What We Learned This Spring: RB

Analysis of Colorado's running back position, following the Buffaloes' 2017 spring practices...


Running Back -

In 2010, as a junior, Rodney "Speedy" Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards. So here’s a question for you, and I’ll bet almost no one gets this one right. Prior to 2011, when was the last time that CU returned a 1,000 yard rusher from the year before and who was it? Go ahead. I’ll wait. You won’t get it.

Are you ready? Would you believe the last CU player to rush for 1,000 yards or more and return to play again the next year before Stewart was the Buffs' current running backs coach, Darian Hagan? Yep. With all the storied running backs in CU history it was a quarterback who was the last returning 1,000 yard rusher before Speedy. Hagan rushed for 1,004 net yards in 1989 as a sophomore in leading the Buffs to an undefeated regular season. Before that Eric Bieniemy also did it after his sophomore year in 1988. Those are the only three times in the last 37 years, going back to 1980, that the Buffs returned a 1,000 yard rusher.

After putting up 1,189 net yards as a junior last fall, Phillip Lindsay becomes only the fourth returning 1,000 yards rusher for CU since 1980. Getting Lindsay back means real stability at the top of the running back ladder, and some of the best leadership and toughness you'll ever seen on a football field. But after that it’s all question marks. Spring ball did not answer those questions, and created even more.

Lindsay picked up in spring where he left off last season, performing so well that coaches decided they didn’t even need to see him in the spring game. They are well aware of what he can do and did not want to risk injury. There are no question marks or concerns about Lindsay or his game. The same cannot be said for the rest of the running back corps.

Running back was the one position hit with significant injuries, as both junior Kyle Evans (dislocated hip) and senior Donovan Lee (fractured ankle) suffered spring ending injuries. Both players have already been through surgery and it remains to be seen how fast and how completely they will return. At this point there has to be a very large question mark next to both players’ names as far as what they will contribute in the fall.

With Lindsay on a lighter load, and Evans and Lee injured, the beneficiaries in terms of more reps and carries at the end of spring were Michael Adkins and Beau Bisharat. And neither disappointed.

Adkins reminded Colorado fans why they used to get excited about his abilities. But head coach Mike MacIntyre reminded them why they don’t get excited about Adkins anymore when he said this was the longest Adkins had been available without getting hurt. If Adkins can stay healthy, and more importantly, demonstrate the toughness required to play this game and play through minor issues, he can be a very valuable addition on game day. But so far in his career he has not demonstrated that kind of toughness or desire to play on a consistent basis, so any optimism about him must be guarded.

Beau Bisharat, on the other hand, has demonstrated no such fragility or toughness questions, and he showed marked improvement this spring in his play. In high school he played in a power running scheme where he simply ran behind a lead blocker, ran over some guys, and outran everyone else to the end zone. That won’t work in this scheme or at this level, and Bisharat showed this spring that he is learning the skills that will make him a complete running back. He is showing patience and vision and the ability to find and adjust to holes as they develop. He’s not a finished product by any means, but he showed enough to keep alive the promise that he could be a very good running back.

So what have we learned this spring at running back?

  • Philip Lindsay continues to be a real leader on the team and is doing everything he needs to do to come back and repeat, or even exceed, his 1,000 yard season.
  • Behind Lindsay there are nothing but question marks. Will Evans and Lee heal in time to be ready for fall camp? Will they return with the same abilities and will the missed time in the weight room and in drills make them less capable than last season when both disappeared as the season went on? Will Bisharat take the next step and become a real weapon at running back? Will Adkins finally shake the fragility issues and unwillingness to play through pain that has dogged his career? Will the Buffs bring in a Junior College running back to compete this summer?
  • There might be playing time to be had for incoming freshman Alex Fontenot if he proves he is ready. Finding and signing a big time running back needs to be one of the primary focuses of this and subsequent recruiting classes.
  • Spring MVP at running back: Tie between Beau Bisharat, who showed significant improvement and brings an entirely different size and style to the backfield, and Michael Adkins, who reminded people why they get excited about him when he’s healthy.

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