If you live in the greater Denver area, you are amongst a world of utter turmoil. Everywhere you look, Jay Cutler this, Bus Cook that, Josh McDaniels said, he said, she said.
Because of that, I assume we all could use a little brightness in our day unless you have already cracked that fifth Guiness and found your own solution to finding happiness.
Brightness and football haven't gone together for a while in these parts, so this post is intended to bring the combination back together and show that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That light when looking at CU football is with the running back position where it is safe to assume that we should all expect to see something special occur. Of course, the passing game needs to get better and the offensive line needs to stay healthy but the Buffs have four running backs right now that all bring something to the table and if a few things click around them, they may be on the leading edge of bringing CU back to some level of national prominence. Below is a first look at the guys who will be in black and gold next year at running back/fullback:
check out the rest after the jump...
I bet if you ask 10 Buff fans who they are most excited to see play in 2009, you would probably get 8 people saying Darrell Scott or Rodney Stewart. It would have been 10 out of 10 for Darrell Scott last offseason but don't let a slow freshman season fool you into thinking that Scott has lost some of his luster. Scott will still be the guy everyone comes to see and will probably be the first guy most team reports comment on. But Darrell Scott wasn't the only freshman running back story last year as most of the focus belonged to Rodney Stewart. Stewart, small but well-built, burst onto the scene against West Virginia to lead the Buffs in rushing in the 2008 campaign. Until he suffered a season ending leg injury against Texas A&M, he was on pace to get to the 1,000 yard mark, something that has been relatively uncommon for a freshman to do at Colorado. Even with the setback, most still considered him the offensive MVP last year with electrifying performances against West Virginia, Florida State and Kansas State. Based on a few sources including Tim Griffin at ESPN, Stewart is recovering well from his injury and " doubts that the coaches will hold him back any" this spring. Director of SID at CU, Dave Plati, also lists him as a "Full Go" for spring ball, something that should be music to Buff fans' ears. Darrell Scott, Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge will have their work cut out to try and unseat Stewart.
Now to Darrell Scott. Personally, I wish we would have redshirted him last year but no doubt, we saw glimpses of greatness in the games against Eastern Washington, Iowa State and Texas A&M but they were often overshadowed by injuries and struggles with conditioning. There is no mistaking it, Scott came into camp overweight and that led to injuries his freshman year. A redshirt would have alleviated these problems as he got up to speed, but the injury to Stewart late in the season, would have forced him to play no matter what. Regardless of what happened last year, it is now a new year and I think all the talk about him being a bust is ludicrous. I believe Darrell Scott will come out this year and not only prove he is the best running back at Colorado but it won't even be close. He is down to his optimal weight at 200 - 205 pounds and if there was one thing that you could see him missing last year it was his acceleration. Remember he came in almost 20 pounds overweight last fall.
A few other things that will help Darrell Scott (as well as all the other backs) is a more experienced and healthy line as well as a new offensive scheme that will allow him to line up in a more conventional "I" formation. Last year's offensive system was not conducive to a running back being successful. I think Scott having a lead blocker along with ability to read the defense will have a major impact. With all the injuries and a lack of a mobile quarterback for most of the year, the running backs were left on an island, especially Darrell Scott. Finally, Scott was a freshman. Like many of our readers have brought up, name five other running backs who had impacts as freshman last year. It just doesn't happen. Look for a very improved year from Scott.
The two other running backs who should see some time toting the rock this year are Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge. Sumler proved to be a good asset out of the backfield last year in both the passing and running game. He also was CU's most skilled pass protector in the backfield, which had him in the game for many third down situations. Scott, Stewart and Lockridge will all have to learn from Sumler to be trusted in third down and passing situations. I expect, like Darrell Scott, for the modified offensive scheme to help Demetrius Sumler. Sumler was the third leading rusher last year.
The other back of note is Brian Lockridge, who redshirted last year because of injury. He will enter the 2009 campaign as a sophomore. If you remember, Lockridge saw a pretty good amount of playing time as a freshman in 2007, gaining 213 yards, good enough for third on the team and an average of 5.6 per carry. Lockridge is slender at 175 pounds but is another change of pace back that you may see the Buffs put in the slot for a more dynamic offering. Look for FB Jake Behrens to play a bigger part this year as a lead blocker for the new offensive system.
Need to Replace:
Nobody. Barring any injuries, the Buffs will have the same unit at running back for the next two years. Continuity!
Players to Watch:
Of course, Scott and Stewart don't need to be watched. They are expected to be the #1's going into the season. Watch out for how they use Stewart and Lockridge this season, though. Lockridge has already shown that he has the ability to play at this level and could force himself into some good playing time situations. Last offseason, I speculated that Stewart could be a great option in the slot (because with his ability, CU had to find touches for him) and I feel the same way about Lockridge playing a dual role in this offense. The key for the Buffs is getting playmakers on the field and the ball in their hands. If used right, I think Lockridge can be that 5 - 8 times a game change of pace playmaker.
Top 3 Question Marks:
Youth - It is still a factor no matter how you cut it. Scott, Lockridge and Stewart are all sophomores, although very experienced sophomores. Even Sumler is still a junior. Stewart has shown he can handle the reins but will the Buffs be able to limit the growing pains of missed blocking assignments, etc?
- Is Scott ready to be the man? For all intensive purposes, Scott is at his optimal playing weight, has an offseason to prepare for the upcoming season, should be recovered from injuries and has seen some of the lofty expectations fade with time. He is out of the "recruiting sites" spotlight as it is now on Bryce Brown from the 2009 class.Basically, it is just time for Darrell Scott to just play ball and I think that is what he thrives at.
- Durability - whenever you mention running backs, you always have to look at the their durability. With this group, it is a valid question. Brian Lockridge medical redshirted last year due to a sports hernia, Rodney Stewart is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss the last three games of the year and Darrell Scott seemed to have multiple nagging ankle/knee injuries all year. Stewart and Lockridge aren't the biggest guys on the field either. Was '08 just a bad luck year or will it be an ongoing problem?
First Game Depth Chart:
1. Darell Scott
2. Rodney Stewart
3. Demetrius Sumler