By Tom Karren
Joe Williams (Sr)
Last season Williams rushed 104 times for 477 yards and 3 touchdowns, the bulk of which came in the final three games of the season after Devontae Booker fell to injury. Williams is a very talented player. As a starter he averaged 4.6 yard per carry, a number just slightly below that of current Denver Bronco RB Booker (4.7). He crossed the 100-yard threshold in the season’s final two games against UCLA and Colorado and racked up 91 and 2 touchdowns against BYU in the bowl game. If he can sustain those numbers over the course of an entire season, Utah’s backfield will be in very good shape. There’s no doubt Williams is Utah’s starter heading into fall camp but he has some talent behind him who will push for playing time if given the opportunity.
Troy McCormick (Jr)
McCormick is a small but highly-touted speedster out of Katy, Texas who had fans excited about his potential before an unfortunate knee injury sidelined him for the 2015 season. He saw limited playing time in 2014 with moderate results but showed his potential in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl rushing 5 times for 86 yards including a nifty 49-yard breakaway. His spring injury last year may have sidelined him both on the field and in the minds of many Ute fans, but his raw abilities should give comfort as Utah has a very skilled player backing up Williams. McCormick’s biggest battle may not be Joe Williams and the depth chart but instead an injury bug that could continue to haunt him. His small frame (5’9” 175lbs) may help his top-end speed but it won’t play well against the size and aggressiveness of the players he’ll face weekly on Pac-12 defenses.
Marcel Manalo (RS Fr)
California standout and 2015 3-star recruit Marcel Manalo saw some playing time this spring battling Troy McCormick for backup reps. Manalo, formerly Marcel Brooks-Brown, was the shooting victim at a party in Salt Lake City last summer forcing the freshman to miss the 2015 season as he recuperated. Now just a year later and with a new name he rushed twice for 19 yards and scored a touchdown in the Red/White game back in April and looked like a good young back for the Utes. Manalo started for the Red squad and hopes to build on the momentum he had as spring practices came to a close. He’s a powerful runner who does well between the tackles. He’s a player, assuming he continues to develop, that Utah can use as a change-of-pace back due to his size (5’11” 210lbs) and powerful running style.
Armand Shyne (JUCO So)
Utah picked up the commitment of junior college transfer Armand Shyne in late June and were able to include the player in their 2016 signing class making him eligible to participate this upcoming season. Shyne was recruited out of the same JC that produced Devontae Booker and the Utes are obviously hoping they’ve landed another under-the-radar star to their depth chart. On film Shyne looks like a clone of the former Ute back, running with a similar mix of agility, power, vision, and speed. He rushed for 734 yards on 128 carries at American River College last season, a whopping 5.7 yards per carry, after piling up over 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior out of Skyline (CA).
Zack Moss (Fr)
Moss was a nice get for Utah out of the state of Florida this past recruiting cycle. The one-time Miami (FL) commit, Moss re-opened his recruitment when Miami made a change at head coach. Despite offers from programs like Louisville, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Utah was able to land him thanks in part to the commitments of his high school teammates Demari Simpkins and Tyler Huntley. Moss is a bigger body at 5’10” 200lbs and is a powerful runner with the potential to become an every down back for Utah before his career is over. He runs with strength and has the ability to create yards after contact which is a skill that could help set him apart from other young players trying to win playing time. Moss is currently suffering from stress fractures in both shins. If properly treated, these injuries shouldn’t affect his long-term career. They will, however, affect his status as fall camp begins and will likely prevent the back from suiting up in 2016. While Moss will most likely redshirt this upcoming season as he recovers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him creep up the depth chart over the next year or two.
Devontae Henry-Cole (Fr)
Devontae Henry-Cole kept Utah’s Florida (and St Thomas Aquinas HS specifically) pipeline alive when he committed to the program last fall. DHC is a change of pace freshman to Zack Moss running with speed and agility rather than raw power. Henry-Cole is dangerous in the open field and will run away from most defenders if he can get to the second level. He is a bit on the small side at 5’8” 180lbs but he’ll add a different dimension to Utah’s backfield when partnering with Moss down the road. As far as his immediate impact is concerned, I wouldn’t expect much (if anything) this season. He’s an athlete with great vision and speed and could contribute early in his career, I just wouldn’t expect to see him in the backfield much in 2016.
Projected End of Camp Depth Chart Projection
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Utah lists just two running backs on their “pre-camp” depth chart – returning starter Joe Williams and Troy McCormick who missed all of 2015 with a knee injury, however the true depth Utah has at the position is much stronger than that. Barring injury Williams will enter the season as the no-doubt starter, but keep in mind McCormick showed impressive ability in the Las Vegas Bowl (2014) as Booker’s backup. Williams will begin fall camp with high expectations yet he’s not a perfect back. His silky-smooth running style may be fun to watch but his slippery moves are at times met with equally slippery paws. He officially fumbled just twice in 2015, both coming late in the season in games that he started, however there were often signs that his ball security skills were lacking and that will need to be addressed if he expects to be a productive - and sustained - starter for the Utes. Troy McCormick may be small and may be a bit rusty, but he won’t give Williams the starting job without a fight. Behind Williams and McCormick are a couple of players likely to see limited time in Manalo and JUCO transfer Shyne, guys who could blossom quickly if given the right opportunity. Next in line and lease likely to play in 2016 are a couple of hungry freshmen who will learn from their older teammates throughout the 2016 campaign. Barring injury I don’t expect Henry-Cole to contribute much this season but he will provide skill and depth should the Utes need to lean on him at any point in the year. Moss is battling stress fractures and is likely to redshirt.