Mid-Spring Look: Running Backs

We continue our mid-spring look with the Texas running backs.

The Candidates: Cody Johnson, senior; Foswhitt Whittaker, senior; Jeremy Hills, junior; D.J. Monroe, junior; Ryan Roberson, junior; Traylon Shead, redshirt freshman.

Returning Starters: Johnson, Whittaker, Roberson.

What It Looks Like: Johnson comes back as the Longhorns' leading rusher, and he tallied more than 100 yards in each of the Longhorns' last two contests. But his role could look very different in the new offense. Considered arguably the top fullback prospect for the 2012 draft, Johnson has spent much of the spring at the position, though he's still getting reps at both tailback and as a short-yardage runner. Whittaker has looked explosive all spring, and has been the top candidate at tailback, though he's struggled his whole career with injuries. This spring, those injuries have affected the other players, with both Shead (hamstring) and Hills (groin) missing time. Hills was able to recover in time for the scrimmage, and he's shown an aptitude for inside running. Shead certainly looks the part, and is one of the Longhorns' most impressive weight room performers. Monroe's role is uncertain. He'll likely get the ball on a variety of sweep type plays to exploit his exceptional speed. It's too early to be sure though, as Monroe missed the first week with track practice, and the offense hasn't been developed enough to build a specific player package. Roberson was the team's starting fullback a year ago, but could lose those duties to Johnson. He'd still be a solid play as Johnson's blocker in short-yardage situations.

Ideal Situation: Johnson emerges as a top-flight fullback, Whittaker stays healthy and Hills gives the Longhorns a power option. There's a such thing as too many bodies in the backfield, and with blue chipper Malcolm Brown arriving in the fall, it could take the Longhorns a few weeks to find an ideal balance.

What We Would Like To See: Some sort of pecking order established. Johnson is a tank, and could be an elite player at a position where Texas struggled at times last year. Not only does he have great pile-moving strength, but he has deceptively light feet and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Whittaker could emerge as the third-down and change-of-pace back. That role could help keep him healthy for the entirety of his senior season. That arrangement would leave the bulk of the carries open for Brown, when he arrives, with Johnson and Hills serving as complementary battering rams.

What Will Probably Happen: With so many players of similar talents, the backfield will probably stay jumbled into the fall, when the addition of Brown and versatile freshman Joe Bergeron will clutter things up even more. Johnson seems to be a perfect fullback, though he still displays enough potential as a single back that he will merit carries there. And Whittaker will continue to make a run for the top running back spot as well, as long as he is healthy. Hills, Shead and Roberson would seem to be a bit behind the others, with one of the Hills/Shead combination likely failing to see the field.

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