Spring Review -- Running Backs

Under Gary Barnett, Colorado has gained a reputation for having a stable full of capable running backs over the past three years. After a productive spring, it looks like that stable may be even more full than it has been during the seasons in which the Buffs gained that reputation.

While some of them are still unproven, if spring ball was any indication the Buffs have seven running backs, including a budding true fullback, who could be in line to contribute in 2004.

The Buffs had their most success running the football in 2002 when they pounded opponents for an average of 241 yards per game. But the gold standard for Shawn Watson's black and gold offense came in 2001, when CU gained 2,742 yards on the ground and 2,471 through the air. Watson wants to find that kind of balance again this fall. The Buffs have a stable of running backs with the potential to hold up their end of that bargain.

Bobby Purify — granted an extra year of eligibility after an ankle injury sidelined him last season — looked bigger and stronger than he has at any time since he first wore a Buffaloes uniform in 2000. Listed at 6-feet and 220-pounds, it didn't appear that Purify had lost his speed, and the extra weight will hopefully keep him out of the trainer's room in 2004.

Purify came out of spring as the No. 1 tailback, but junior Brian Calhoun was hampered with knee injury this spring, which kept him out of the Spring Game, and he will be squarely in the mix in August.

One of the disappointments during the Spring Game was that redshirt freshman Isaiah Crawford tweaked an ankle early in the scrimmage, and didn't get to display the tough-nosed running style that earned him the No. 2 tailback spot on the post-spring depth chart. However, sophomore Brandon Caesar looked good in the game, and it's clear heading in to 2004 that the Buffs have four tailbacks capable of toting the rock.

That depth turns from solid to an embarrassment of riches when you consider that junior Lawrence Vickers and sophomore Daniel Jolly are also just as capable of being effective ball carriers. While the team lists the two bigger backs at fullback, neither are traditional fullbacks the way that former Buff Brandon Drumm played the position in years past. Jolly is a straight-ahead bruiser that prefers to try and run over defenders, while Vickers is a big back that can make people miss. Vickers has also shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Playing the Drumm role in 2004 could be converted tight end Paul Creighton who impressed coaches with how quickly he made the transition. At 6-5, 245-pounds, if Creighton continues to pick up the blocking schemes at fullback, he could provide that guy who blows up a linebacker and springs the tailback in the CU offense — the kind of blocker the Buffs' backfield has lacked since Drumm left.

With so many gifted and ready players in the backfield, the running game has a lot of flexibility. CU can give opponents a traditional fullback/tailback look; a small back/big back look; it can split a tailback out in the slot and leave a big back with the ability to run or catch behind the quarterback; it can use a traditional one-back formation. Or, imagine if the Buffs used that three-back stack formation they ran sometimes in 2002 and ran Creighton, Jolly and Vickers at the opposing defense.

However, with all the flexibility, there also comes a danger. With so many options, the coaching staff will have to keep from overthinking offensive situations. They'll need to find a balance between finding something that works and sticking with it, and finding the right time to mix things up.

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