Quite simply put, without adequate blocking a backfield will not accomplish much, and in 2008 the Aggies served as further proof of that logic. A group that boasted a talented and diverse backfield averaged an unacceptably sluggish 88.5 yards per game last season. However, this fall the offensive line should be improved a great deal on the interior, and at the very least, a bit on the edges as well. As far as holding down their end of the bargain, though, even with the departure of Michael Goodson to the NFL, our running back stable, though not terribly deep with experience, is as talented a group as you could hope for.
Unquestionably the biggest recruit A&M landed in February 2009 was Christine Michael. In fact, it's fair to argue that he is the most talented back we've signed in over a decade. This marks two years in a row we have signed a top notch back which is huge for us considering the departure of Michael Goodson, and to a lesser extent, the departure of hard nosed effort back Keondra Smith (who left the team just before spring got under way). Michael's combination of power, speed and route running out of the backfield will be a huge addition to our offense and team in general. To call him a physical specimen is a serious understatement, and further testament to his tireless work ethic off the field. As Coach Sherman stated recently, he has a goal of becoming the best running back ever to play at A&M. Living up to that won't be easy, but if anyone has the ability, work ethic and mentality to get it done, it's Christine Michael. Regardless, fans have to like the sound of that and where his mind is. It's not the ramblings of a cocky athlete, rather the extreme confidence of a blue chip talent who will put in all the work he can to achieve that end.
Sophomore Cyrus Gray, the top priority HB we landed last year, just wrapped up a relatively successful freshman year in the backfield and was the best return guy we've had in a decade. Gray is a back gifted with speed, shiftiness, adequate power and just flat out big play ability. He and Michael will compliment each other well, and as our offensive line and offense in general develops, should really give Big XII defenses headaches for years to come.
Running backs are measured by essentially three things: balance, vision and, of course, the ability to do what they do. Like Gray, RS-SO Bradley Stephens has it all in spades. Unfortunately, he also had some fumble issues that did not put him in good favor early on with Coach Sherman and Co. However, in a spring that only had only two scholarship backs on campus, he had a lot of opportunities to resolve the issue and all indications show he's put the issue behind him. Like Gray, Stephens has also stepped it up in summer workouts but we'll see how it translates to playing time.
Accompanying Christine Michael as newcomers in the backfield this fall will be Kalvin Guyton, who is a squatty, yet speedy, powerful, durable, north/south style back, and Ryan Swope (a great athlete and route runner, who hits the hole well and has good speed). In a recent coaches' night Sherman said both freshmen will play this year with Swope playing both RB and WR. Many expect Swope to actually make a pretty significant impact in his first year for the Aggies.
As a side note, the well put-together, non-scholarship Jay Tolliver impressed some observers during spring with his hard-nosed running style. Tolliver actually passed on a few offers to walk on at A&M and will basically be at fullback (along with other non scholarship guys Anthony Vela and perhaps Cole Graybill unless they pencil him in at LB).
This is an area that's not real complicated. The group is going to be very strong by 2009's opening kickoff, and with improved blocking, will give the Ags a good ground game, helping take pressure off of the offensive line and Jerrod Johnson, laying the groundwork for our offense. Last year the Aggies' total offensive yardage per game average wasn't bad at 340.9, but only had 25 points per game and simply couldn't keep our defense off the field. The running game this year should be improved enough to boost both facets and in the process excite fans as the group is very capable of mixing in some big plays in those efforts as well.
Fall Camp Preview 2009: Running Backs Preview
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