Fall Camp Preview: Running Back

The Utes are loaded in the backfield with both experience and youth

While Utah didn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher in 2013, its ground game production was the highest since joining the Pac-12. Eight players recorded carries for the Utes last season, but only one of those will be a returning running back for Utah in 2014. Kelvin York and Karl Williams have graduated, Lucky Radley transferred and Marcus Sanders-Williams has made the move to the defensive side of the ball. Two quarterbacks added rushing attempts while the last few carries came via wide receiver Dres Anderson. Heading into fall camp the Utes have plenty of weapons to aid in their ground attack with arguably the deepest running back position group since Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata combined for 1400 yards in 2010. But the question remains, who will emerge as the leader of the pack?

Pre-Fall Camp Depth Chart
Bubba Poole (R-Jr)
Devontae Booker (Jr)
Troy McCormick (R-Fr)
Dre'Vian Young (R-Fr)
Tavaris Williams (Fr)

The Candidates

Bubba Poole is the lone running back returning with experience from the 2013 season. Poole rushed for 607 yards (4.1 avg) while adding 29 receptions (only behind Dres Anderson and Sean Fitzgerald). Poole’s prolific performance last October was the driving force behind Utah’s thrilling upset of No. 5 Stanford at Rice-Eccles. Yet, consistency seemed to be an issue in ’13. Poole had high marks of 117 and 111 yards against Oregon State and Stanford, yet lows of 14, 19 and 26 vs. Washington State, USC and UCLA. Sure, it is easier to get into rhythm when you are a feature back getting the majority of the carries, but all indications that running backs coach Dennis Erickson and head coach Kyle Whittingham will continue to use the running back by committee approach in 2014. An improved offensive line and more offensive weapons in the passing attack should take some pressure of the running game, which should (in theory) make it easier on any running back that lines up in the backfield.

At last, the time has finally come for Booker to show us what he can do. If he has a fall camp performance anything like the one he had this spring, watch out, Utah could be in for a real treat. It has been awhile since I've seen a running back at Utah with his skill set - he can run between the tackles with power, has great field vision and is (in my opinion) the most complete back on the roster. His ability also includes being the position group’s best pass blocker, something that was consistently lacking last season. Booker doesn’t have quite as good hands out of the backfield as Poole, but he is solid enough of a threat to keep opposing defenses honest. Regardless of which running back stands atop of the depth chart at the end of fall camp, plan on both backs getting significant playing time. Part of Dave Christensen’s offensive schemes includes two back sets, so having both Poole and Booker on the field at the same time is a definite possibility.

Perhaps the biggest surprise this spring wasn’t the great play of Poole and Booker, but the head turning sparked by speedy redshirt freshman Troy McCormick. McCormick may be small (listed at 172 soaking wet carrying a boulder onto the scale), but what he lacks in size he makes up for in agility and raw speed. Touted as 4.38 40 back, McCormick is a legitimate threat to take it to the house on any given down. He has shiftiness - numerous times this spring he made Utah’s defense miss and look silly, but he also has a tenacity to keep his legs churning, spinning, whatever he can do to get additional yardage. Needs to work on his hands and catching it out of the backfield, but once the ball is there he can take care of the rest. Pass blocking looked suspect as well, but both of those traits are fixable by coaching and proper technique. He may not have the size right now to be Utah’s feature back, but he is simply too good not to see the field this fall in some capacity.

In keeping with Utah’s latest recruiting theme, Williams brings much needed speed to a program still seeking an identity in its relatively new conference home. It remains to be seen if Williams will play running back or corner for Utah, but what we do know is that the offensive coaching staff has a lot of interest in keeping him on the offensive side of the ball after watching game film from his senior season in high school. Williams, similar to McCormick, has the ability to turn what appears to be a short gain into a big play with his quick feet and his ability to change direction without losing steam. Williams will have a shot to impress coaches quickly this fall, but I see a redshirt season as the most probable scenario unfolding.

Projected Post Fall Depth Chart
Booker Or
Poole

McCormick
Young

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