Countdown to signing day: Running backs

Redshirt sophomore Tony Jones will have plenty of competition for the starting tailback job at Colorado in 2012.

A powerful running game is supposed to be the identity of the Colorado offense.

The Buffs, however, have some work to do in order to identify the players who will carry the rock in 2012.

For the first time since 2007, the Buffs will go into a season without Rodney Stewart, who led them in rushing every year fro 2008-11.

Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will have a whole stable of backs -- with a variety of skill sets -- to choose from in the fall and there's no telling at this point who will wind up with the starting job.

None of the six backs expected to compete in the fall -- returners Malcolm Creer, Josh Ford and Tony Jones and freshmen Donta Abron, Terrence Crowder and Davien Payne -- has much college experience. There are no seniors, and Ford is the only junior in the mix. It's not out of the question that CU winds up with a true freshman carrying the load.

The leader in the clubhouse is Jones, who will be a redshirt sophomore. The 5-foot-7, 175-pounder filled in when Stewart missed some time to injury and finished with 297 yards and two touchdowns. He also wound up fourth on the team in receptions (27) for 168 yards.

What could hurt Jones is that CU is clearly looking to get away from the smaller backs. He also must improve his yards-per-carry (3.81).

Among the big backs Jones will compete with is Ford. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder gained 128 yards on 22 carries and had a nice game against Arizona State when Jones was bottled up.

Jones and Ford will certainly have a chance to shine during spring ball because they're the only two healthy running backs on the roster. Sophomore-to-be Malcolm Creer could challenge them in the fall, but he'll miss spring ball after injury his knee during the 2011 season. When healthy, the 5-11, 205-pounder will be a factor in the offense.

All three of the returnees have to look over their shoulders, though, because the Buffs have verbal commitments from three running backs, all of which bring good credentials to Boulder.

Davien Payne from Perris, Calif., leads the group. Rated nationally by as the No. 57 running back recruit in the country, Payne is 6-foot, 212 pounds - the ideal size for the Buffs as they look to a power ground attack. Payne, a three-star recruit, gained 1,559 yards and 28 touchdowns -- picking up 9.12 yards per carry -- during his senior season at Citrus Hill High School.

Terrence Crowder also has a top-100 ranking at his position, at No. 98. The Galena Park, Tex., product is another big back, at 5-10, 210. A three-star recruit, he gained 1,338 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a junior, but tore his ACL in the season opener this past fall, so he'll be a question mark when fall camp begins.

Finally, the Buffs expect a signature from two-star back Donta Abron of Upland, Calif. He's on the smaller side -- 5-9, 180 -- but he could be a sleeper in this class. He rushed for 1,754 yards and 33 touchdowns this past season and has exceptional speed.

As inexperienced as the tailbacks are, the Buffs are even less experienced at fullback. In fact, they have none.

Freshman Nick Plimpton, an invited walk-on, is the only fullback on the current roster, which should help him in spring ball. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Plimpton was a guard in high school.

The starting job could wind up going to true freshman Clay Norgard, who was the first player in the Class of 2012 to commit to CU. The 6-foot, 245-pound Norgard originally signed as a defensive end, but will switch to fullback -- a position he's eager to learn.

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