Spring Preview Guide 2012 - Running Backs

The Texas Aggie football team will kick off the Kevin Sumlin era on March 31 when spring practices begin. The Aggie Websider takes you deep inside the roster analyzing the status of each position. Today, we'll look at the running back position where the Aggies will have three 5-star backs in the fall, but only one will be participating in the spring

While reviewing Texas A&M's ultra-talented running back duo last off-season, I cautioned about the 2010 campaign showing just how quickly two great backs can become one. Unfortunately, we saw the worst-case scenario play out in 2011. Both Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray went down during the last month of the season, two became none, and a devastating blow was dealt to an offense already struggling to finish games in the fourth quarter with a time consuming rushing attack.

This year, the running back situation honestly isn't clarified for several significant, varied reasons, but make no mistake, this group still holds a lot of promise and should have no problem holding down their end. They will be aided by a superb offensive line, and the potent attack of Coach Sumlin. Lets put these thoroughbreds through the paces, and see what the new staff has to work with, as they prepare for their first year at A&M and in the SEC.

Running Backs

David Sandhop recently reported that in true Christine Michael fashion, "the quick healer is showing minimal signs of the injury, will be limited in spring but appears on track to be ready for August". If he indeed proves ready by kick-off 2012, that is remarkably great news for A&M. One had to assume with an injury that severe, despite his work ethic and ability to mend, he might not have approached his top end until the season was well under way, or even until his senior year was behind him. Like a cornered animal, his narrowing window for proving himself to NFL scouts post-injury, will have this hard-nosed, violent back. When back to full strength, Michael is the perfect SEC running back. In the meantime, his absence this spring opens the door for several up and comers to develop and prove their worth to the new staff.

Ben Malena will lead the group in spring, as he did when he proved his worth in several late season, emergency starts against Texas and Northwestern (23 carries for 77 yards and two touchdowns), but he simply lacks that extra-gear needed to be "the guy" as was evident in the Texas game (with 3.32 yards per carry 25 carries, 83 yards). It was a solid performance but one of either Cyrus Gray or Christine Michael would have illustrated the difference. Given that, what makes his style work is the fact he hits the hole with absolute purpose, uses good vision, and makes one quick move then heads up-field. He's not ultra-shifty but slippery enough when it matters. Malena doesn't have a powerful base but is naturally low, and has a knack for squeezing out the hard yard. Another aspect that makes Ben functional is the increased role of runners coming out of the backfield in the new offense, and he will be a very dependable target (in two starts he managed 10 receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown).

Another interesting factor in this equation is the off-season acquisition of Oklahoma transfer and highly touted 5-star back from the 2011 class, Brandon Williams. He will no doubt be a great one for the Ags one day, and while he would instantly find himself in the conversation for the starter early on, he will likely have to sit on the shelf for a year, per the transfer rule. Williams has explosive, game-breaking speed, next-level ability in the open-field, and possesses Sumlin's requisite hands out of the backfield. He could stand to add some strength, as he shows willing but not always able leg drive, in taking on tacklers. It's likely he's improved that aspect with a year in Okalahoma's strength program but it's something to keep an eye on in the next few weeks (and at worst he'll be able to further develop in what equates to a red-shirt season). This spring, the explosive, dynamic, high-caliber, playmaking back will no doubt leave coaches and fans wishing his services would be available this fall.

Texas A&M's best hopes for a spring surprise at halfback will be Will Randolph. If the speedster can prove his worth, it will go a long way at alleviating depth concerns. Randolph has the requisite speed, balance, and vision, but he's a little short on dynamic, open-field ability. He has decent cuts, and his aforementioned attributes make him a strong candidate, but he's more of an in-line speed runner, than a back that can run and make explosive moves in space. That said Randolph is a feisty back that hits the hole hard, and given his small stature, is a deceptive load to bring down. Will is a decent blocker with good hands, and given depth issues, could prove very useful for the Aggies on 3rd downs. That said, this is on paper and mostly from high school film, and the next few weeks will be a great opportunity to prove how far he's truly come as a football player at this level. At times during fall practice, he had a tendency to lose the ball, so showing off ball security this spring will also be important for his future at Texas A&M.

Anticipated Summer Arrival

Though Trey Williams won't arrive until the summer, he has to be addressed, as he'll likely be splitting carries with Christine Michael in the fall. Entering the inaugural SEC season, putting the ball in hands of a freshman running back might not hit the eyes or ears the way one would like, but this young man is simply one of those special players where the inexperience is completely nullified by the overwhelming talent. The Dekaney standout is without question, one of the highest caliber players A&M has signed in quite some time, and inarguably the best back to come out of the lone star state in a little less than a decade. Clocked in the 4.3's, the only thing that can match his speed is his quickness, shiftiness, deceptive power, and he works the whole arsenal on literally every snap. In addition, you rarely see a player that is such a near impossible assignment in the open field. It will be interesting to see at this level, who has the ability to take him on, and who simply gets exposed. We'll take a closer look at the highly anticipated newcomer in August, but no one in the Aggie's camp is going to be losing much sleep about this youngster getting a lion share of totes upon arrival.

Overall Running Back Thoughts

The last two seasons have proven just how important a deep stable of tailbacks are for the Aggies. Once again they will enter the season with two premiere backs in Christine Michael and freshman Trey Williams, who arrives this summer. However, for now with Michael recovering from a knee-injury, a battle tested Malena will carry the load, while Will Randolph looks for a breakout performance to raise his stock with the new staff, and the Ags get a glimpse of highly-touted transfer Brandon Williams, whose on-field contribution will likely begin in 2013.

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