Spring Football Review: Running Back

We will be doing a review now that the Oklahoma State Cowboys have completed spring practice. We started with the offensive line and continue the series with the running backs. Check back to read about the Cowboys receivers, quarterbacks, defensive line, linebackers, and secondary before finishing up with specialists and special teams.

We started this season with offensive line because, honestly, we felt it was the most crucial position to view this spring, and with a new assistant coach there that had Oklahoma State fans curious. I loved the fact that Bob Connelly told his players that he did not expect them to respect him. Respect is earned and he would work to get that.

At running back, former Air Force standout and assistant coach Jemal Singleton has earned that respect. He is as hard working as he expects his players to be as he seems to jump into each practice and every drill as if he is leading a charge to the fighter planes on the tarmac.

He thinks both inside and outside the box and this spring even introduced a new contraption that had me laughing at first. The new piece of practice equipment is a ball that has several lines attached that another player, coach or student-manager can tug on and try to force the ball loose. It is obviously part of a drill that promotes ball security.

By the end of spring I wasn't laughing, and everyone from head coach Mike Gundy to offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich were commenting on ball security as one of the major goals and accomplishments of the spring.

Securing the ball is one thing but moving it is the main objective. With last season's starter and leading rusher in Desmond Roland sitting out the entire spring following arthroscopic surgery to do some repair on a shoulder it was shaping up to be interesting what the running backs would produce.

Roland emerged as the starter in the Iowa State breakthrough game for him. He finished with 811 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 176 carries for a 4.6 yards per carry average.

The next back with the most carries in Rennie Childs, who also averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and he had 189 rushing yards and a touchdown in more limited chances. Childs started off a little slow but kept advancing and was playing well during the last week of daily scrimmage action.

"I would say he isn't quite where he needs to be. I want to get more out of him," Singleton said of Childs midway through spring. "It's tough for a young guy like him, who comes in and has success right away because he doesn't get the bumps and bruises of being thrown onto the scout team.

"That's where he needs to improve – to get tougher and be able to tax his body. He needs to pick that up, mentally."

The group of junior Caleb Muncrief, redshirt freshman Corion Webster, and new true freshman Devon Thomas were all looking to make advances.

Unfortunately, Muncrief had an injury to deal with by the end of spring as he walked in following the last scrimmage with a shoulder in a sling. Webster persevered and made improvement. Devon Thomas was praised by Gundy early in the spring.

Gundy said Thomas, like many incoming freshmen, underestimated the demands of college football. One of his high school coaches and a former OSU player in the '70s, Craig Simmons, said he had warned Thomas. Thomas got a crash course during the Rob Glass offseason workouts and showed up some early in spring before getting banged up some.

The headliners for the spring came from, perhaps, some unexpected sources. At the start of spring Oklahoma State fans were looking forward to the indoor track exploits of junior college transfer Tyreek Hill.

Not that track was supposed to be Hill's major contribution for OSU athletics but when you win the Big 12 in the 200 meters without even practicing for it, that's impressive. Hill went on to finish fifth in the nation and he also was second in the Big 12 in the 60 meters in helping the indoor Cowboys win their first Big 12 Championship in that sport.

In football, he primarily started out catching passes and running from the slot position, which was not only advertised but was also a condition in recruiting that got him to Oklahoma State. Hill felt he needed to play both positions to give him a better chance of making it to the NFL. Some schools, like Oregon, were only interested in him being a scat back in the backfield.

Midway through the spring Hill started spending some concentrated time in the backfield, according to Gundy. In an open scrimmage to media members Hill was sensational scoring on an 82-yard touchdown run where he made a pair of moves and then kicked into his sprinting gear. He also scored on a pass play and a short-yardage run in the score zone from the three.

"I think you just have to look at his track times and what he was able to do in such a short time, running in his first indoor meets," Singleton said of Hill's impact on the football field. "He's really explosive. He's one of the fastest guys in the country. Now we're seeing how that translates to the football field."

Hill had other highlights in the spring. By the end of the 15 practices, and with his duty during the scrimmage week, he showed Gundy what he had to in order to be trusted in the fall with concentrated playing time.

"He's about halfway. To play at a high level in this league and compete for us in the tempo and style of our offense – if we're going to throw it to him, hand it to him or whatever we decide to do in the fall," Gundy said after the last spring practice. "He made strides. He was with us about 75 percent of the time – you know he was running track for a little while. He's made some strides, but he has a long way to go."

No matter where he lines up or how he gets the football, Hill has lightning speed. We believe he will be one of the fastest, if not the very fastest player in all of Division I college football.

Every spring, everywhere, there are spring football heroes. Sometimes these players emerge in the spring and cause media and fans alike to fawn and get excited about what could happen in the fall, only to wilt like a flower before the games count.

But on occasion these players keep progressing, do what they did in the spring in the fall and become surprise players in primetime.

This spring's candidate is Raymond Taylor from Wichita Collegiate and Independence (Kan.) Community College. Taylor is good friends with defensive end Trace Clark, and he was previously identified as a Kansas State player. He may have been in class there, but the only college football he has played was as a freshman at Independence, where he played in five games and rushed 35 times for 122 yards and 3.5yards per carry.

This spring the 5-7, 190-pound Taylor, who is pretty thick at his height, rushed for a lot more than that in spring scrimmages and opportunities in drills like the inside drill. Taylor got credit and respect from teammates and coaches alike for running hard and being tough to bring down.

Now before anybody confuses these kind words with any prediction just remember spring heroes don't always become fall contributors. Summer and August can be long and hard and the heat gets turned up all the way around.

Also, remember that Roland is back this fall and he is expected to be completely 100 percent with no residual impact at all from the injury or surgery. It was not that kind of shoulder injury that can be persistent. That all adds up to a really good forecast at running back.

Other stories: Spring Football Review: Offensive Line

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