the program. Phillips isn't the big sort of running back/fullback hybrid that usually mans the backfield for BYU, but is a pure speed guy that coaches could use in a variety of ways. Whether he's used in the slot, during kick returns or elsewhere, he could prove to be an exciting option for the coaches as a true freshman.

Algernon Brown (6-1, 205), meanwhile, is more in the mold of a traditional Cougar running back and comes in with a wealth of experience in both running and lead-blocking, which could elevate him into a regular role as a true freshman.

A.J. Moore (5-10, 190) was one of the more underrated recruits of the 2010 class, but showed very well in high school and has the ability to catch the football, which is essential for any running back who hopes to play at BYU. Considering the depth ahead of him, he may be ticketed for scout-team duty, but one never knows for sure until they actually practice.

Overall, there are ample options to replace Unga. While those options perhaps won't be able to replace him individually, they could prove to be Unga's equal as a group. That will be the goal of the fall practice session. It's sure to be a key battle with a lot of bodies due to get reps with the first- and second-team offenses throughout August.

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