A hot topic for Tommy Tuberville at Big 12 Media Days was the status of injured running backs DeAndre Washington and Eric Stephens. And why not? They basically were Texas Tech's running game last season, and behind that duo ride the twin horsemen of obscurity and inexperience.
Word from the head coach was quite positive.
Neither Stephens nor Washington will see contact early in fall camp, but they will go through non-contact drills at full bore. Late in camp, Stephens and Washington will encounter true football contact for the first time in many months. If they respond well, both should see action in the opener and increased reps as the non-conference season progresses. The hope is that both runners will be close to 100 percent physically healthy by the time conference play arrives.
But until Washington and Stephens demonstrate that they can withstand the mental and physical rigors of D1 college football, there will be real anxiety in the Red Raider camp. Indeed, offensive coordinator Neal Brown regards the running back situation as his top worry.
"The biggest area of concern for us is just depth at running back," Brown avers. "If Eric and DeAndre are able to come back then I feel very good about that position. If they're not, then we're gonna be thin at running back and can't handle any injuries."
Relying exclusively on two wounded backs would be sheer madness, and the Tech brain trust, a very sane group, certainly has contingencies for the worst-case scenario of Washington and Stephens being unable to go.
At this point there is every likelihood that JUCO import SaDale Foster will start at running back when the Red Raiders open against Northwestern State on September 1. Both Tuberville and Brown think Foster can do the job.
"We went out signed a kid by the name of SaDale Foster from a junior college, L. A. Riverside, and we're excited about him," Tuberville states. "He had a great spring practice. He's a short, thick kid that runs hard inside and outside, and he's got great hands, which you need to be as a running back for us at Texas Tech because as much as we throw it."
Brown is high on Foster's shiftiness.
"As far as a plan B, I feel good about the guys we have. SaDale Foster had a great spring, and I think he gives us some ability to make some people miss."
Another option could be sophomore Kenny Williams. The conditional is key here, though. Williams is involved in a credit card fraud case that is interminably wending its way through Lubbock's legal labyrinth. Until Lubbock's district attorney issues a statement—and Tuberville expects one any day—Williams' status is up in the air. If cleared to play, though, Tuberville and especially Brown like what he's capable of doing on the field.
Says Tuberville, "Kenny Williams we took the redshirt off last year, which we hated to do that, but at the end of the year we were down to him. And he played pretty well for a young 18‑year‑old that made some good runs. But he's put on about ten pounds. Much stronger. He's a different type of runner. We've got some good inside/outside runners, but he's more of an inside guy that has more bulk to him."
Neal Brown certainly has high hopes for the Pflugerville product.
"Kenny Williams I think will be one of the most improved football players when we start fall camp. You know, he's really progressed from his fall to his spring and I expect there to be a difference in Kenny Williams."
Plumbing the depth chart evermore, incoming freshman Quinton White is a possibility. Nobody, including Brown, knows what he can do yet, but the offensive coordinator believes White has the tools to succeed.
"Quinton White is a guy we signed this year that's a true freshman that from a physicality standpoint as far as being big enough and strong enough, he'll be able to come in and compete right there," he says. "But like I said before, we're thin at that position if Eric and DeAndre can't go."
One option no longer on the table is moving wideout Bradley Marquez back to running back. Marquez was a stellar high school runner in Odessa and Tech's offensive coaches experimented with him at running back in the spring. That experiment is over.
"Bradley Marquez, we tried at running back early in the spring practice and then we moved him back to receiver and we found him a permanent home," Brown declares.
"He's gonna play Z."
"He had a great spring. He was a running back in high school, but I think at this level he's definitely a receiver and he's gonna play that Z receiver spot for us. I really don't expect him to move around any more."
And there you have it. Without Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington, Tech's ground game would undoubtedly be diminished, but it would not disappear. Tommy Tuberville and company should be able to cobble together a credible ground game one way or another.