USF '08: What we Learned: Runningbacks

Now that USF spring is over, the coaches have had time to review the film and give an overall view of each position. In this exclusive USFN series see what we learned about the 2008 Bulls runningbacks. Only on

What we learned about the RB unit

Last season the Bulls as a team rushed for over 2,300 yards with 30 touchdowns. Even though USF quarterback Matt Grothe accounted for 832 yards and 10 scores, the Bulls used a committee of running backs to gain the rest.


"With running backs, there is always strength in numbers, and that's what we have," said USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory. "We have guys that have proven that they can play and compete at a high level and win games for us."


The Bulls will return their entire backfield from 2007 with Mike Ford, Ben Williams, Jamar Taylor, Aston Samuels, Moise Plancher, and Shawn Cannon all set to play in 2008. Even though the Bulls used a committee approach, with Taylor and Samuels having some key runs, Mike Ford and Ben Williams carried the lion's share of the work load.


"We have two guys that have proven that they can play and compete at a high level in Ben Williams and Mike Ford," said Gregory. "They have proven they can compete at this level, and we think we can win a championship with those guys as a tandem."



What we learned about Mike Ford


All eyes last season were glued to true freshman Mike Ford, the most decorated recruit in the ten-year history of South Florida football. However, Ford spent most of his freshman year waiting for an opportunity to show what he could do as a starter.


 "Most people don't realize how far Mike had to cover with being out of football for awhile and had a lot of learning to do, " said Gregory. "He's made incredible strides since he's arrived."


Ford 6'2-225 showed incredible potential and ended up leading all USF backs with 637 yards on 132 carries with 12 rushing touchdowns and one receiving, setting a new USF freshman record and one shy of tying the USF single-season rushing TD record.  Even though Ford wasn't the anointed starter, in the last three games of the year he got his opportunity.  Against Syracuse he ran for career-high 134 yards and two scores. Against Louisville, Ford rushed for 140 yards, two scores and was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week. In the Bulls final game at Pittsburgh Ford rushed for just 63 yards but scored two touchdowns . Over the last three games Ford rushed for over 330 yards and scored six times. Ford is the first back to in USF's history to run for 100 yards in back-to-back games, and was 85 yards away from breaking the USF freshman rushing record of 729 set by Rafael Williams in 1997.


"Mike had a very good freshman year rushing for over 600 yards," said Gregory. "He showed us a lot of determination over the year, make the tough runs, and that he can win games for us."


This past spring, the first thing I noticed about the running backs was that almost all of them looked bigger. Especially Mike Ford who looked jacked, and had a considerable increase in muscle mass then I recall from last season, especially in the upper body.


"He had to get in better and better condition, and he's done that," said Gregory. "His body has leaned up and he looks great. He's a very powerful guy, and I think will see a little more burst out of him, and we have very high expectations out of him this year."


During USF's spring game, Mike Ford, led all backs with 56 yards on 14 carries including a long of 20-yards.  


"He's still has some flaws, and has to improve in the pass protection aspect, and a little more burst when he hits the holes," said Gregory. "But he's getting better everyday."


Ford looked stronger and much quicker when he hit the hole, and churned out tough three to four-yard runs, that last year might have ended up with a one-yard, or no gain. Ford looks improved and poised to follow up on his freshman season.



What we learned about Ben Williams


Junior Ben Williams 5'7-200 pounds, came in as walk-on, worked hard and proved his worth. Williams was the MVP of the bowl in 2006 where he scored twice and rushed for 63 yards. He also shared USF Green and Gold Pride Award with Mike Padilla as the top walk-on players on the team, and was rewarded with a scholarship.


"There is no doubt that Ben Williams is our toughest football player on the offensive side of the ball," said Gregory. "Ben is dependable, reliable and we know what we're going to get."


Williams was dependable and steady for the Bulls last season, tallying 423 yards on 101 carries with six scores and added 240 yards receiving last season this season. Williams's best game last season was against FAU where he scored four times and rushed for 186 yards on 25 carries, and helped will the Bulls to a victory. Williams can run, and is a good option catching the ball out of the backfield. However, what he's most adept at is blocking, and it's those skills that the staff trusts and relies on.


"In Benny we got one tough football player. When he hits you, he hits you. He has his own personal highlight reel of hits, and is one guy you can count on every game to have one or two highlight reel hits," said Gregory. "He's the guy that hits you when you're looking at him in the eyes. Lot of guys gets big hits, but it comes when the other guy isn't looking. Ben will get his hits when you're coming straight at him, and that is a true tough, physical football player."



What we learned about Jamar Taylor


True Freshman Jamar Taylor 5'10-220 pounds, was very active for the Bulls, carrying the Ball 46 times for 140 yards with two scores and 71 yards receiving. His most active game was in a win over West Virginia where he carried the ball 15 times for 58 yards and a score. He also scored on a one-yard run against UNC, and in a loss at UCONN, took a hand off and ran 54 yards his longest of his career.


"Taylor is very physical, strong, and has a good work ethic," said Gregory. "He did some really good things for us last year, and we're counting on him to have an increased load this year."


