SaDale Foster made a strong case in the spring for regular playing time. If that development surprised anyone initially, it shouldn’t now that Foster’s carrying it over into September.
The Texas Tech newcomer leads the Red Raiders in all-purpose yards after two games, thanks to getting 10 carries a game at running back, catching a couple of passes and returning any kickoff he can get his hands on.
Tech coaches knew when they recruited Foster he could return kicks and punts and catch the football. Those were his specialties at Riverside (Calif.) City College, where he played receiver the last two years. They believed he could run the ball, too, but the Red Raiders’ last two games were Foster’s first two at running back since his days at Riverside North High School.
He had to summon those instincts.
“I feel like they came back to me a lot in the spring,” Foster said this week. “I got my cutting ability back and my vision, and I was able to see holes as opposed to playing slot receiver where it was just me and a man and reading a zone and the coverage. I feel like my feet are back under me and I have my balance back a little bit better. I’m still adjusting, though.”
The 5-foot-7 junior shed 10 pounds after spring at the request of offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who thinks Foster can move better in his current 185- to 187-pound range.
So far, it seems to be working. Foster had an 11-carry, 44-yard night in a 44-6 rout of Northwestern State. He turned 10 carries last week against Texas State into 52 yards.
“I could have run it on a more consistent basis — just follow my reads and get to the hole a little bit faster when I’m cutting and go,” Foster said. “But other than that, I think I ran the ball pretty well.”
It remains to be seen how playing time will shake out in a crowded running back picture. Tech came out of the first two games having allocated 22 carries to senior Eric Stephens, 21 to Foster and 20 to sophomore Kenny Williams. Williams has 136 yards, Stephens 120 and Foster 96.
“We wanted these first two games — and hopefully go through this week, too — to give them some even reps and figure out who gives us the best opportunity to play the most snaps,” Brown said.
Brown said all three have a good chance to keep getting regular playing time. Stephens is the most established. Williams offers a power-running dimension, and Brown said Williams had the best game of his career in pass protection last week.
What Foster provides, Brown said, is a player who works well in space and can catch — he had 56 receptions for 750 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He can be lined up in the backfield, sent in motion or split out. Recently, Brown said Foster’s patience to let lanes develop was making him the team’s best runner in short-yardage situations.
When the Red Raiders use two-back sets that don’t involve fullback Omar Ontiveros, Brown said Foster is always part of the package.
“We’re able to get him several reps a game just by using that personnel grouping, and we’ll probably continue to do that,” Brown said. “Number one, it makes me give him reps. The second thing is we use motion and do some things out of that that get him in space.”
Foster said he understands opportunities are limited when sharing time with two others, so he has to keep himself ready. Meantime, he’s a top choice to return kickoffs, a duty at which he averaged 28.5 yards last season. Foster gave the Red Raiders good field position at Texas State with a 27-yard runback to the Tech 35-yard line and a 40-yard return to the Tech 48.
NCAA rulesmakers moved kickoffs up 5 yards this season to reduce the frequency of high-speed collisions. The tradeoff is touchbacks come out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20.
“That changed a lot of things,” Foster said, “because most of the time in your mind you feel like you’re not going to get to return it, because everybody’s going to kick it in the end zone. When they do kick it to you, it’s a surprise. You have to make the best of your opportunities.”
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