OSU SPRING PREVIEW: The running backs

CORVALLIS-If you aren't looking at the 2013 crop of running backs with a hopeful gaze and a few questions, then you aren't looking hard enough. OSU has a versatile selection of ball carriers at their disposal heading into the spring – but who will be the No.1 guy in the backfield? Will there be a run by committee approach similar to last season? And exactly how important is a fullback these days?

The Good
With Terron Ward (Jr.) and Storm Woods (So.) lacing them up this spring, Oregon State doesn't have major concerns at the tailback position if you are looking for guys who can put up decent numbers. Last year, the duo collected 1,355 yards and 19 touchdowns. Woods mustered 313 receiving yards while Ward notched 79. Both stayed relatively healthy despite big hits and long games.

Woods got the call to slate at No.1 toward the beginning of the 2012 season, and according to Mike Riley's recently released spring depth chart, the chips are stacked in favor of the sophomore once again. But there is a curse associated with being No.1 – other people want your job, and OSU will have talent in the wings during the spring.

Not only Will Ward put up a fight and make Woods work for his title, but Chris Brown has an opportunity to prove himself due to the recent departure of Malcolm Agnew. This will not be a bland spring camp for the ball carriers - expect the extra competition to spice things up a bit.

Still, a running back is little more than a target in a game of dodge ball against the varsity baseball team without his blockers. The Beavers return an offensive line stacked with three seniors and two sophomores, and a battering ram at fullback in Tyler Anderson.

I'm not convinced that Riley is 100 percent set with Woods as the starter – but whoever grabs the starting gig is bound to have some room to work with courtesy of the big guys.

Anderson deserves more attention. The fullback has become a forgotten position in football, especially at the college level, yet last season Anderson did more than just block pass rushers on the QB's blindside and punch holes in the trenches. As a sophomore, Anderson put up 51 yards on 13 rushing attempts, adding three touchdowns to accompany a 3.9 yard per carry average. He did that in 10 games after missing three due to a knee injury.

I look at Anderson as a power back option for Riley's offense – mostly because he has some solid speed and legs that look like tree trunks. The Bad

Stats do mean something. Woods only put together two 100-plus rushing games, Ward the same – and the tandem's combined yardage (1,355) and average yards per game pale in comparison to the singular efforts of Pac-12 players like Jonathon Franklin and Ka'Deem Carey who both ended their seasons with close to 2,000 yards.

The point here is that both Woods and Ward are going to need breakout seasons in order to vault OSU to the platform of an elite running team and win the trust of the fan base. The tools for success are there, but the production was not quite up to par in 2012 and Riley knows this.

Agnew's departure may not have a pronounced effect on the team in terms of statistics, but he will be hard to replace when it comes to work ethic. Agnew fought hard for the little bit of playing time he did receive, and it is a shame that he will go down in OSU history as just another spot to fill on the depth chart.

The Short Question
Woods, Ward or both?

The Long Answer
Wood's solo production in 2012 (940 yards with a 4.9 YPC average and 78.3 YPG average) is not indicative of a guy that can start and consistently succeed in all 12 games without a little help from another running back.

Sure, he had 13 TD's but a significant portion of those scores came within the redzone if not mere feet away from the pylons, which points more to the talent of Mike Cavanaugh's blockers than it does the long-range skill of Woods.

Still, I would like to make an argument for Ward in a general sense, without necessarily lighting the torches and claiming he needs to start over Woods. Ward is a small guy, standing at 5-7, 200, and is not an easy target in the way that Woods (6-0, 197) is. The average lineman for OSU runs at 6-3, a whopping eight inches taller than Ward. His small stature makes him hard to locate amidst a wall of moving blockers, and it gives him an increased chance of slipping out into the flat off tackle or squeezing through those smaller running lanes in the middle of the line.

Look at it this way - Woods represents the safe option. He is a prototypical runner with the right physique and enough talent to achieve the essentials of a concerted run game, and has better ball control to boot. Ward is the wild card – he has a Napoleonic type of determination to bounce off of a defender in lieu of the fact that he won't be breaking many well placed tackles.

Woods (though certainly not a power back) is more physical – he will push back with the same ferocity of the defenders coming at him and even pick up a solid 20 yard gain after shrugging off a tackle or two.

Ward may not break many tackles, but he sure as hell knows how to avoid them. He is quick as all get out, possesses great lateral speed that aids him in reversing field better than Woods, and his stature makes him a far less obvious mark for an oppositions defense.

My theory is that Woods slated at No.1 heading toward the spring simply for organizational purposes - Riley may opt to run by committee, and this should be reflected by the distribution of the hand offs when spring rolls around.

In the Wings
Chris Brown entered the OSU football program with some hype on his coattails last season. From what I noticed of him and his work with the scout team, Brown is a mix of the Ward/Woods talent – strong upper body and impressive downhill running mixed with a good eye for the holes in a defensive strategy.

However, Brown got stuck with a case of fumble-itis for most of last season that just won't slip from my memory. It wasn't an everyday occurrence, and the positives outweigh the negative aspects of his running approach, but unless he makes significant strides in that area between now and the end of fall camp, I would be wary of giving him playing time the equivalent of what Agnew saw as a third man in 2012.

Still, Brown is young and if you ask me this guy has the most to gain from a good spring training camp.

Oregon State Official Spring Depth Chart - Running Back
No.1 – Storm Woods
No.2 – Terron Ward
No.3 – Chris Brown

No.1 – Tyler Anderson
No.2 – Michael Balfour
No.3 – Ricky Ortiz

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