As with Ford, this past spring Jamar Taylor who transferred from Alabama last spring also looked like he added a considerable amount of muscle from last year, ran with authority during the entire spring, and distinguished him self as one of the top backs.


 "Jamar Taylor did some really good things this spring," said Gregory. ‘"He was a little bit up and down, but had a solid spring, and has the tools to be an extremely good back."


Taylor rushed five times for 15 yards in his first spring game with South Florida, and looks to build off of his freshman season and an increased role.



What we learned about Aston Samuels


Redshirt Freshman Aston Samuels 5'10-180 pounds, is a speed back that wowed coaches last spring with his speed and cat like reflexes, and can be dangerous from different spots on the field. In his freshman year earned the Golden Bull award as the top scout team player.


"He has some serious speed, and moves" said Gregory. "When he gets in the open field Aston can make thing happen."


Samuels had limited opportunities during the year, finishing with 167 yards on only 16 carries, and a whopping 9.67 avg. He is the home run hitter of the group, a speedy elusive back that can run forever when he hits a seam.  His most explosive game was against Syracuse where he lined up as flanker and had his first big play, taking an end-around 75 yards down the Syracuse sideline before getting caught from behind at the 2-yard line, and racked up 101 yards on only two carries.


"He's an explosive player," said Gregory. "We're just trying to find different ways to get him involved."


Samuels entered the spring with a team leading 2.2 percent body fat and looked energized before having a set back when he suffered a dislocated shoulder during the fifth practice, and did not return or play in the spring game.


"It's a shame when injuries happen, but its part of the game," said Gregory. "I can't really comment on Aston because I don't know where he'll be when he returns.


Samuels has speed and is a great change-of-pace back, and compliments the other backs styles. He can take handoffs,  catch passes out of the backfield, and was being worked at both running back and receiver in hopes of expanding his role. Now we'll have to wait until summer to see



What we learned about Moise Plancher


Moise Plancher arrived at USF in 2005 and was poised to take over the void left by Andre Hall, but injuries have hampered him from the onset. In 2006 he injured his hamstring, causing him to miss most of the spring. He returned from the injury and started the 2006 season opener, having 4 carries for 24 yards before a torn ACL caused him to miss the season.


"What many don't realize about Plancher," said Gregory. "Was that three years ago, Mo was our starter, before he got injured. "


Plancher successfully returned from knee surgery only to be sidelined by an ankle injury in the 2007 preseason. He returned, but returned only to finish with 17 yards on 10 carries in a crowded backfield. Mo's woes continued this spring when he suffered another serious injury to his elbow during position drills, and didn't play the rest of the spring.


"Mo has had a rough time with injuries," said Gregory. "We know he has talent, and adds depth to the position."


Plancher's tenure hasn't been easy, he's shown dedication, fought through numerous injuries to return to the field, and now all Plancher has to do is show he can stay healthy for an entire season.



What we learned about Richard Kelly


At 6'0-245 pounds Kelly is a bruising fullback that came in with high expectations. He received time as a true-freshman, playing in 9 games primarily on special teams, but also appeared at full back in USF's three-back set, having one carry for one yard against Louisville.


"He's a bigger back that has running skills," said Gregory. "We're trying to find ways to utilize him, and get him into the game.


Coaches and fans alike were full of anticipation to see what Kelly could do this spring, but Kelly suffered a broken right hand early in practice, and missed the remainder of the spring.


"The funny thing was on the day that he got hurt in the spring, we were ready to give him a boat load of reps," said Gregory. "We just wanted to see what he can do, and what he would look like."


Kelly has all the tools, size, strength, and ability to be great, but now we'll have to wait until the summer to see what the big back can do.



What else we learned about the unit


Demetrius Murray 5-10, 207 pounds, from Buford HS, GA was the only back brought in the last class, but he's a dandy. Murray is a 3-star recruit ranked the 67th best running back in the country, and was the Georgia 2A State Player of the Year. He helped Buford to an undefeated record and a Georgia 2A state championship title rushing for 203 yards and 1 TD on 15 carries in the final. As a junior, had 143 rushing attempts for 1,090 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry with 20 touchdowns. Murray is a perfect blend of power and speed, Murray runs the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and has the ability to beat linebackers to the corner or run between the tackles, and will join the team this summer.


Rounding out the running back unit are walk-ons Shawn Cannon, Joel Miller, and Dominique Rocker, Cannon a senior, is the only other back to see any game experience. Rocker and Miller joined the team this past spring and earned roster spots, and all provide depth, but it will be very hard to see any time with the talent at the top. 


"We feel very good about our top three guys," said Gregory. "Anybody who knows anything knows that you have to have two to three backs that can play."


Big things are expected from the unit, and for first time in school history, the Bulls have a respectable amount of depth in the backfield.  The talent is also diverse, blending a couple of power backs that can get the tough yards with smaller speedsters that can break long runs and be especially effective on third down.


"Our guys played big games for us," said Gregory. "And we've won with them in big games."


USF must improve on the ground to take pressure off of Grothe and to help control the time of possession.  The top guys have experience and should be even better this year. Behind them the Bulls have several players with all the tools and potential, but haven't had the opportunity to really show anything yet. As long as the O-line does its thing, the unit should is primed to make an impact.


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