Running Backs: A CF.C fall camp preview

AT RUNNING BACK, the Cougs have more experience back than they've seen in years -- there are six returnees who could legitimately start, and each one brings something different to the table. But will the Cougs really be able to run it down an opponent's throat? A comprehensive CF.C positional overview at running back, with analysis, strengths and weaknesses, facts, figures, depth chart and more.


DEPTH CHART:  R-SrDwight Tardy (5-10, 208);  R-JrJames Montgomery (5-10, 202);  R-JrMarcus Richmond (6-1, 220);  R-So. Logwone Mitz (6-1, 224);  Sr. Chris Ivory (6-0, 225);  Sr. Chantz Staden (5-10, 202);  R-Jr. Remy Martin (6-2, 225);  R-Sr. Casey Thometz (6-0, 210);  Fr. Arthur Burns (5-10, 210);  Fr. Carl Winston (5-9, 200); Fr. Leon Brooks (5-7, 160)  


INJURIES:  Chris Ivory and Chantz Staden each missed the spring, with hamstring and knee injuries, respectively. Their status for fall camp remains to be seen, starting on Sunday.

OVERVIEWThe deepest position on offense or defense, the Cougars at running back have no fewer than six running backs who have seen Pac-10 action -- and six running backs who could legitimately earn a start

The Cougs would like to be balanced on offense but they're also going to go with what works best and if the spring was any indication, that might mean putting the running game front and center.

Tardy has led the Cougs each of the last three years in rushing and is the most experienced, with eight starts last year and 26 starts over his WSU career. Mitz played in all 13 games last year getting one start, while Ivory had one start in five games played in '08. Richmond played in all 13 games this past season and Staden had three starts in 11 games played.

And Montgomery, who sat out all last season after transferring from Cal, is the back who has created the most buzz, particularly coming out of the spring session.

Tardy last year was coming off a torn ACL his sophomore year and while modern medicine has progressed to the point a RB suffering a serious knee injury can come actually back the very next year, (amazing) the back in question almost never is full speed or full strength -- that only truly comes back the second year. And that, in a nutshell, was Tardy in '08.

In '09, he figures to have that extra half step back. Some of those ankle tackles that tripped him up last year, as he was breaking towards daylight, figure to be clutch air this season. 

Montgomery is a shifty back who can change direction and speeds, get lost in between the tackles and plain old make defenders look bad. He also has some sneaky power. 

He gave the WSU defense, both last season and this spring, fits at times. While that kind of back by definition leaves some yards on the table at times, he is also the type who is capable of breaking a long one at any time.

Richmond took a good-sized step forward last season. He didn't get many carries but did produce 4.6 yards each time he touched the pigskin. His biggest improvement in '08 was also to that point his biggest deficiency, blocking, which he improved considerably.

He also great hands, so much so the Cougs have toyed with the idea in the past of moving him to receiver. But in the Cougs' no-huddle, multiple set offense this year, he might find a valuable niche as a runner, receiver and blocker.

Mitz has shown flashes -- he had 90 carries for 497 yards last season, including the 57-yard touchdown dash, keyed by Richmond's block, that helped turn the tide in the Cougs' Apple Cup win in '08. 

To reach the next level, Paul Wulff has said, Mitz needs to become more consistent in the varying areas of the running back game. But he loves contact and will go get the tough yards.

Ivory has endured an injury-plagued career. When healthy, he's shown a rare mix of speed and power that has left fans dreaming of what's to come.

Unfortunately, he's never made it through an entire season at WSU. Hamstring and other issues have forced him to the sidelines -- he's played in only 13 games combined out of a possible 25 the last two seasons, including five in '08. If he's healthy in '09, he's well capable of making a decided impact but the last three years seem to indicate that could be a big "if" and he'll need to prove first he can stay on the field.

Staden is coming off a season ending knee injury. Depending on how far along he is on his rehab by the end of fall camp, he can help the Cougs not only at running back but also in the return game.

Burns and Winston each come in with laudable high school credentials. But with the quality of experience ahead of them, redshirts might be in order. At the same time, there's someone each fall the coaches plan on redshirting, who performs so well he earns PT.

Martin and Thometz, along with newcomer Brooks, figure to have a difficult time earning playing time given the talent ahead of them but each could make an impact on special teams if they perform well in fall camp.

AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY:  With four starting offensive linemen returning, and the most running back experience in years in the Wazzu backfield, the Cougars will pound the ball, win the time of possession battle more often than not and in crunch time, and surprise a few teams this year. The backs are a diverse group, and can make their own yards at times.

A PESSIMIST WOULD SAYThe line, and the backs, have yet to prove they can move the pile and put up yards, Ivory and Staden may not be physically ready to contribute all season, they're not -- collectively -- the fastest group out there and if opponents don't have to respect the passing game, they'll stack the line and blunt WSU's advantage.

STAR PLAYER:  To be determined.  Tardy has been the most productive and could be ready to put up his best numbers. But Montgomery is a touchdown waiting to happen, and many more backs are capable of cranking out the yards.

UNIT STRENGTH:  Experienced depth.  

UNIT WEAKNESS:  Overall speed.

NOTABLE NOTE:  Four different running backs started for WSU last year -- Tardy (8), Staden (3), Mitz (1) and Ivory (1).

WULFF: "They all still can improve a lot more on game day. They all have a lot to prove and it should be a great competition. Whoever is playing the best is probably going to see the most playing time. All will have an opportunity to play, but at the same time if someone is playing real well we have to go with the hot hand....we have the ability to get to the edge with speed, have the ability to run downhill with power and can catch the ball out of the backfield. There is something there we can work with."


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