The biggest question mark on the team going into spring ball turned out to be one of the strengths as the Utes found three running backs that appear ready to take over the starting role in former rugby player and walk-on Thretton Palamo, true freshman Harvey Langi, and junior college transfer John White.
With the departures of Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, the medical retirement of Sausan Shakerin, and Tauni Vakapuna's decision to leave, the Utes were staring at a giant hole at the running back spot. Add in Beau Burton's medical retirement midway through camp, and the situation could have been disastrous. By the first day of camp, those concerns were alleviated as Langi, White and Palamo all proved more than capable of taking over the reins as the starter.
Langi came in with the hype. The top recruit in the state of Utah, and an early enrollee after choosing the Utes over Stanford and USC, he's impressed the coaches from the beginning with his size, speed, attitude, and work ethic. Langi put together a few long touchdown runs in practice showing his speed by outrunning corners and safeties down the sidelines, while also having a knack for picking up yardage inside with his propensity for find holes. Langi's ability to catch the ball fairly well coming out of the backfield is going to be an asset to the offense. The long striding freshman does have some work to do in a few areas, mainly in the blocking game, although he's fairly advanced for a true freshman, and in getting his pads a bit lower while running, but is going to be a special player in his time at Utah and will make an immediate impact.
The JC transfer John White didn't come in with the publicity that Langi did, but he was impressive nonetheless. The speedy back showed that he might end up being the fastest and shiftiest player on the team, consistently breaking runs both up the middle and down the sidelines. Despite his diminutive stature, White didn't shy away from contact often putting his head down in traffic while trying to bowl over defenders, something he did with more success than you'd normally anticipate from someone his size. While he might not look like a 20-25 carry a game back, he's certainly going to get his carries in 2011 and provide the Utes with that scatback that can carry the ball 10 - 15 times while catching a few out of the backfield. Arguably the most consistent of the backs in spring ball from practice to practice.
The wild card in all of this has been and wwill be Thretton Palamo. Palamo has had limited experience playing football and comes over from the rugby field where he was a star playing for the US National Team. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, He's a load to bring down, but combines that size with unbelievable speed for a man his size. Palamo never stops churning his legs and runs in a manner very similar to Adrian Peterson. With easily the quickest feet of any of the running backs, Palamo had multiple runs where he juked a defender and left them in their tracks, but also ran through would be tacklers over and over again. Picking up the offense and gaining a better understanding of the game, while still working on fumbling issues are Palamo's weaknesses at the moment, but the sky is the limit for him and he could turn into one of the greats.
Converted wide receiver Luke Matthews started out the spring at running back, and was impressive, but with Palamo, Langi, and White proving their worth, Matthews was able to move over to fullback and then eventually back to receiver by the end of camp.
Freshman Lucky Radley made the move over to cornerback for a bit, but struggled and was moved back to running back by the end of camp. While still finding his way in the college game, Radley had a few nice runs towards the end of camp and could receive a few reps once the season starts, but won't challenge the big three.
With the new offense the Utes will be using a using a fullback out of their regular sets. After cycling through multiple players at the position including Luke Matthews, Boo Anderson, and even Martavious Lee, Karl Williams and Jake Murphy ended up at the head of the group by the end of camp. Norm Chow did end up using his fullbacks a lot coming out of the backfield to catch the ball, and will probably continue to do so going forward, meaning athleticism is going to be a necessity at the position.
Overall Spring Camp Position Grade: B+
InsideTheUtes Depth Chart Heading Into Fall Camp:
While I like Palamo as the starter right now and think he was the best running back in spring ball, I wouldn't argue with either White or Langi in the top spot. It really was, and is, that close.
Spring Recap- Running Back
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