Players: Brandon Caesar, Hugh Charles, Paul Creighton, Byron Ellis, Brendan Schaub, Lawrence Vickers
There was talk of asking Lawrence Vickers to slim down and move to tailback, from his V-back position, this spring. However, the departure of Daniel Jolly means Vickers will stay in his "versatile back" role. The 6-2, 240-pounder is also the team's best back in receiving situations. He caught 27 passes in 2004, 14 of them for 10 yards or more in 2004.
Often, good things happened when Vickers touched the ball last fall. Along with his 27 receptions, he had 60 rushing attempts, and accounted for 30 first downs. That's a first down every three times he had the ball in his hands.
While he'll stay a the V-back, where he can be used as a fullback in the two-back set, remain as the lone back, or split out as a receiver, running backs coach Shawn Simms said he wants to put the ball in Vickers' hands more this spring.
"I'm going to have to put him in the tailback slot some more so he can become a better runner with the ball," Simms said. "He's shown he has some skills. He's tough and he runs hard, but to get him to be a better running back he's going have to be put in that position a little bit more."
Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said, with the relative inexperience at running back, Vickers' role could expand.
"We plan on using Lawrence the same way we used him last year, but that role will be increased," Watson said. "We'll use him as a tailback either by personnel group, or by what people see as our normal pro personnel with two backs in the game and him as the fullback and the tailback will split out and be a receiver."
Whatever the alignment, Simms thinks Vickers is the best fullback in the conference.
"We didn't get that recognition, but still, I don't think there's another fullback out there that can do the things Lawrence Vickers can do," Simms said. "Lawrence can run the iso and be the fullback that'll go pancake a linebacker. He's not afraid of attacking linebackers. He can catch the ball as well as anybody. He can also run the ball."
Paul Creighton will continue to work some at both fullback and tight end as he did last fall.
"Just like Lawrence is a V-back, I don't know what you call (Creighton), but he's probably in that same mold but with different positions," Simms said. "We're going to need him at fullback. When we get into the two or three tight end sets, he can play that. He's valuable to us because he can do so many things."
Walk-on Brendan Schaub rounds out the depth chart at fullback. Though he won't be here until summer, Simms has good things to say about incoming freshman Jake Behrens, and he expects Behrens to be a factor in August.
"He's a tough kid that'll hit you," Simms said about Behrens. "Also, we liked him (on film) because he looked athletic too. All the things we were able to do with Lawrence we can do with Jake Behrens because of his athletic ability. Knowing that he's a tough guy – not afraid to go in there and hit people just adds to it all."
Two sophomores — Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis — and junior Brandon Caesar will compete for the starting tailback spot in April. Caesar is coming off two knee surgeries, and how effective he will be remains to be seen.
The positive about Charles and Ellis is that they've seen a lot of reps in practice already. When Purify went down with the shoulder injury against Missouri Oct. 2, he was held out of contact drills the remainder of the season and through the bowl practices. That meant Ellis and Charles got Purify's carries with the ones in practice.
Coaches like Charles' speed. Simms said he may be the fastest player on the team (though Terrence Wheatley might want to start an argument about that) and Simms wants to see if Charles can take that speed and translate it into big plays.
"Hugh looks to be a real big threat because of his speed," Simms said. "What I'm hoping to see is that he can score a touchdown at any given time. He can break the big one at any given time.
"Where Bobby was more like a nickel dime type of back who could break the 20 or 30 yarder once in a while, Hugh, with his speed and power and strength has the ability to home run. That's what I'm looking for out of Hugh."
Simms compared Ellis to the player Purify was four years ago
"He's probably going to be faster than Bobby, but he picked up the game as fast as Bobby and he has hands as good as anybody on the football team like Bobby did," Simms said. "That's why Byron was really our second receiver we would send out into the empties."
While he's on top of the mental game, Ellis, who will enter spring close to 200 pounds, needs to mature physically in the coming months if he hopes to carry the load that comes with being a regular running back in the Big 12.
Another player in the running back mix won't be in Boulder until the summer. Simms thinks freshman recruit Kevin Moyd has the chance to compete for playing time next fall. While he's not as fast as Charles, he's not too far behind, in terms of speed, according to Simms.
"Good thing about this guy is his hips," Simms said of Moyd. "He's got the ability to make guys miss. He's got the speed and the quickness together. When you have both then you put yourself in a whole different category. He's put together pretty well too. Kind of reminds me of Hugh, maybe an inch or two taller."
This spring, however, Caesar could be the wildcard.
"There've been times where Brandon Caesar has looked as good as any running back we've had," Simms said. "Now we need the consistency out of him. And certainly after the two knee surgeries, we need to see where he is."