While the focus this off-season centers around the new quarterbacks, a great battle is brewing over the starting tailback position. No one player can stake a real claim for the starting spot as last year's starter, Andre Williams, is sitting out the spring and the other two returnees each ran for fewer than 500 yards. However, the pivotal key to winning the starting spot could have little to do with rushing and everything to do with picking up blitzing linebackers. The competition at each of these positions will help the offense to only get better.
Willie Parker has taken most of the snaps with the first team in drills this spring. Perhaps the fastest running back on the team, Parker does an excellent job of exploding through the hole. Last fall, Willie would tend to ball up before getting hit to soften the blow. This spring, he is dishing out the pain; he is running hard through the hole, and making the first arm tackles fall off his legs.
"I really feel much better now. Last fall I kept getting a new injury each week, and I had trouble staying on the field," said Parker. "Just because I'm back to 100% doesn't mean that I'm going to be the starter, so I need to go out there and compete every day."
Jacque Lewis was initially thought of as a scat-back last year, using his speed to get around the line and to the corner. His speed and excellent vision is still there, but he has bulked up to take the pounding each week in the ACC. Jacque is a great talent in the backfield, but he, along with Parker, still need to work on their protection or the quarterbacks may take a pounding this fall.
Ineligible to play this fall, but still opening some eyes is Chad Scott. This transfer from Kentucky has shown excellent potential through his speed and receiving ability. Scott could end up a combo athlete as both a wide receiver and running back. Scott is the quickest running back, as his shifty movements cause many linebackers to go the wrong way on cuts.
Walk-on Dokun Olagoke has shown some tough-running ability along with the ability to catch tough throws. Expect him to get some playing time on the special teams.
The tailback position is not the only battle in the backfield. Incumbent fullback Madison Hedgecock is catching some heat from walkon, and former tightend, James Gibson who has shown a natural talent at the position.
Hedgecock does an excellent job of playing like an animal. Any time he carries the ball, it takes more than one player to bring him down. He runs all-out every time he blocks, but the opposition can use that against him by simply moving to the side. Madison needs to work on breaking himself down to take out the other team – his brute strength shows when he does.
Gibson does a good job of controlling
himself on the field. He is having trouble with some of the new plays since
the move, but I anticipate him doing a good job on Saturdays. His pass receiving
abilities are not the best, but adequate to get the job done when necessary.