Post spring look: Running backs

The hardest working running back in college football Yvenson Bernard looked like a player who is at the top of his game. Before the start of camp he said he "feels explosive" and his demeanor reflected his words. He oozed with confidence and when he had the ball he routinely made defensive players look silly. The ironic part is that he never participated in full contact drills and was held out of all three scrimmages.

Depth chart beginning of April:

Yvenson Bernard
Nate Wright OR Patrick Fuller
Tony Carrasco

 

Depth chart end of April:

Yvenson Bernard
Clinton Polk
Patrick Fuller
Andy Stewart
Tony Carrasco

 

Injuries:
  • Walk on Tony Carrasco sat out all of April rehabbing.

 

Overview:

The hardest working running back in college football Yvenson Bernard looked like a player who is at the top of his game. Before the start of camp he said he "feels explosive" and his demeanor reflected his words. He oozed with confidence and when he had the ball he routinely made defensive players look silly. The ironic part is that he never participated in full contact drills and was held out of all three scrimmages.

Coach Mike Riley says one of his top priorities is keeping Bernard healthy and so far so good. At 299 carries last season the 5-foot-9, 203-pound player was beat up. In the off season minor surgery was preformed on his knee while his shoulder had a chance to heal. Expect Bernard to be kept out of full contact drills for the first week or two of fall camp before.

"It's kind of hard just sitting there and watching," Bernard said. "I'm the kind of guy who loves to play football, but I understand the coaches' reasoning and what they told me, so I respect that."

With the entire offensive line back and Bernard a more experienced, confident player some feel he is set to make a run at some of the school rushing records. With an outstanding sophomore year behind him Bernard wants to show the country that last year "wasn't a fluke."

With Bernard's limited availability in contact drills it was Patrick Fuller and Clinton Polk's chance to impress the coaches. Both received lots of repetitions and turned in solid springs with Fuller leading the team in rushing one scrimmage and Polk leading in the other two.

Fuller showed up late to camp last year and his inexperience with the offense showed. But he worked diligently in the off season working one on one with offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh learning about blocking techniques and running lanes. As a result, his understanding of the offense has grown exponentially. The California native's time in the film room and with the coaches has taught him to stay inside or cutback instead of bouncing to the outside.

Running back coach Jim Gilstrap loves Fuller's hard running inside and his catching ability coming out of the backfield. Unfortunately for Fuller he bruised his shoulder early in the spring game and missed most of the scrimmage.

Despite Fuller's strong showing it was Polk who had the coaches and fans talking. Polk is still adjusting to the speed of Pac-10 ball, as he was leveled a few times of blitzing linebackers, but is picking up the offense quickly. His long, smooth strides are a great contrast to Bernard's shifty running style.

Polk also has excellent hands and a good change of direction. But what is perhaps his most likeable trait is the way he finishes his runs. He is always looking for a defensive player to hit and gain that extra half yard or so. The good news is that Polk is still lanky and will add a few pounds before fall camp making him even more deadly when he lowers his shoulder.

Just like Fuller, Polk needs to work on staying between the tackles instead of kicking it to the outside. Improvement in that area of his game will be better this fall after studying the playbook and working with his teammates and coaches.

The battle for the backup spot between Fuller and Polk is not over and most likely each will see playing time early in the season until one separates themselves from the other. As you know the coaches are looking for someone who can carry the ball 10-15 times a game. At the very least the third string running back could line up as a receiver in special situations or in a two-back set.

Walk-on junior Andy Stewart had one of the better springs on the entire team. He received a ton of carries working very hard for his yards. He is not very big at 5-foot-11, 199-pounds, but he runs well inside the tackles and keeps his feet moving.

 

Top spring performer:

Clinton Polk. With Bernard sitting out Polk immediately had the opportunity to impress the coaches and that is just what he did. He is the full package with a powerful running style, good hands and he loves contact.

 

RB spring summary in three sentences or less:

Bernard looked very good even though he didn't play in any full contact drills. Polk took his opportunity and literally ran with it as he impressed coaches with his ability to pick up the playbook and his powerful running style. Fuller is still in the mix although he injured his shoulder in the spring game.

 

Notable quotes:

Mike Riley - “Yvenson looked good and he looked fast. I think he's in tremendous shape. You know, he got kind of all fixed up in the off-season, and one of my big jobs is to get him healthy to the season. He carries a confidence in a guy who has had success. And I think that’s neat to see. He knows he can do it. Everybody else knows he can do it. He’s one of the hardest working, toughest people I know. That’s a good identity to have with your team.”

Clinton Polk on getting run over by LB Alan Darlin - "When I was in JC, they didn't hit like that. He hit me so hard, I left my feet...I think I slowed him down a little bit, but I got my head rung."

Patrick Fuller - “The way this scheme is, most of the runs are designed to go inside or cut back, and I'm used to running outside. It's taken me awhile to adjust. I've had fun, but it's been pretty tough learning all the plays. I feel pretty comfortable now.”

Matt Moore on the running game - “The running game is just going to be that much better for us, because as good as Yvenson was last year, he took every snap. With two guys back there, it's going to be awesome. I mean, Yvenson is the starter. Don't get me wrong. But it's going to be easy to put Clinton in there.”

 

Who's coming in the fall:
  • No one

 

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