If there was one thing that Randy Shannon and the staff proved throughout the season, it was that if you don't practice hard, you won't play. If there was someone ahead of you on the depth chart that practiced harder, that player was going to get the snaps. That was never more apparent than at the running back position. The unit as a whole finished 65th in the country rushing for 145.58 yards per game – substandard for a Hurricanes squad that would love that number to be among the top 25 percent in the country. Also, the staff would love to improve upon is the mere 13 touchdowns produced from the ground.
How will the staff do that when the names on the back of the jersey at the running back position are the same? They'll look to improve upon the position that leads the way – the fullback. The staff made it a priority to solidify the fullback position late in the recruiting period when it was apparent that there was a lot that left to be desired in incumbent Jerrell Mabry.
Enter El Camino Junior College standout Patrick Hill. Hill has been described by his former coaches at ElCo as the most explosive junior college fullback from a bl>ocking standpoint they have ever seen. On game tape, Hill explodes through defenders with reckless abandon as he led the way for Tavares Pressley, the number one rated junior college running back by JCFootball.com. The squatty 5-foot-11, 240 pounder will enter the spring as the favorite to be the new lead blocker for a stable of running backs that will look to improve on a mediocre 2007 campaign.
Back is the dual backfield of Javarris James and Graig Cooper. Neither player eclipsed the 1000-yard mark, a milestone a Hurricanes back hasn't achieved since 2002 when Willis McGahee ran for over 1700 yards. Cooper (6-foot, 195 pounds) managed to average an impressive 5.5 yards per carry. However, it was a disappointing season for James (6-foot, 211 pounds). His pre-season goals were to capitalize on an impressive freshman season where he led the team in rushing, however failed to live up to the lofty expectations. Needless to say, the cousin of former Hurricane runner Edgerrin James will feel the heat to produce on the practice field this spring as two second-year backs will push for carries. It will be a make-or-break spring for James who want to hold on to the lion's share of carries in a potential big season.
Shawnbrey McNeal stepped up to the plate and impressed fans and coaches last season. In limited duty, he showed a flair for the big play and lightening speed that has Hurricane fans reminded of a freshman Frank Gore. While his yards per carry wasn't as impressive as a freshman Gore, the similarities were apparent. The 5-foot-11, 200 pound sophomore will bring the heat to the incumbent starters for his share of the carries this fall. His quest will begin this spring. He will have to overcome an ankle injury that he suffered late in the season.
Derron Thomas is a player that stepped up last season and took carries away from Graig Cooper on several occasions throughout the season. He is one of the hardest working players on the team. Don't sleep on him to gain some momentum in the spring. The staff loves his work ethic.
Redshirt freshman running back Lee Chambers and true freshman fullback John Calhoun will also be put in the mix. Calhoun is an early enroller that will play some H-Back and fullback as a recently converted player from linebacker and defense end. The staff was very impressed by him under the tutelage of former Hurricane Randy Bethel at Sebastian River High School. The 6-foot-2, 230 pounder is versatile and will see special teams opportunity early and will push for playing time out of the backfield. Chambers is a speed back that saw action on the return team last season. He took a redshirt, however, his versatility isn't something to overlook. Chambers (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) can lineup in the backfield and at wide receiver. His athleticism is something the coaches will not want on the sidelines. His elite speed and second gear could be used in numerous ways in his second go around.
Overall, this unit has a lot to prove. After a disappointing 2007 season, it will try and capitalize on momentum that will begin this spring. The unit certainly doesn't lack talent or depth. The key will be whether or not someone can step up during practice and bring the momentum for the fall. The ingredients are in place; a stable of talented backs and blocking fullbacks to lead the way to produce the most productive season from a Hurricanes backfield in over five years.
The Position by the Numbers:
Javarris James (Jr.)
Graig Cooper (So.)
Derron Thomas (Sr.)
Shawnbrey McNeal (So.)
Lee Chambers (RFr.)
Jerrell Mabry (Jr.)
Patrick Hill (Jr.)
John Calhoun (Fr.)
Tallest - John Calhoun at 6-foot-2 at fullback. Javarris James at 6-foot-and-change at running back.
Heaviest - Jerrell Mabry at 275 pounds is probably taking the under. James is the biggest back of the bunch at over 210 pounds.
Best between the tackles - Javarris James.
Best in space - Graig Cooper
Fastest - Shawnbrey McNeal.
Most Elusive - Graig Cooper
Most Experience - Derron Thomas in terms of years, but Javarris James has seen the most carries over his career.
Don't sleep on… Lee Chambers…The staff will try to use him in a number of areas to utilize his speed and playmaking ability. Whether it is at the running back position, spreading him out wide, or in the return game (some even say cornerback), he isn't a guy to dismiss. He could be utilized in numerous ways and the staff would love to get him on the field. Throughout the spring, take note to where number 32 is lined up.