Depth chart end of April:
Jimtavis Walker – back problems, expected to be 100% by fall
Beaver fans knew that Jimtavis Walker and Yvenson Bernard would receive plenty of reps, but few fans could have told you that a third player, Charles Burnley, was poised to give the Beavers a three headed rushing monster in the backfield.
The starting running back has not been set as Walker and Bernard will continue their battle into August. Mike Riley stated last year that he did not want a running back by committee, but this year he has not stated that he will not use a running back by committee, which is exactly what may happen.
Each of the three players brings unique and valuable rushing abilities to the
team giving the Beavers a multitalented backfield capable of giving the defense
headaches in almost any situation.
Walker is a between the tackles type of runner who wants to put his head down and move the pile. Out of the three backs he is the slowest, but the most powerful and thick. He can take a beating and doesn’t mind dishing out the punishment himself. Several times during camp he would disappear into a pile and then squirt out of the other side for big yardage. He keeps his legs moving, always trying to move forward. Walker can definitely handle the starting duties and will see plenty of playing time.
Bernard is a shifty, elusive tailback, in the Ken Simonton mold. A lot of start and stops, jab steps, and herky, jerky motion. Despite his shifty running style he does a nice job of protecting the ball in traffic and doesn’t mind contact. Bernard also prefers to play in between the tackles and has a nice low center of gravity. He isn’t as thick as Walker but has powerful legs and usually falls forward. His running style also makes it hard for the opposition to get a clean hit on him which increases to his durability throughout the season.
Riley feels Bernard is the Beavers best bet at the moment due to his time in the system and knowledge of the offense. Bernard stated that he needs to work on his blocking skills and once those are solidified, he will be the most complete back on the team.
Burnley was one of the most pleasant surprises as he displayed his playmaking ability from the start. He is a slasher who doesn’t like a lot of contact, but can make cuts on a dime. His cutting is enhanced by his excellent field vision. He hits the hole quick and is one of the faster players on the team. If Burnley gets in the open field he can make defenders miss and he has the speed to take it all the way. Blocking and durability may be an issue with Burnley as he does not have the physique to take a constant beating.
If a running back by committee is used, it will most likely be for specific game situations. Walker will be used for short yardage situations, Bernard will be the every down back and Burnley will come in for third downs. Bernard and especially Burnley can also line up as receivers.
One of the running back’s strengths is their versatility and depth. While one running back may not get over 1,000 yards, between the three of them, they will surpass the woeful rushing total from a year ago.
The fullback has been slowly creeping into the picture since Riley returned and 2005 will be the year when the position is fully utilized. Riley loves Olaniyi Sobomehin’s work ethic, his blocking ability, and could offer him a scholarship this year. “Sobo” runs with power and could be used in short yardage and/or goalline situations. He was very effective in the redzone lead blocking for Dwight Wright last year and will serve in a similar role for Bernard, Walker, and/or Burnley.
Michael Jones is the largest running back on the team and when he gets a head of steam, he is tough to stop. Jones is still putting on muscle, developing his footwork and his ball carrying skills. He is pure power, and will play behind Sobomehin this year even though he is listed on the depth chart at tight-end.
Top spring performer:
Yvenson Bernard. He received heavy competition from Walker and Burnley, but stayed positive and focused. Bernard could have pouted, he could have whined to the media, but he didn’t. If he gets the blocking schemes down, he is a lock for the starting gig.
Spring running backs summary in three sentences or less:
The starting spot is between Walker and Bernard with Yvenson leading. Burnely is a playmaker. The fullback is back!
Each of the three players have a tough hill to climb if they want to see playing time. Devorce and Fuller are two very talented backs who will redshirt and may bring back the rushing memories of Simonton and Steven Jackson.
Wright will be a junior and has a similar shifty running style as Bernard. Look for him to help in the receiving game and on special teams.