Applewhite Discusses Running Back Rotation

Can too many running backs be a bad thing? Don't ask that question to Texas running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.

Applewhite appeared to have an embarrassment of riches at the position a year ago, only to have Malcolm Brown suffer a turf toe injury against Kansas, a nagging injury that dogged him the rest of the year. Then Joe Bergeron had his own nagging ailment, a hamstring injury suffered that next week against Texas Tech. And the week after that, No. 3 Fozzy Whittaker tore his knee ligaments and was out for the year.

Just like that, a powerful three-deep backfield went to seldom-used No. 4 Jeremy Hills pacing the Longhorns in rushing against Missouri, and fullback Cody Johnson leading the charge after that.

"As the game goes on, you have to be cautious of [injuries]," Applewhite said. "We want to keep those guys fresh, and if you look at the teams that are winning championships at the end of the season, they are playing two or three guys and they have quality backs that they are rolling out. There is a fine balance between pulling them too soon, making sure they get enough snaps in a game, and going to game two. But we feel like we are in a situation where we can rotate those guys and use them in different packages and hopefully keep them fresh for 12 games."

Whittaker is gone from last year's grouping, but Texas added to its stock with true freshman Johnathan Gray, who is expected to see time Saturday. So how will Applewhite decide to divvy up the Longhorn touches?

"You know, whoever has the hot hand," Applewhite said. "We have a little rotation, and we are going to do some stuff on down and distances with certain packages we are ready to go with. You can get into a flow situation and keep feeding the guy who is doing well for you. It's no different in any sport, right?

"You always tell them, just like any other player: 'If you are spent, let me know,'" Applewhite said. "We need a fast player in there, and we need a player that is 100 percent. But I also tell them, 'Hey, I am watching your body language and if you look like you're dragging, then I am pulling you out. And if you are just loafing, well that's your fault.' So if you tap your helmet and tell me you need to get out, then I will put a new guy in there. Again, packages usually helps you with that. You package certain things and you pull a guy, and it turns out to be a good time for him anyways."

One package of interest to all Longhorn fans is which tailback will receive repetitions in the 'Wild' formation. But Applewhite said that formation wouldn't be used as a way to sneak a certain guy a few touches here or there.

"What we want is the best guy for that situation," Applewhite said. "So we are not trying to divvy up carries like that through packages like, 'Well, this is one way to make sure he gets his carries' or 'Well, if he is not as good as that guy. Well guess what, then you get more carries because you are just simply better at that.' "There are things that we want each of those guys to get better at so they can be complete backs," Applewhite said. "That is your whole goal. When you come in as a true freshman, you are going to be able to run the ball or else you wouldn't have been recruited. So you have to learn how to pass protect, you have to be able to do all the other things; play without the ball, get into routes, and all those different things other than just carrying the football. We are not going to divvy it up because we want to take snaps away from another guy. We are going to give those packages to guys that do them the best."


Horns Digest Top Stories