Some fans are glossing over the potential for the Huskies to have a down year at running back, but the truth is UConn has missed on a number of its top targets since 2008, and Jordan Todman's early departure for the NFL has left the Huskies paper thin at running back. UConn is also losing long time back-up and oft-injured Kelmetrus Wylie, who has chosen to forego his redshirt senior season. Wylie sustained a knee injury last season and it was doubtful he would have been able to contribute in 2011.
The situation was further exasperated when redshirt freshman running back Lyle McCombs was arrested on Sunday for possession of Marijuana. McCombs was expected to challenge senior Robbie Frey for the starting job in 2011, and he may still, assuming he's reinstated in time for the upcoming season. He had a fantastic high school career in Staten Island, New York and he may well be the answer, but given what we learned from the Cody Endres situation, can he be counted on?
On top of all of that, long time running backs coach Terry Richardson has left the team for the same position at the University of Miami. Richardson, along with Offensive Line coach Mike Foley, has been an integral part of UConn's ground game successes over the years.
Looking at the roster as it's currently constituted, it's clear someone is going to have to step up in a major way. Robbie Frey, who has just 99 career carries, is the most experienced of the lot. This past season he carried 75 times for 389 yards, however, it should be noted that 213 of those yards came vs FCS Texas Southern and vs Buffalo. Not exactly murderer's row. Taking those two games out of the equation for the moment, he carried 50 times for 176 yards (3.52 ypc). Including the Buffalo and Texas Southern performances, his yards per carry increase to 5.2.
USC transfer D.J. Shoemate returns next season, but it became apparent as the season went on that he was probably better suited to play fullback, or perhaps for catching passes coming out of the backfield. Shoemate had an opportunity to shine vs Buffalo, but instead carried 16 times for 60 yards (3.75 ypc) with a long of 11. He's is a big back at 220 lbs, and certainly will have a roll on next season's team, but expecting him to be the featured back is a stretch.
Prior to last season, with the Huskies apparently having plenty of depth behind Todman, then redshirt freshman running back Martin Hyppolite was moved to linebacker. When the injuries started to mount up, Hyppolite was moved back to running back. He carried three times for five yards in week five vs Vanderbilt and was never seen again. Hyppolite was a very accomplished high school back, rushing for a school record 1639 yards on 9.6 yards per carry and 29 touchdowns as a senior, but I question how much the staff really likes him at running back. Do you move a player to linebacker if you think he has a future at running back? Perhaps the new running backs coach will be able to get Hyppolite on the right track.
Jonathan Jean-Louis, who will be entering his redshirt senior season without a career carry, may also be in the mix. Jean-Louis redshirted in 2007 and spent 2008 and 2009 as a reserve defensive back. Prior to the 2010 season he was moved to running back, then during the season he was moved to linebacker and then back to running back. He did look sharp in last year's Blue-White game, but I'm not sure anything can be expected from a player with zero career carries and who is playing his third position in four seasons.
Looking at the incoming class, the Huskies do have two running backs committed. One of them, however, is Berlin, Connecticut's Max DeLorenzo, who was told he was likely to end up on defense. The other is speedster Deshon Foxx. Foxx did it all for his Brookville (Lynchburg, VA) High School team, including playing quarterback, running back and wide receiver. He's listed at 5'10" and 173 lbs, and reportedly ran a 4.3 forty at a University of Richmond camp. He's also been timed at 10.83 in the 100 meter dash, and just last week ran 6.64 60 yard dash at an indoor track event. He's got legitimate speed and could find his way onto the field next season.
It's been quite some time since UConn entered a season with such question marks at running back. That doesn't mean that someone can't or won't step up, but given the fact that the Huskies are going to be breaking in a new quarterback next season as well, it would have been nice to have the running back position a little more settled.
From where I'm sitting, the Huskies would be well served to go out and find another back, particularly one that has a chance to contribute right away. Robbie Frey has been injured in each of the last two seasons and now Lyle McCombs is having off-the-field issues. With just two weeks until National Letter of Intent Day, UConn's options may be limited, but a little insurance never hurts.