The Houston Cougars are a little over a week from beginning their preparations for the upcoming season and it is tough to find a hotter program at the moment. Head coach Tom Herman and his staff set the bar pretty high after his first season as head coach of the Cougars, capping a tremendous 12-1 American Athletic Championship season with an impressive Peach Bowl victory over Florida State.
Today we begin our previews of the Cougars as they approach the start of their camp August 3, and we start off on the offensive side of the ball with the running backs.
Herman, and more specifically running backs coach Kenith Pope lost a ton of experience from the position in 2015 as longtime mainstays for the Cougars Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson have finished their eligibility for the Cougars.
Usually when a staff is staring this situation in the face, losing a ton of experience it usually means some growing pains at the position, but the Cougars have former Texas Longhorn running back Duke Catalon waiting in the wings after sitting out last season as part of the NCAA transfer rules.
Catalon becomes available at a perfect time as Houston looks to continue the momentum over from last season. They have other young talent at the position but Catalon’s skill set will be a welcome addition to the offensive weapons the Cougars already have.
Although Catalon never took a snap for the Longhorns he drew praise from both the Longhorn staff and teammates before his departure as well as the Cougars staff and players through his season on the scout team last year and spring football earlier this year.
Behind Catalon for the 2016 season is similar in lack of experience but also similar in upside as a host of young talented backs will look to stake their claim to some of the carries for the Cougars this season.
Sophomore Kaliq Kokuma will look to stake his claim to the next spot on the depth chart after beginning to see the field in limited stretches in 2015 after a redshirt year in 2014. Also a pair of redshirt freshmen will look to prove they are deserving of some touches this season in Kevrin Justice and Josh Burrell. Burrell is the most likely of the two to get some meaningful reps as he is a bigger back that might be used more is specialty situations like short yardage and goal line.
The dark horse of the group vying for time to relieve Catalon is incoming freshman Mulbah Car from Austin who was highly thought of coming out of reagan High School. Car has a very nice skill set but spent his time as the main form of offers in high school allowing teams to key on him more and slow the team down.
The Cougars definitely have talent in the backfield, and regardless of who lines up back there along side Greg Ward III, they are still lining up next to one of the most prolific players in the country heading into his senior season. That will allow some growing pains from the young but talented crop of backs as the staff develops a rotation. They do lose a ton of leadership from the position as Farrow was one of the key upperclassmen credited with helping the transition of the new staff and players once Herman arrived.
The last question that I am certain will come up, so I will address it, is senior defensive back Brandon Wilson who entered the Cougar program as a running back out of Louisiana and filled in brilliantly last year in two games after injuries at the position forced the staff to move him to the offensive side of the ball. The plan heading into camp is not to use Wilson on offense but of course, they didn’t plan to use him last year and it always great to have a wild card like that in your back pocket.