The Backfield Depth in College Station
By Paul Myerberg // May 8, 2012
I can think of several valid reasons why Texas A&M’s running back situation has gone overlooked before, during and after Kevin Sumlin’s first spring with the program. One reason is Sumlin himself, who steps in for Mike Sherman at a crucial juncture in the program’s history; this juncture doubles as the second reason, with A&M mere months away from its SEC debut. Then there are more nuts-and-bolts reasons, such as Ryan Tannehill’s departure and the ensuing quarterback competition and the move from Sherman’s pro-style system to the Air Raid-themed offense favored by Sumlin and new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.
So the Aggies’ stable of running backs has been lost in the shuffle — both in big-picture themes, like the coaching change and conference shuffle, and in the positional power structure, behind the team’s search for Tannehill’s replacement.
But it’s hard to ignore just how much backfield talent A&M has on the burner heading into this season. In addition, with two high-profile transfers likely taking a redshirt this season — one for sure as the other applies for a hardship waiver — the Aggies look set at running back in 2013.
Even with the departure of Cyrus Gray, the team’s leading rusher in each of the last two years, the Aggies go deep at the position heading into September. Part of this depth stems from Ben Malena’s solid play over the final two games of last season: he earned 160 yards on 48 tough carries against Texas and Northwestern, scoring twice in A&M’s bowl win over the Wildcats.
Malena isn’t a breakaway threat, but he does the little things wonderfully: he’s A&M’s best pass protector by leaps and bounds, as well as a nice change-of-pace option to senior Christine Michael, the Aggies’ lead back.
There are no concerns over Michael’s production; the issue with Michael is his ability — or inability, rather — to stay healthy. After missing the final five games of 2010, Michael was sidelined for the final four games of last season.
There’s no cure-all for Michael’s injury woes, though A&M can take some solace in Malena’s growth over the final two or three games of 2011. And if Michael does miss another multiple-game stretch, the Aggies are hopeful that true freshman Trey Williams can help Malena pick up the slack.
In a perfect world, Williams, who was ranked by Rivals.com as the third-best running back in the country and the 15th-best prospect overall, would see the field only in certain roles as a rookie, not as the Aggies’ lead back. If Michael does stay healthy, Williams merely adds another level of depth to a strong two pair at the position.
The Aggies should plan to go three-deep at running back, but there’s a chance that a fourth player moves into the rotation. In all likelihood, former Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams — another former five-star recruit — will take a redshirt. However, if he is able to gain a hardship waiver, the Aggies’ backfield depth might be unmatched in the SEC.
According to reports coming out of spring ball, Brandon Williams has been A&M’s most impressive back. Better yet, his work ethic has already rubbed off on his new teammates. “(Williams) has a motor like I’ve never seen before. He goes full speed every play, and that motivates me to go full speed every play,” Melana told Brent Zwerneman of The Houston Chronicle.
If Brandon Williams does sit out this season, he’ll join another major transfer making his College Station debut in 2013. The second, former Oregon back Tra Carson, made his transfer to A&M official in late April. Even with Michael now a senior, A&M has offset his departure by adding Trey Williams as a freshman and Brandon Williams and Carson as high-profile transfers.
The reason why A&M’s depth in the backfield is important is simple: Sumlin and Kingsbury’s offense won’t hit the ground running from day one. While the Air Raid has encountered little difficulty taking off from the start on the non-B.C.S. conference level — and in the Big East, to be fair — it’s not likely that the Aggies will experience that sort of success throwing the football during SEC play.
So while Sumlin and his staff look for a new starting quarterback, trying to find a clear starter from redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and sophomore Jameill Showers, the experience and talent at running back provides a level of comfort to an offense otherwise undergoing a bumpy transition.
Tags: Ben Malena, Brandon Williams, Christine Michael, Jameill Showers, Johnny Manziel, Kevin Sumlin, Kliff Kingsbury, SEC, Texas A&M, Tra Carson, Trey Williams
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