Sooners plan to play several running backs

Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy talks in-depth about the emergence of DeMarco Murray (pictured), OU's stable of running backs and how they plan to use them this fall. (Photo/Lisa Hall)

A great position of strength for Oklahoma next season figures to be at running back. That statement seems strange at first when you consider the Sooners will not have Adrian Peterson next season, who is primed to be the third pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

However, over the last two years the Sooners have had to play without Peterson, who went through injuries during that time period. Thus, they will return three running backs who have solid collegiate experience and two others who have enormous potential.

Former OU quarterback and current OU running back Coach Cale Gundy has the pleasure of coaching the running back position, and he recently gave the lowdown on how the running back position will shape up next fall.

JH: It seemed like after every practice and every scrimmage you were talking about how great a day DeMarco Murray had. Talk about his emergence this spring.

CG: "Yeah, he did. He is a talented young man, and he was like that in high school. It was just a matter of time for him to get here and to be able to make the transition to college football. He is very exciting and very dangerous, and he is a guy who can create a lot of big plays through a course of a game."

JH: He had to battle turf-toe as a freshman. That is a terrible injury for a running back or any athlete, isn't it?

CG: "Yeah, it was very frustrating for him. Turf-toe is a very serious injury. That is when you sprain your big toe and you just can't even walk on it. That injury was probably with him for a good 10 weeks and he just could never get over it. It was about the fourth or fifth game of the season last year when he started to get well. We were already into the major part of the season, so we decided to go ahead and redshirt him."

JH: When he got well and he started to run on the scout team, could you tell then that he was something special?

CG: "I could tell he was something special when I was recruiting him in high school. I have known DeMarco since he was a freshman and sophomore in high school. He is from the same high school that Ryan Reynolds is from in Las Vegas, Bishop Gorman. So I knew he was special back then. We had him in camp and we saw him in high school, and it was just how quickly could he make the transition?"

JH: He is such a smooth runner that you don't realize how fast he is until he turns the corner, and then he can certainly make defenders miss.

CG: "He can really make some people miss, and he will be one of the fastest players on the team when you run 40s or 100s or whatever. He is a legit 4.4 runner and he is put together really well. He weighs a little bit over 200 pounds and you get up next to him and he is about 6'1 and about 200 pounds. He is put together pretty good, so another good summer with Jerry Schmidt this offseason and he will be ready to go in two-a-days."

JH: He is not the only good running back that you have. You have a great group of running backs on your roster, don't you?

CG: "Chris Brown is a guy who is really our backbone of our running back crew. He is very solid, very sturdy and very dependable. He is a 210-pound guy who is always going north and south. He makes great cuts and he is a great zone runner. He is a great power runner. We are just as excited about him as anybody. Then you have an Allen Patrick, who showed a lot of people last year how dangerous he is. Those three guys are the three guys that I believe can play for about anybody. I am definitely really excited about having them on my side."

JH: The disappointing thing was that Mossis Madu was banged up this spring.

CG: "He was. He had a concussion before we left for spring break and then he came back and had a high ankle sprain and missed some time. He is another guy, who in the five to six practices that he was able to participate in, he has a little DeMarco Murray in him. Maybe he doesn't have the true straight-ahead speed, but when you talk about the ability to make people miss he is one of those guys who you heard the ooh's and ah's when he was carrying the football."

JH: What kind of spring did Allen Patrick have?

CG: "Allen had a good spring. He made great progress. He is a guy who moved over from defense, as everybody knows, and had a chance to step in and help us tremendously last year. He really got comfortable in the offense this spring. He never really, that I can recall, busted an assignment on a play. I think he is gaining more confidence and he knows what he is doing. If you are going to go to war, he is a guy that you want to pick on your side right away."

JH: I think a lot of people felt he didn't have a good spring, but there is so much that you as a coach evaluatesthat most of us don't consider, right?

CG: "Yeah, that is our job. We are looking for little things. We are going to use these guys, and even Jacob Guitierrez can do some good things for us. He is starting to get more confident coming off that knee injury a year ago. We need to get Mossis healthy and what I think we are going to do is use these guys to the best of their ability and put them great situations. We are going to rotate them in different series of the game in the fall. For four quarters, we are going to be putting different guys out there and just wear our opponents down and try to create big plays."'

JH: It seemed like Allen Patrick had a run of bad luck this spring, as he had several big runs called back because of penalties.

CG: "That was true in the spring game. I can tell you that I can remember the day that we brought him over two years ago, when we had some injuries, that he is an exciting player. Allen is extremely fast. He is a 195-pound to 200-pound running back who has great quickness and who plays very, very hard. He will be one of the best running backs in the conference this year."

JH: Do you hear anything from the pro scouts about his ability to play on Sunday's?

CG: "Well, we hope the best for him. The other thing that A.P. has going for him is if you remember two years ago he was our best special teams player. He was the gunner on the punt team and ran down on kickoffs. He was an exciting player. I have had scouts tell me that he is the best special teams player in the conference. That is a bonus for him, because people know how good he can be also on special teams in the NFL. When you go to the NFL you better find different ways to stay up there, because there are so many great players. I think that may be something that we look at in the fall, because when you have a guy like Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, then Allen Patrick doesn't have to play the whole game. So he might be put back on special teams to help us out."

JH: Most people will say that you can't play four running backs in a game, but over the last two years you have played four running backs in a season haven't you?

CG: "The last two years we have played four running backs in a season due to injuries. A.D. carried the major part of the load, but in hindsight we probably should have spelled him some at times. That didn't have anything to do with the injury that he had at Iowa State, but he was different. He had such great stamina and he was so powerful. That is what separates A.D. from everybody else — is what he could do in the third and fourth quarter when people started to wear down. That is why we really never substituted him.

"This year, we are going to have two tailbacks on the field in a lot of different formations and sets personnel-wise. We are going to have DeMarco out at receiver quite a bit and we are going to use Mossis Madu as a receiver. Then we are going to keep Chris Brown and Allen Patrick in the backfield.

"The best thing about all these guys is that they are good, young men and they love Oklahoma football. They want to win, and that is the key. That is how you keep them happy. These guys are all pulling for each other. They are not selfish. Yeah, you could transfer down and go to a smaller school and be the guy, but then you are not going to enjoy what we enjoy every Saturday going out and playing in front of 85,000 people and competing for and winning championships like we do here."

JH: The flexibility that DeMarco, Mossis, Jermaine Gresham and Joe Jon Finley can give an offense can be used to your advantage, right?

CG: "We can be more creative, which causes problems for defenses and defensive coordinators when they are calling defenses and trying to match-up with personnel. Anytime you have guys who are multi-purpose guys like DeMarco, Mossis and Jermaine, who you can put out at wide receiver, it causes mismatches in our favor."

JH: Are defenses more complicated to deal with now than when you were quarterbacking the Sooners?

CG: "Yeah, of course. They are trying to cause problems for us on our side of the ball and we are trying to do things with personnel that cause problems for a defense. By taking a tailback and putting him out at wide receiver, we hope to draw coverage from a linebacker or force them to bring in extra personnel to go out and cover him. The more you do you tend to overload a defense, but you can overload players and they forget their assignments when you are doing too much. That is where sometimes you can create big plays. Sometimes they might forget to cover a guy. Things are more complicated nowadays, but you would be surprised because many things come back in a circle and we do things over and over."

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