Pondering the Cougar RBs in 2013

THE ROLES OF the running back seem to be changing in both the college and NFL games -- for the first since the 1960s, not a single running back was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft this year. If the Air Raid offense hits its stride in 2013, some Cougar running back is going to post 60-plus receptions this season. That's more than the leading Coug receiver had all of last year.

The safe money is on Teondray Caldwell, who was the Cougs' top running back performer this spring. But Theron West and Marcus Mason saw more reps with the starting unit than most pundits had expected heading into the spring session.

By the way, there are any number of reasons given for the shift to the spread offense in college football, with more passing and less value placed on traditional, big and bruising running backs. One of the more interesting is this: it's because of spring football.

UNTIL THE EARLY 90s, spring football allowed for full-pad, full-contact practices every day. At many schools, the spring sessions were brutal and saw a bunch of injuries. In 1998, the rules were changed. Instead of 20 practices, the number decreased to 15 and there were more days in between sessions, the number of contact and full tackling days also were decreased significantly -- as were full scrimmages.

Coaches had to adapt. So they did more one-on-one drills with players in pads and shorts. And because coaches couldn't simulate power running games in 11-on-11 formations, the spread then came into being.

CALDWELL IS THE frontrunner coming out of the spring because he was the most consistent, the most reliable. He also has a good burst, a good plant-and-go, as it were. But he doesn't hold a clear advantage in all facets of the game, and that leaves open the door for others to line up in the starting backfield in various situations.

West is one to watch. He probably did more this spring than he got credit for, and he's quick and slippery. Mike Leach likes to get the ball to his playmakers in space and while he's still a work in progress, West out in space is a dangerous prospect for a defense.

Mason has good hands, better than he's given credit for. What he does after the catch has been what's kept him from seizing the top job. Instead of a play that would yield an eight-yard gain, he'd get half of that.

FOR ALL THREE, they figure to face a stiff challenge in fall camp when Arizona transfer Daniel Jenkins, and true freshmen Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow arrive. It's a pretty good bet Jenkins, Wicks and Morrow are working on their reception skills as we speak.

And fans will continue to hear about the low number of rushing attempts by the Cougs in the Air Raid -- which is a distorted view some in the media continue to regurgitate. You certainly need to be able to run the football to a degree, but Texas Tech running backs averaged a stunning 64.7 receptions a year under Leach.

What some never seem to grasp -- it's not about rushing attempts, it's about a running back's total yards under Leach.

Which Cougar running back seizes that role in 2013 is up for grabs.

  • WSU's Brett Bartolone was the Cougs' leading receiver last season with 53 receptions.

  • Three Cougar running backs, Caldwell, Mason and Carl Winston tied for the top mark in the backfield with 14 receptions each. The lowest number of receptions by a Texas Tech running back under Leach was 34, the highest was 98.

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