Jakeem Grant, Javares McRoy and Javon Bell are all receivers, and all handled the football on rushing plays during last month’s Texas Tech Red-Black Game.
That was one twist on the offense the Red Raiders made a priority throughout spring practice.
“We were trying to get some non-traditional guys carries,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “That’s something we’ve got to do. We’ve got to get Javares. We’ve got to get Jakeem. Eric Ward, Javon Bell, we’ve got to get guys like that involved in the run game, because we can be more productive with our carries.”
Before spring practice, Brown used Oregon standout De’Anthony Thomas as an example of a hybrid-style player he wants to develop. Thomas was the only player in major-college football last season with 500-plus yards apiece rushing, receiving and returning kicks.
Several times this spring, slot receivers such as Grant and Javares McRoy would go in motion pre-snap, then take a sweep handoff or forward flip pass and try to beat pursuit to the edge. In the Red-Black Game, Grant had an 11-yard run, Bell a 9-yard run and McRoy an 8-yard run. They each got a few more touches via forward passes as they motioned across the backfield.
All three players have a reputation for speed, so plays such as those are a guaranteed way to get them the ball.
Brown said having that dimension last year might have helped after running backs Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington suffered season-ending knee injuries.
“Our No. 1 goal was to improve in the run game,” Brown said. “We made some gains. I don’t think we’re necessarily there yet. (Tight end Jace) Amaro has become a lot better blocker, which has been one of the best things that came out of the spring was his run blocking was really improved.
“And I wanted to work with some of those non-traditional carries — getting Javares involved and Javon and Jakeem — and that’s been a plus.”
The 5-foot-6, 163-pound Grant and the 5-7, 166-pound McRoy ended spring listed 2-3 behind Austin Zouzalik at “H” inside receiver. Both redshirted in the fall.
The 6-foot, 184-pound Bell joined the team at mid-term. Brown recently said Bell or senior split end Marcus Kennard could redshirt to reduce the impact of losing five senior receivers to graduation after the 2012 season.
By getting receivers accustomed to handling the ball out of the backfield, the Red Raiders give themselves more options if Stephens and-or Washington have trouble coming back from major knee surgeries.
Stephens was an offensive hub last season with four 100-yard rushing performances in the first five games before he suffered a season-ending injury.
“Hopefully, he can come back,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said Monday. “He’s doing great in the weight room. He’s not running and cutting yet full speed. They say that’s going to be until June 1, and so we’ll have to wait and see from June 1 ’til the first of August to see how far along he comes.”
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