Spring Position Preview: Running Backs

Running backs coach Cale Gundy and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson preview this spring's race to replace Adrian Peterson. Allen Patrick (pictured) rushed for 761 yards in just five starts last season.

Most college football programs would be devastated about losing such a great talent like Adrian Peterson. How in the world do you replace a running back who, in just three short years and 30 games, rushed for the third-best career rushing total (4,045) in OU history? Well, Sooner fans got a taste of that this past season.

"How do we replace him? Everybody saw how we did it this past year when he missed seven games with a broken collarbone," said OU head coach Bob Stoops. "There is no question that A.D. is a great talent, but we actually rushed the ball for 30 more yards per game with Allen Patrick (6-0, 191), Chris Brown (5-10, 190) and Jacob Gutierrez (5-6, 187) than we did A.D. Now, I am not saying that we won't miss him, but we already have a blueprint of how we can replace him.

"We did it with our offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks, our wide receivers doing their job and a good group of running backs who are very talented in their own right. We have done it out of different styles of formations as well. So, we don't worry about being able to rush the football. We have always been able to and we still have some outstanding running backs that are really talented. We will still be able to rush the football."

Stoops pointed out that the transition from Peterson to 2007 actually started during the 2006 season when Patrick rushed for 761 yards and six touchdowns, starting in five games in place of Peterson. Brown added another 343 yards and four touchdowns in two starts. Throw in another 226 yards on 46 carries for Gutierrez, along with the two talented freshmen, and this spring promises to still be exciting at the running back position.

"I am really looking forward to it," said running back coach Cale Gundy. "I think it is going to be the best spring we have ever had. I have five running backs coming back — two running backs who will be seniors in Allen Patrick and Jacob Gutierrez, one young man who is going to be a sophomore in Chris Brown and two freshmen in Mossis Madu and DeMarco Murray.

"I am going to have five guys that are really talented and they are going to compete their butts off. You know how we do things around here — the best guys are going to play. We have played four guys each year the last two years so there is a chance that they are going to be needed. However, the best ones are going to be the starters."

One good thing for Gundy is that all five bring a little something different to the field.

"They all do," said Gundy. "When there are times when there is real short-yardage I may want a different guy in there, or when they are pass protecting I might want a different guy in there. They all have certain things that they do really well, and there are some things that they have to wok on. The bottom line is that they are all really good and I am looking forward to the competition."

In two years, Patrick has rushed for 897 yards at 4.7 yards per carry. He has proven to be fast, strong and tough and he is an excellent blocker both out of the backfield and down field. Patrick is a 4.43 sprinter and while Peterson always impressed in the weight room, Patrick actually was better in the broad-jump and vertical jump and just a tad behind in the 40. Of course, Patrick plays at 191 pounds and Peterson was at 218 to 222. No matter how you slice it, many believe that Patrick has the talent to be an NFL running back a well.

"He has a chance to be pretty good," said Gundy. "The biggest thing that kid has is heart. He loves to play. I think he showed this past fall in the few games that he played in that he can be pretty special. He is fast, quick, tough and with just some more experience he can be very good. Remember, he still hasn't played very much and this spring is very important to him. He has a chance to be one of the better ones around here."

Patrick and Peterson were very close and the former roommates supported each other on and off the field. Patrick was the perfect backup in that he never complained about not starting, instead becoming a star on special teams. Patrick has been patient and when he has been given a chance to play he has been tremendous. Now, he will go into the spring the main man and that is something that he is looking forward to.

"I am looking forward to spring practice," said Patrick. "I think I can be the man and be the guy that can make this running game go. I was pretty happy with how things went this past season and I look forward to getting better in the spring. I just want to get on the field and continue to get better.

"This past season was a good learning experience for me and I need to take what I have learned and build on it this spring. We have some great running backs on this team so there is going to be great competition. But I have always enjoyed competing so the spring is going to be fun."

When Peterson was injured last season there was a big debate among the Sooner coaching staff on which freshman running back should be pulled out of redshirt. Murray (6-0, 208) was pretty much out of the running with a turf-toe injury, and early in the week of the Colorado game it looked as if Madu (5-11, 190) was going to get the call. However, Brown had a better week of practice and was given the call, and he didn't disappoint with his performance.

"Chris is very durable and very solid," said Gundy. "He is going to be a great player for us. The reason why he was the guy among the three young ones that we pulled up this year is because we felt like — and I felt like — he was the most mature of the three. He is a very strong, solid runner and he was good in pass protection. Chris is a very smart kid and he was mature enough to handle it going into the latter part of the season and the championship game."

Brown is a very patient runner and one of those running backs who seems to get better as the game goes a long.

"It took me a little while to get a feel for the speed of the defenses and how our offensive line blocked up front, but I thought as I got into it that things went pretty well for me," said Brown. "I just want to go into the spring and continue to progress like I have this season.

"This season has been great for me to get an idea what it is like playing college football and playing in big games. My goal is to have a big offseason and then go into the spring and compete for the starting job and do the best I can."

Finally, this spring we are all going to get a chance to see Murray and Madu. Even as redshirts, there was a tremendous amount of curiosity about the two freshmen. Now, this spring they will finally get a chance to prove that they belong on the field and both are tremendous talents.

"Those two are probably the most electrifying of the five and they were the two I redshirted," said Gundy. "Mossis and DeMarco have both at times, whether it has been this winter, bowl preparation or on the scout team, probably drew the most ‘oohs' and ‘aahs' from the crowd or their teammates. Both of those guys are very talented and very skilled athletes, and both are guys who could play other positions because they are that talented. They are both multi-talented on the field, but both will definitely stay with me at running back."

With all this running back talent on the roster, the Sooners will toy with getting more halfbacks on the field at the same time.

"I think one of the things we hope we can look at, especially with some of these running backs that can play a number of different positions, is maybe getting two or three of them on the field at the same time like we did in the Fiesta Bowl," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "We have some running backs that can catch the ball and line up at wide receiver as well as at running back, and we will see if we can take advantage of that this spring."

It is not easy to replace a guy like Peterson, but the ultimate goal is to win and with A.D. out of the lineup or limited because of injury over the last two years, the Sooners were 10-6 with him and 11-1 without him.

Those losses cannot be pinned solely on Peterson and I am not disputing his great talent, but the Sooners have proven they can win without him and they have won with the running backs returning in the spring.

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