With spring practice slated to start March 11, the running game enters as a major question mark, despite the fact that rising junior Reggie Merriweather rushed for 11 touchdowns, 670 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2004.
One of the big questions is who's the top tailback, Merriweather or Duane Coleman, who entered last season as the team's top back, but broke his foot prior to the start of the season and was never the same.
"Hands down, Reggie is going to be the starter," Burns said. "I don't think Duane really ever fully recovered from his injury. We're going into the spring as the exact opposite from last year."
Another aspect of concern for fans is whether or not the backs will see more carries than they did last year, which was a very low 271 times.
"The challenge to the running backs this year is that they will be called on and how they go is how we go," Burns said. "The new offense is going to take a lot of pressure off of (quarterback) Charlie Whitehurst. It's one of those deals where the backs have to put up or shut up. They won't be able to complain about not getting the ball this year."
|Duane Coleman will be in the mix again, but he enters spring practice as Reggie Merriweather's back up.|
Also, the offense will feature two backs, split backs, single backs and an empty backfield.
"The major difference is that we're going to be a north-south running team," Burns said. "The quarterback will be under the center the majority of the time. And if you look at the guys we got, they've always done well with the quarterback under the center."
But before the Tigers open the 2005 season against Texas A&M, they have to find a No. 1 running back and not have a running back by committee.
"We'd like for one guy to be our go-to guy," Burns said. "That's something that we got away from the last couple of years. We haven't had a consistent starter since Travis Zachary.
"Our priorities changed because this was a playmaker's offense and our playmakers were receivers and we went to them. And the negative side of that is we got away from the running game."
And there's always a chance that the "go-to" back isn't even on campus yet. Star recruit James Davis enters the mix in August.
"James Davis will get plenty of reps early in camp to see where he's at," Burns said. "We want to find out real fast where he's at. He will get a legitimate shot."