2003 Preview: Running Backs

The running back position appears to be one of the deepest and most talented units this year. ITV recently visited with running backs coach Joel Thomas and discussed the depth chart, the fullback position and more.

While the University of Louisville has often been mentioned as a program that develops great quarterbacks, it has never been called Running Back U. Since 1947 there have only been fourteen backs that have rushed for more than 1000-yards in a single season for the Cardinals. Additionally, no Cardinal rusher has eclipsed the 1000-yard barrier since the turn of the century. Frank Moreau, in 1999, was the last player to hit that mark in a single season.

Last season Louisville finished the season ranked 104th in the nation in rushing offense with 106.9 yards a contest, an average of just 3.1 yards per rush attempt. However, as the build up to the 2003 season continues, there seems to be an air of excitement for this years stable of running backs in the Red and Black.

Gone this year will be the one back offense that former Head Coach John L. Smith utilized during his five years of the Cardinals sideline. In its place will be a number of formations in the backfield, including the frequent use of a fullback.

Eric Shelton (ITV)
While Henry Miller, the leading rusher from a year ago, is gone, this years unit has plenty of experience, depth, speed and size. Senior T.J. Patterson and junior Lionel Gates return and are joined by Florida State transfer Eric Shelton, as well as incoming freshmen Kolby Smith and Reggie Bradshaw.

Gates and Shelton will open spring at one and two on the depth chart, but will be pushed by Patterson. Smith and Bradshaw are freshmen that have the ability to make an impact in their first year.

At fullback is senior D.J. Kamer, who was seen very limited action during his first three years, but was impressive during spring practice. Brian Hall, a transfer from Mesa College, will add much needed depth at the position.

ITV recently visited with running backs coach Joel Thomas to discuss his unit as they prepare to begin fall practice.

ITV: For the first time in quite awhile, it appears that there will be some quality depth at running back.

Coach Thomas: We are real confident with this position. As from my perspective, the two guys (Lionel Gates & T.J. Patterson) that have played they realize that success from the running back position is four yards. It doesn't have to be 25 yards every time. We'd like that periodically, but when need to learn to not get our heads down when get 3 or 4 yards. When we get four yards a carry we are moving the ball. One of our main objectives, that I really stress with these guys, is that we want to be constantly moving the chains. The motto we have is basically, ‘run hard, fall forward.'

ITV: Talk about the initial depth chart, which has Lionel Gates and Eric Shelton as one and two.

Coach Thomas looks on as
T.J. Patterson awaits the snap

Coach Thomas: As far as the depth chart, that could be a deal where you could just flip a coin on who might be playing better on any given day. That's just positioning going into practice really. By the end of two-a-days, Reggie Bradshaw could be number one [on the depth chart]. We will play the running back that will give us the best opportunity to win. A guy that can run, block and catch. If you want to play running back in this offense you have to be able to do all three of those things. You just can run and not do anything else.

ITV: How has Lionel Gates improved since you joined the coaching staff prior to last fall's practice?

Coach Thomas: I've now been with these guys for a full year now, so I think that getting to know them has been a real benefit to us a running back group. Lionel is a young man that has worked his butt off. All of the running backs have, but him in particular, he's embraced this coaching change. He's really embraced it and has adapted well.

ITV: Talk about Eric Shelton and what he provides.

Coach Thomas: Eric Shelton has all the ability in the world. The thing about me, with every single one of our guys, I'm going to brag about their ability and potential. Which it's my job to get that potential out of them. Of course, Eric being a big guy, he brings a little more to the table. When breaks that line of scrimmage he can fight for himself, but at the same time, the other guys aren't small. We have a big group and I like to hang my hat on their physicalness. Eric Shelton had a certain physicalness about him when he came here. With him, he needs to just become more consistent with everything else, so he can have that complete game, which he worked really hard on during the spring.

ITV: Then of course, there is T.J. Patterson. What does he mean to the program?

Coach Thomas: T.J. Patterson made some of the most valuable plays of our season last year, especially in the Florida State game and the Southern Miss game. I have leaned on T.J. a lot for him to become a leader of this team. I strongly believe in senior leadership. He's gone through the battles and has been apart of the success here, so he's a key component of our group.

ITV: With such a deep group of backs this year, how will they all play a role during the season?

Coach Thomas: All of our running backs are going to play and make contributions to our season. One of the biggest things that we stress is that when your number is called you have to be ready to go out there and step up.

ITV: Now that a fullback will be utilized a lot more, how has that changed your approach?

Coach Thomas: They are essentially apart of the offensive line. They do a lot of dirty work in there and they don't get a lot of glory for it. D.J. Kamer did a wonderful job for us in the spring. Here's a guy that hasn't seen the field in his first three years and now all of the sudden he's playing. It's something that he's got to get used to and he's done a great job. If anything he's a moral boost for the team because they all see how hard he's worked over the years and now he's playing. His number has been called. He's a great kid to work with.

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