Make no mistake, the loss of Dantzler leaves several holes to fill this season. The Orangeburg native, who became the first quarterback in NCAA history to rush for over 1,000 yards and pass for over 2,000 yards in the same season last year, is now taking his shot at the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.
As a three year starter, the coaching staff utilized his scrambling ability as much as possible, often times using the strong armed quarterback as a shifty runner. This year that will all change, as the carries that went to Woody will now go back to the tailback.
And in the backfield, the Tigers lost RB Travis Zachery, a mainstay on the first team since Bowden's arrival. While the loss of Zachery and Dantzler will sting, there still is an ample amount of talent and experience in with Bernard Rambert and Keith Kelly.
Rambert, who has waited patiently for his chance to be the featured back in the Tigers' offense, was clearly designated the starter by the coaching staff this past spring.
"The starting tailback is Rambert's to lose but I'm going to play more people, which I didn't do last year," said head coach Tommy Bowden. Bowden likes Rambert's experience, as well as his ability to catch the football out of the backfield, but he plans on giving each running back a fair shot early on in the game.
"A pecking order will be established but I'll probably play three tailbacks in the first quarter," Bowden said. "I want Bernard fresh in the fourth quarter."
Rambert has been a solid peformer the last two seasons in limited action. Last year in the Humanitarian Bowl, he caught a pass out in the flats, and was almost stopped for a short gain before he broke away from a mass of tacklers and raced 62 yards for a touchdown. In all, he rushed 75 times for over 360 yards backing up Travis Zachery in 2001.
And while he may not be as talented as some of the other backs waiting their turn to shine, he is certainly the most experienced, and that gives him the slight edge headed into fall practice.
Unfortunately for the senior from Summerville, his backup, Keith Kelly, has as much pure talent as any running back in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And the good news is, he's gotten even stronger and faster since his freshman year.
Kelly was used extensively in the first half of the 2000 season, rushing for over 243 yards in 6 games. He was actually in the top 10 of the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing through the first three weeks of the season, highlighted by a 2 touchdown peformance in a 62-9 rout of Missouri.
Travis Zachery then emerged as the featured back, and Kelly lost his opportunity to see any more significant action. That won't be the case this year, even if the Walterboro native fails to crack the starting lineup. Kelly will likely see anywhere from 10-15 carries a game, even in a reserve role. He's just too talented a football player not to utilize him in that manner.
Kelly had several standout performances this past spring, including a 100-yard peformance in one of the Tigers first scrimmages in March.
"Keith Kelly has looked good this spring. We wanted to get him a lot of work after red-shirting last year and he ran hard." said Bowden. "He's been showing that he's a tough runner to bring down."
And now that Travis Zachery is gone, the only thing that stands in the way of Keith Kelly and a potential monster season is Bernard Rambert. Pay close attention to the practice fields this August, as this figures to be one of the more intriguing battles for a spot on the first team.
Big FB Chad Jasmin will also be another back looking for additional carries this season. Jasmin looked confident in the Orange and White game this past April, rushing 13 times for 68 yards and three touchdowns.
"Chad Jasmin is rounding into form," said Bowden. "He has two years left and he has made strong improvement. He will be able to help us next year as a either a fullback or tailback."
Jasmin was used extensively this spring as a running back, but look for him to be utilized more in his natural position as a fullback in the I-formation this fall. He's a great blocker at the point of attack, and a tough runner with a nose for the endzone, but he's not going to take it the distance from further than 20 yards out.
RB Tye Hill, who has reportedly battled some health problems since the spring game, also figures to see some playing time this fall. "Tye has some speed we haven't had here in a while," Bowden said.
"Keith, Bernard and Chad all bring something to the table, but Tye has straight-ahead speed, plus he's a track guy. Whether he's mature enough to go into the heat of battle, get banged up, know the protections and blocking schemes, we don't know yet."
Make no mistake, Tye Hill has incredible field vision, as well as the moves to make even the quickest defender look bad, but his size remains a huge question mark entering the 2002 season. If he's able to go, he'll get some carries early on to see if his body is ready to stand up to the pounding. If not, he'll likely end up concentrating on bulking up before making another serious run at significant playing time.
Kyle Browning, a redshirt freshman out of Union, SC, certainly falls into that category as well. Browning has the speed and quickness that you'd like to have in the backfield, but he is still a bit undersized.
In terms of true freshmen, the Tigers brought in North Augusta's Reggie Merrieweather and Duane Coleman out of Naples, FL in the 2002 recruiting class.
Merriweather, the second leading ground gainer in South Carolina last year, is likely facing a redshirt season with the log jam at running back, but Coleman could be one freshman that comes in and makes an impact right away.
Coleman has reportedly been one of the most dominating running backs to emerge out of the Sunshine state in quite some time. Last season, he rushed for over 2,800 yards and 33 touchdowns and was also named the Class 5A Player of the Year.
He is a shifty back with the ability to score from any position on the field. "I'm not coming up there to sit the bench," said Coleman in an interview this past February. "I want to play."
Look for Coleman to get a good look in August to see if he can handle the transition to the college game.
|The Running Backs|