Spring Football Review: Running Backs

Fresno State was the last Division I-A school to start spring football practice (April 9) and concluded May 1. The Bulldogs pushed back spring ball to lengthen their strength and conditioning program. The philosophy worked. The ‘Dogs looked great and escaped with no major injuries. BarkBoard.com will breakdown the key position battles that took place and what to expect in the fall.

Replacing record setting back Dwayne Wright was supposed to be one of the biggest storylines of spring 2007. However, the Bulldog rushing attack looked solid throughout spring -- thanks in part to great offensive line play.

Sophomores Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding played last season as true freshmen. Each was expected to battle to replace Wright this spring. Miller emerged as the starter after Harding went down the first week of spring with an injury. Harding did return the last week of spring but it was little to late.

Miller is not only bigger and stronger from a year ago but appears he has shook off the "fumblitis" he suffered at times last season. Miller and Harding were sharing first team reps prior to Harding suffering his injury. Miller looked like he pulled ahead early on but really took control once Harding was out.

Miller rushed for 62 yards on just six carries in the Spring Game and caught one pass for 17 yards. He displayed his strength, speed and most importantly his versatility. Miller can line up as the tailback, slot or as a wideout. He has excellent hands and is a capable blocker. Defenses will have to account for Miller on every down.

Despite missing most of spring, Harding is in no trouble of losing playing time. Arguably the fasted running back on the team, he can instantly turn a simple power into a big play. The combination of Miller and Harding give the ‘Dogs an excellent one-two punch of power and speed.

A huge problem the ‘Dogs faced last season was depth. Spring displayed two quality backups, one a known standout punt returner, the other an unknown former JUCO standout.

Clifton Smith has less than 10 yards rushing in his collegiate career, yet he has returned three punts for touchdowns. He has not been 100% since before his September 2005 knee injury. He is still not quite there but if spring is an indication of things to come, opposing defenses need to take note.

Smith took a number of second team reps due to Harding's injury but his main place in the offense will be as a slot, H-back, or fly-back. He did highlight his ability to line at tailback and power his way to the goal line in the Spring Game. Nevertheless, his best asset is to receive the ball in open space on either a reverse, screen or swing pass.

Jamal Rashad probably benefited the most from Harding's injury. Without Harding and Smith's role as more of "change of pace" back, Rashad backed up Miller most of spring. He did not disappoint.

Rashad was seventh in the state in rushing as a freshman in 2005 at Glendale College. In spring, he displayed his abilities to be an "every-down" back. Rashad brings a hard-nosed running style to the table but he has enough finesse to make defenders miss. He routinely was able to bounce runs to the outside for long gains throughout spring.

Overall, the running backs are inexperienced and have less than 500 yards career rushing among them. Harding could push Miller in the fall for the starting spot but as of now, Miller looks like he has the best chance to be the Bulldogs seventh consecutive 1,000-yard rusher.

BarkBoard.com Spring Grade: B+

Projected Fall Camp Depth Chart: So. Lonyae Miller (5-11, 225), So. Anthony Harding (6-0, 220), Sr. Clifton Smith (5-8, 195), So. Jamal Rashad (5-11, 205), Fr. Ryan Matthews (6-0, 200)
Who to watch out for in fall: Anthony Harding – With his spring cut short, he will be more determined to fight for the starting spot.
Impact Fall Newcomers: Ryan Mathews – The high school All-American rushed for over 3,000 yards last season. Despite the depth ahead of him, he is too talented to sit out.

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