Backup Running Back Spot Up for Grabs

While the battle for the starting quarterback is the August camp's most urgent, the most interesting competition may be at tailback, where a group of players are vying to back up starter Hugh Charles. Inside, a look at that competition.

First things first, the starting tailback spot is junior Hugh Charles' to lose. Anything can happen when a football team makes its way through a fall camp, but during Week 1, it's Charles and a bunch of other guys playing tailback.

Now someone's got to emerge from that bunch of other guys as a clear No. 2 running back. As he has in recent years at Colorado, the backup tailback (and perhaps even a third-stringer) will play an important role in the team's offense. Last year, for example, Charles carried the ball 176 times, while Byron Ellis (75) and Lawrence Vickers (67) combined for 142 carries.

So what is running backs coach Darian Hagan looking for? Someone who runs tough between the tackles. Someone who expects to get 4.5 yards every time he carries the rock.

"They've got to earn it," Hagan said about the competition for No. 2. "Somebody's going to pull ahead and somebody's going to fall away."

Here's a look at the contenders:

Byron Ellis
Ellis is currently the frontrunner for the backup tailback.

"There's always surprises in camp, but right now, it's Byron," Hagan said when asked who had the early lead. "We want Byron to be that guy. He's earned that right. He's a talented player, he's a smart player. But it's not going to be handed to him, he's got to go get it."

Ellis came in with Charles in 2004, and played behind him last fall, rushing for 216 yards. Since he stepped on campus, coaches have wanted the 6-1 running back to put on weight. He's finally begun to stick some meat on his bones, as an offseason of weightlifting and some better eating habits have Ellis up around 212 pounds.

However, Ellis still has to prove he can become a tough, between-the-tackles runner, added weight or not.

Mell Holliday
After sitting out a transfer year in 2005, Holliday emerged as the No. 2 back in the spring. But he lost ground when he spent the summer back home in Omaha, working as a welder and spending time with his five children. Holliday worked out at a YMCA and ran at his old high school after work most days. He said Monday he wants to be a contributor.

"Playing time," he said when asked about his personal goals for the season. "You can sum it all up in that – playing time."

To earn PT, Holliday will have to continue to display the physical style that turned heads at different times in practice over the past year. Hagan also said he wants Holliday to toughen up and avoid nagging injuries. Hagan was frank about the work Holliday has in front of him and how missing summer workouts hurt him.

"It was something he had to do for his family. I understand that," Hagan said about Holliday's summer. "But at the same time, the guys that were here are ahead of him. If he wants to get back to No. 2, he's going to have to go get it."

Thomas Perez
When he puts on his jersey, he'll be the biggest tailback on the team. Perez is listed at 220, and certainly looks that size in street clothes, which he wore on Monday. The sophomore transfer from Compton Community College was still awaiting some final paperwork from Compton Monday. Perez said he spoke with a dean at Compton both Sunday and Monday morning, and was confident the issue would be cleared and he would be on board.

Hagan said he expects Perez to pick up the pass-blocking schemes quickly, something that can slow new running backs' progress.

"He knows all that. He's been in the meetings," Hagan said. "It's just getting in here and running around, seeing the offense and reacting."

Demetrius Sumler
Though he hasn't yet put on pads, Sumler, the squatty freshman from San Diego who set the city's career all-time rushing record, impressed his new coach at Monday morning's practice. Sumler showed some good instincts and ability to make people miss. Of course, it was against a group of mostly fellow newcomers. He's not had the opportunity to meet Thaddaeus Washington or Ryan Walters up close and personal.

"If he's tough like I think he is — he does some natural things that I like — it's going to be interesting," Hagan said.

Kevin Moyd
The redshirt-freshman from Florida remains a mystery. In stature, he's more in the mold of Charles. He's shown flashes of talent, but has a ways to go at being consistent before Hagan is willing to trust him in a game situation.


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