There’s a quiet confidence with Chris Warren this week as he prepares to watch his son, Chris Warren III, shoulder his heaviest workload as a Longhorns running back on Thanksgiving night.
Perhaps it’s because the elder Warren is all too familiar with the type of environment his son will be playing in, having spent 11 seasons in the NFL [more on that in a second].
He’s witnessed all of the preparation his son has put in to arrive at this point, and believes he’ll be ready to take full advantage of the opportunity against Texas Tech.
“As a father I’m just so excited for him, just the amount of love he has for the game and how much he loves to play the position,” said Warren, who was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls (1993-95). “For him to get this opportunity on a national stage on Thanksgiving for the University of Texas, I mean this is a place that he’s always wanted to play. It’s a dream come true for him, our family is excited, and as a father it makes me proud that he’s in this position. Just looking forward to the young guy going out there and pounding some folks.”
Warren III has been Texas’ third-string running back all season but there’s a very real possibility he could be the lead back on Thursday with starter Johnathan Gray ailing from a toe injury and D’Onta Foreman trying to work his way back after having surgery on a pinky finger last week.
Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong on Monday said Johnathan Gray was day-to-day and that if had to say right then if Foreman would play or not that he wouldn’t.
That means that UT would then turn to Warren and fellow freshman Kirk Johnson to be the workhorses for Texas against a Texas Tech run defense that ranks ninth in the 10-team Big 12.
The two have combined to rush for 100 yards this season on 23 carries. Warren has accounted for 18 of those carries and 88 of those yards.
“He’s been around the game of football his entire life so I don’t think he’ll be overwhelmed by the moment,” Warren said. “He’s ready to go.”
Warren should know a thing or two about running the ball. He spent 11 seasons in the NFL [Seattle from 1990-97; Dallas from 98-2000; Philadelphia for one game in 2000] rushing for 7,696 yards on 1,791 carries [4.3 average] and scoring 52 touchdowns.
A fourth-round pick of the Seahawks, he had four consecutive seasons of 1,000-yard rushing performances from 92-95. He ran for a then-team record and AFC-leading 1,545 yards in 1994 and scored a then-team record and AFC-leading 15 touchdowns in 1995.
By the time he left the Seahawks after the 1997 season, Warren was the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 6,706 yards (a total that was surpassed by Shaun Alexander) and had rushed for 44 touchdowns to rank second to Curt Warner’s 55.
For those still getting to know his son, they might look at the roster, see a 6-foot-2, 232-pound back and immediately think that he isn’t fleet of foot.
The elder Warren remembers a time when people thought the same thing about him.
“I had to go through the same thing as I was coming up as a young running back, when I was 18 and 19 years old,” said Warren, who was 6-foot-2 and close to 230 pounds himself during his hey-day. “That was the knock on me. Everyone said I was slow. ‘He’s not moving fast.’ ‘It doesn’t look like he’s trying hard.’ But I ran 4.38. So it’s not a matter of how fast you look. It’s a matter of how much ground you can cover throughout an entire game.”
Warren will be the first one to tell you that trying to tackle a big, bruising running back like he was and his son is, is not the easiest or most enjoyable thing in the world for a defender.
“Trying to tackle a big, strong, fast guy like that is difficult to do,” he said.
But what about your son’s speed?
“I think his speed is underrated,” he said. “He ran sub-11 in the 100 in high school. He qualified for the Texas Relays in the long jump. He’s a very good runner, he’s deceptively fast and he punishes you. It’s a combination of a few things that a lot of backs don’t have that combination. He reminds me of Le’Veon Bell in his early stages before he got down in weight.”
Warren III once told HornsDigest that he liked to pattern his game after Bell because of his ability to chop his feet and change direction while keeping his shoulders squared up down field.
He’s fine-tuned his footwork by using drills his father used in the pros. Coincidentally enough, when Warren was with the Cowboys the assistant RBs coach at the time was none other than current UT RB coach Tommie Robinson.
“He can maneuver through small spaces and get his feet in position where he’s not crossing his feet,” dad said of son. “He’s constantly doing drills for his quickness and his footwork. He works at it. He sees the hole, is able to process it and get through it. He is underrated as far as his quickness.”