Prelude to Spring: Running Backs

Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson says he has a lot to improve on this spring. (AP Photo)

This spring the running back position at Oklahoma will be faced with a unique perspective.

On one hand, the incredibly talented 6-foot-2, 220-pound Adrian Peterson will be going through spring practice healthy for the first time, getting ready for what he hopes is a Heisman Trophy-winning junior year. On the other, is talented junior Allen Patrick (6-0, 200), who is also going through his first spring at OU.

Last spring, Peterson rehabbed his surgically repaired shoulder and then couldn't beat the injury bug in 2005, battling through a badly sprained ankle as he rushed for 1,104 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those totals didn't come close to the 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns of his Heisman Trophy runner-up freshman season, but when you consider he missed all or half of four games due to the bad ankle, and then throw in the fact he was never totally healthy, then his sophomore numbers are very impressive.

Patrick started last season in the secondary, but he never really found a home playing both safety and corner. In high school, Patrick played on both sides of the ball, rushing for 681 yards and seven touchdowns while earning first-team all-state honors. With injuries to Peterson and seniors Kejuan Jones and Donta Hickson during the first half of the season, the decision was made to move Patrick from the secondary to running back, and he didn't disappoint rushing for 136 yards and two touchdowns at 5.4 yards per carry.

"I think the spring is going to be very important for the two young men that I have there," said running backs coach Cale Gundy.

"When you look at Adrian and Allen, you have two young men who have never been through a spring football season in college. AD had shoulder surgery and Allen was in junior college, so this off season is very, very crucial for them.

"We can get a lot done fundamentally; watch a lot of film and watching how we run the football. We can see things that we did that we shouldn't have done and things that we did that we should have done. I think it is extremely important for both of these guys to watch a lot of film and continue to get better. Both are great kids and great competitors.

"AD is already weighing over 220 pounds and Allen Patrick is probably up over 195 now, so this is a big spring for both AD and AP."

As good as Peterson is, he is never satisfied with his talent. Regarded as one of the hardest workers on the team, AD is looking forward to his first spring.

"I have so many things that I can get better at when it comes to fundamentals and the little things about the game," said Peterson. "I need to develop better timing with my offensive line on my runs. I jumped the hole too many times and I was too fast into the hole. I need to get better at picking up blitzes in pass blocking. I thought I became a pretty good blocker last year, but I need to get better.

"I didn't get a chance to catch the ball as much as I wanted to last season, and I want to become a good pass receiver. I know I have good hands, so it is just a matter of getting good at running routes. I want to become the type of running back that never has to come off the field."

Peterson and Patrick will get a chance to improve on the fundamentals of the game this spring.

"People don't really talk about the fact that AD is a guy who has really only played in 18 or 19 games," said Gundy. "He missed a lot of games this year, and even in the games that he played in he was banged up or not healthy. He did not go through spring football last year and he is still so very, very young when it comes to fundamentals on a football field. We all know that he is big, strong, fast and he makes plays, but he does a lot of little things that we have to get him out of. I think this spring will be very important for him.

"There are things that he is going to have to learn to make him a better player. To be a true running back, he needs to learn how to take care of himself and how to get down lower. He is 6-2 and he needs to learn how to protect his legs. He needs to improve his ball security, knowing when things aren't there, just stick it and not try to create a play. There are a lot of things this spring that he is going to learn and hopefully we will see improvements in the fall."

The same can be said of Patrick, who is still trying to get back into the groove of being a running back.

"He is not totally back in the groove, but he is not far from it," said Gundy. "We are extremely happy to have Allen Patrick. He is a guy who just the other day ran a 4.46, vertical jumped 40 inches and broad jumped 11 feet. He had a better vertical and had a better broad jump than Adrian. Here is a guy who has great hands, is a great competitor, a great kid and who is only going to get a lot better.

"If there are two better running backs in the country, I want to know where they are. These two guys have a lot of talent and they have a lot of things about them that could make them very special next year as a tandem."

Coach Gundy fully realizes what he has, and went a bit further to explain the problems and the goals at the position this spring.

"Both running backs are talented, but having only two running backs does not make for much depth, thus both will be limited during scrimmage sessions. They will go through some team drills, but Peterson will never get tackled around his legs. Full contact will be saved for the real thing and the race for the Heisman in the fall.

"We are not going to take a lot of chances with Adrian in scrimmages this spring. We never have really. He will be involved in a lot of contact drills where they will be live, but that is pretty much the same that we will do with Allen Patrick.

"Allen will be allowed to be tackled more in scrimmages, but we like to take care of these guys. We do a tremendous job at practice with our offense and defense at going full speed, but taking care of one another. We are not going to take to many chances with AD this spring.

"We are really thin this spring and that is just the way it works out. If Jacob (Gutierrez) was healthy we would have a perfect situation. We would have just the right amount of backs and Jacob and Allen could do most of the scrimmaging. As it is, Jacob is rehabbing and that is coming along great. He will be available to us in the fall and I would like to have those three young guys in the spring, but we will be glad to get them in the fall."

Peterson also realizes that he can benefit from a great spring.

"I just want to get better," said Peterson. "I know I always tell you that I want to get better on the little things, but that is still true. I really want to become a great pass receiver out of the backfield because that is something during my college career that I really haven't accomplished yet. It would get me in the open field and make me more of a dangerous running back. I just want to get a bunch of reps, because the more reps I get the more comfortable I will feel on all of our running plays."

"I am confident that our offensive line will come around. It always does. I know we graduated some good players, but we have a lot of talent up there and I know they will become a great unit."

Key to spring: For both Peterson and Patrick — is improving their skills without putting any undo stress on their bodies.

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