Texas Longhorns running backs coach Stan Drayton would have loved to have D'Onta Foreman - a 2,000-yard rusher and 2016 Doak Walker Award recipient - returning for his inaugural season coaching in Austin. While that will not be the case for the assistant coach, he does have a room of talented, yet somewhat inexperienced, backs to coach.
Many Texas fans expect RB Chris Warren to take charge of the ground game, helping to alleviate any drop-off from Foreman's early departure for the NFL draft.
Warren was sidelined with a season-ending injury three and a half games into his Sophomore season in 2016. Warren is back working with the team, and is apparently working harder than he ever to get back in the mix.
"He's hungry," Drayton said of Warren's determination. "He wants to play more, and he knows he's got to earn it with this program.
"He's putting forth a lot more effort, from what I am hearing, than he has ever put forth before. But he's got a long way to go."
As he has shown in his limited playing time at Texas, Warren provides the size to bulldoze through most any opponent to get in his way on the field.
Drayton believes Warren's future could be very bright, but he will need to develop additional skills - aside from running through opponents - to make it at the next level.
"I've never had a guy that big," he said. "There's some things we have to do to really make him the caliber of back that I believe he is capable of coming. With that size, a lot of times you don't see a lot of quickness or a lot of elusiveness.
"You see a guy who likes to run through people. The life expectancy of a back is not very long, you can only take so many hits. If he's trying to play at the next level, he's gonna have to develop some of those skill sets.
"He's got to become more elusive, he has to be quicker in tighter spaces, so he has a long way to go in that respect. His body is capable of doing it."
Drayton has watched film of Warren (and all of the running backs, for that case) from previous seasons to help him understand his on-field mentality. While the assistant coach has an idea of where Warren is physically, he is still trying to figure out where the running back is with the mental side of the game.
"It's not about just the physical effort, it's about the mental approach," he said. "You can definitely tell he comes from good genes. He's a big guy, but he doesn't move like he's necessarily a big guy. He's very agile for his size.
"Chris has some things he has to continue to learn. He's got to become a better student of the game."
With the ground game being the strength of the offense last season, Texas ran the ball 579 times through 12 games.
Will that happen again in 2017? TBD.
The Texas staff will use spring football to determine the skill-sets the Longhorns have, so it can begin shaping the offense around the team. Drayton does not yet know where the strengths lie within the locker room, but he is confident Tom Herman's system will be designed to best utilize the talent on the roster.
"When you look at Tom Herman and his system he brings, you see a totally different scheme from Ohio State to the University of Houston," Drayton said.
"At Houston, that quarterback was the real deal. Why would you take the ball out of his hands? At Ohio State, Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde were the real deal, so we fed the mess out of those guys with the football.
"We don't quite know who we are yet, and that's what spring ball is all about. But once we figure it out, and if it is the running back room, we're going to fit our system around our skill set."
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