Spring Camp Preview 2010: Running Backs

In this series Websider's Jeffrey Jennings will take an in depth look at the personnel of A&M's running backs. The focus will be on their attributes, current status, what they have on the line this spring, and where they hope to find themselves at camps end. Jennings will also give a brief sneak peak at the new faces that will be joining them in August. Subscribe to Websider today!

Spring Camp Preview 2010: Running Backs

As anticipated, two young difference makers at running back, as well as a much improved offensive line and a quarterback who is quite adept with his legs, the A&M rushing game didn't miss a beat in replacing Michael Goodson and Javorskie Lane. In fact, it actually stepped-up it's production significantly. The Ag's ranked 30th in the nation on the ground (2nd in the Big XII) in 2010, lending it's hand in taking off the pressure and setting up a balance that led to the 5th ranked offense in the nation. (In 2008, the Aggie's were overwhelmed by a downhill pass rush, in large part due to the fact that the offensive line was a struggling unit but further handicapped by averaging a meager 88.5 yards per game on the ground vs. 184.15 in 2009).

This spring Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray look to take the next steps in their progression, while Kalvin Guyton looks to put some space between himself and several very talented backs that will join the team in August. Bradley Stephens the talented but fumble prone 3rd option at HB will be getting a look at safety this spring but if the move doesn't work out, he could find himself back at halfback.

Christine Michael is the most talented back that A&M has signed in over a decade and he didn't fall below expectations in 2009. (He averaged 5.1 yards per carry, netting 844 yards, with 10 touchdowns and a 97 yard rush against Baylor). His style is kind of a melting pot of positive attributes from varied styles of backs, neatly packaged in one well put together runner. Michael's shiftiness and balance are on par with the great scat backs but he also runs with brute power. Not only does he have true blue chip ability but the work ethic to take his talents to the level of true greatness. That said, his primary areas of improvement will be his hands, and emerging as a short range target for Jerrod Johnson out of the backfield (and a potentially dangerous threat to opposing defenses in that role) and his blocking. In 2009 he had 15 catches for 66 yards but given the work he's putting in, should add largely to that production. Blocking is a common weakness amongst young backs but an important one to fix given the fact A&M really doesn't employ a true fullback very often. Given his strength, his intensity and work ethic, I'd expect him to enhance this part of his game. It will be an interesting facet of his game to focus on in the next few weeks.

Michael's presence, as well as his own confidence and comfort in what he is doing, proved too big a big boost and a kick in the rear for Cyrus Gray last season. The two split the load about dead even (Gray had a 4.8 yard per carry average, a net of 757 and five touchdowns) and compliment each other well. Game-to-game, when one seemed to struggle the other picked up the slack for the most part. As our offensive line and offense in general develops, both will give Big XII defenses headaches for years to come. Already fast and shifty and with big play potential, Gray added a little beef and was a much more decisive runner really hitting his holes hard and has pushed his game into another gear. The best return-man we've had in years he is also a very dependable pass catcher out of the backfield (in 2010 Cyrus had 28 receptions, 226 yards and two receiving touchdowns).

Looking to put room between himself and the arrival of several talented backs arriving late this summer will be Kalvin Guyton a squatty, speedy, powerful, finishing, efficient, north/south style back. He'll need to do so because his style also seems to be the general profile of the talented backs that will join the team in August. I recognize the well put-together Jay Tolliver because he reminds me of the tough yard, effort-back effort back Keondra Smith and deserves a mention for that if nothing else. He has impressed some observers with his hard-nosed running style, but that niche will likely be filled by several newcomers (which I'll profile shortly) that seem to fill that role while adding to the talent level. Tolliver actually passed on several offers to walk on at A&M will get some good reps this spring though given the current numbers (partly due to the fact Bradley Stephens is being given a serious look at Safety). In case Stephen's doesn't stick in the secondary (and he comes back to half back) he warrants acknowledgement here. As the former number three option at running back, he has good vision and does a great job of finding and breaking through the seam. He has big play potential and would give us a good number three back again if he could keep the ball off the ground. For now though as mentioned he will start this spring at safety.

A Brief Look Ahead to August 2010: Running Backs

D. J. Jones is a squatty back with good vision and cutting ability. He is not a burner but is a very productive physical-power runner that hits the hole hard. Joining him in August will be Ben Malena, who has struggled with injury but is a very productive option when healthy. He has great vision, balance and is patient in letting his running lanes open. Like Jones once he makes his cut he really shoots the gap well. Also arriving late this summer is Mister Jones who A&M coaches were able to land out of Colorado. He provides a dependable option in short yardage situations and not only hits the hole hard, but runs through arm tackles. Though not a shifty back he has great in line speed for his size. It is possible he may get a look at linebacker at some point but given the number of options we have there and the number of short yardage grinders we have, I would have to think he'll stick at running back.

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