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Tech running back lineup runs deep

Red Raiders have young running backs with the potential to get better

Posted: June 22, 2013 - 10:53pm  |  Updated: June 23, 2013 - 12:45am
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Kenny Williams returns as part of a loaded backfield for Texas Tech. (Stephen Spillman)
Kenny Williams returns as part of a loaded backfield for Texas Tech. (Stephen Spillman)
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The bad news about the Texas Tech running game is it ebbed for much of the Big 12 Conference season last year, leading to a No. 86 finish in rushing offense.

The good news is the Red Raiders have young running backs with the potential to get better and the variety to attack a defense in whatever manner coaches prefer. There’s Kenny Williams for power, DeAndre Washington for speed and Sadale Foster and Quentin White for multi-purpose roles.

“It’s a good mix of backs,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said recently.

Preseason practice will be important because the Red Raiders seem to have more running backs than spots in the rotation, and the way they use Foster will come into clearer focus.

Williams, Washington and Foster already have shown they can hold their own in the Big 12. The competition runs deeper, however. Redshirt freshman White made eye-catching plays in the spring and the February signing class yielded Navarro College transfer Tyler Middleton, who was the second-leading rusher in his juco conference and a bowl game MVP.

“I’ve been used to rotating three,” Kingsbury said, “so we’ll see how many we end up with in the fall, maybe redshirt somebody or make that adjustment when we get there. But we’ve been pretty good with a three-man rotation.”

New running backs coach Mike Jinks and new inside receivers coach Eric Morris both list Foster in their depth chart — Jinks has him third at running back and Morris has him second at an inside receiver spot. Foster was a receiver in junior college, but showed his high-school running back roots in his first season at Tech.

“He’s another guy who we feel great about in the backfield or in the slot, which is huge for us in doing things with personnel groupings,” Kingsbury said. “He’s just a football player. Anybody that watched him last year, the plays he made, he’s a tough kid, very competitive and a leader on offense. We’ll do some different things with him.”

Jinks said his relationship with Kingsbury and the Kingsbury family were what convinced him to give up being head coach at Cibolo Steele, one of the state’s most successful high school programs, to join the Tech staff.

Inheriting a fleet of semi-established young running backs was a bonus.

“I really feel like I couldn’t have walked into a better situation,” Jinks said. “I mean that not only in terms of general talent, especially with Dre (Washington) getting healthy, but it’s also a good group of young men.

“I haven’t to this point had a lot of issues away from football to deal with. These guys pretty much take care of their business and they allow me to coach them, which is huge.”

The next step is for the unit to make progress from the last couple of seasons, when the key players all gained experience. Williams ran for 824 yards last year, Foster for 451 and Washington gained 336 yards two years ago as a freshman before the knee injury that led to his redshirting in 2012.

However, opponents held Tech to fewer than 115 rushing yards seven times in the first eight Big 12 games.

Williams and Washington have the inside track to two spots in the presumed three-back rotation. Jinks says they’re “1A and 1B” from what he saw in 15 March and April workouts.

Jinks says the 5-foot-9, 219-pound Williams reminds him of Malcolm Brown, the Texas Longhorns running back who he coached at Steele.

“Kenny Williams is a thumper,” Jinks said. “He brings attitude to our team. He has a presence on and off the football field that brings toughness. The thing I really was surprised about was he’s pretty agile. He showed me some things this spring that, just looking at him, you wouldn’t think he’d be able to do.”

Washington’s forte — speed — was no secret. The question is whether he’s all the way back from December 2012 knee surgery, but Kingsbury said, “he looked full go to me.” Former offensive coordinator Neal Brown indicated as far back as last August that Washington was on the brink of playing before deciding to hold him back.

“He has that burst that we’re looking so much for,” Jinks said.

Then there’s White and Middleton, two backs who haven’t taken a snap for Tech in a real game.

Middleton once beat Tech receiver Jakeem Grant in the 100 meters in the Class 5A UIL state track meet.

Middleton wasn’t on campus for spring practice, “but you can’t coach 10.5,” Jinks said, “so we’ll see what kind of element he brings to the room as well.”

White, sidelined by a broken foot during his redshirt season, bounced back in the spring and made coaches take notice with some dazzling runs. In fact, some were a little more dazzling than Jinks wanted.

“He has great lateral movement, an unbelievable spin move that I hate — that we’ve got to get him to quit doing,” Jinks said. “But Q’s got that low center of gravity. He squats 600 pounds. ... I was really impressed with him.”

Being the youngest in a unit that presents several options, White will need to keep it up to earn playing time. Kingsbury said being able to consistently handle all the running-back responsibilities is White’s key to being in the rotation.

“But talent-wise, making people miss, he can play,” Kingsbury said. “There’s no doubt. We feel comfortable about him playing right now. The first day of spring, even the first week, we wouldn’t have said that. But he grew up a lot during spring.”

There’s a good chance White will play on special teams, another area in which he impressed this spring, and even as a substitute for the fullback in two-back formations.

Fullback Omar Ontiveros, coming off a late-October knee injury, had no contact in the spring. In the meantime, Jinks looked at Williams and White in that spot in two-back sets.

That’s likely to carry over into September.

“I like the way Q did those things in the spring,” Jinks said. “We’ll look at that on a week-to-week, game-to-game basis, but initially in our two-back sets, I don’t know that we’ll use a bunch of the (fullback).”

don.williams@lubbockonline.com

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Depth chart

Running backs

Running back: Kenny Williams, Jr./DeAndre Washington, So.; Sadale Foster, Sr.; Quentin White, Fr.; Tyler Middleton, Jr.

Fullback: Omar Ontiveros, Sr.; Kenny Williams, Jr.; Quentin White, Fr.

Seniors lost: RB Eric Stephens.

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1
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RB and receiver are the only known

quantities on this team. If youth is not deep and playing well on the OL, it won't matter much.

2
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Couldnt agree more Pete

Lots of questionables on this team, but they do possess enough talent to win the Big 12 this season.

1
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Exactly. Lots of young potential talent that could win ...

...many games, and you are right, even a Big 12 ch:a:mpionship, IF: 3 new young OL play like upperclassmen; 4 new secondary starters are better than the 4 departing seniors; Brewer can put up numbers against 1st string Big 12 defenses; AND our front 7 can stop opposing running games.

I too am excited about our the upcoming season, but anything more than 8-4 is going to take a lot of good fortune.

1
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I wouldn't be surprised

I wouldn't be surprised by a 7-5 or a 9-3 season, but I would be very surprised by a 6-6 or a 10+ win season. That in my mind explains perfectly the potential and lack of experience on this team. Everyone should hope to hit that 8-4 sweet spot this first season (Or more obviously, just trying to be as realistic as possible).

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7-5 is the most realistic, but that says .......@

That another 4-5 conference record is on the way. So I am hoping for 8-4. Thought I read that 7 teams will be starting new QB's, so a 4th place finish is not out of reach. We do have a lot of youth at many positions, so talk of championships and 10 wins is not reasonable. Not impossible, but improbable and unrealistic until wafter we look back on this season. for next year.

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