Freshmen RBs Should Lose Their 'Shirts

Quite a few freshmen will play in the Sept. 3 home opener, head coach Mack Brown said Monday. The "most obvious" contenders to lose their redshirts against Louisiana-Lafayette are "the two (freshmen) running backs."

Texas inked four RBs in the class of '05, hoping to fill a cupboard that was left bare when Cedric Benson completed his eligibility and after Selvin Young was not academically eligible to compete in spring drills.

"If we played today," Brown said, "at least two of those guys would play a lot."

Those "two" would be Jamaal Charles and Henry Melton. Both have impressed coaches enough to where they are viable candidates as Young’s primary backups.

Charles is considered the offensive jewel of this year’s recruiting class and had the most totes of all RBs (eight carries for 40 yards) in Saturday’s scrimmage. The Parade All-American and two-time Texas 5A first-teamer is "running ahead" of the other freshmen backs, Brown reported last week. Yet Melton is flat-out running over people.

The Grapevine product has proven surprisingly quick given his size (6-3, 275 pounds). He bulldozed for 29 yards on just three carries in Saturday’s scrimmage. His tenure at tailback is considered a tryout, Brown said just before camp, as Melton is built like a prototypical FB (not to mention a prototypical NFL defensive end). The Horns are obviously bereft of an experienced FB but Melton has emerged as Texas' irresistible object and will be on the field during goalline or short yardage situations.

Speedster Jerrell Wilkerson has mad skills and shattered all existing San Antonio rushing records (including Priest Holmes’ old mark) on the way to USA Today All-America honors. Yet, Wilkerson is a definite "maybe" for losing his redshirt against the Ragin’ Cajuns.

"We’ll have to look at him," Brown said.

Michael Houston participated in spring drills at RB after graduating early. He now shores up the depth at FB.

Young has never lost his grip on the starting job, but Brown has never backed off from his expressed fear that the injury-prone junior might not last the season. As a precaution, Young will not be returning kicks this season (he suffered a season-ending broken ankle on a KO return at Arkansas in 2004) although he is expected to give Texas' punt return game the explosiveness it lacked last season.

But if Young goes down, it appears more and more likely that Texas’ starting RB would be Charles.

Brown announced one week ago that Ramonce Taylor would work at RB, not WR. A lot can happen in a week, as RT’s backfield presence is now "limited". As most expected, RT has emerged as an all-purpose back who will play RB but also all three WR spots. RT has lined up at SE, in the slot and at sub-B (the third receiver in a three-wide set).

"We’ll try to play him at running back on a limited basis," Brown said. "If, for some reason Selvin wasn’t playing, we’d probably move him back there immediately until we see about the freshmen running backs, to see if they could handle it all."

Taylor has been clocked at 4.27 and is a go-the-distant threat every time he touches the ball. Brown regrets that coaches didn’t do a better job of getting the ball in RT’s hands last season. Other than special teams, the fuel-injected speedster had one touch in Saturday’s scrimmage: a reverse pitch that he took 68 yards to the house.

"Every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score," Brown said of the fastest player he has ever coached, "but we have to make sure that he’s a decoy as well, and that we can hide his plays."

There’s no hiding the fact, however, that Brown expects this year’s smallish freshman class (14 signees) to have an immediate impact. Particularly the running backs.

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