With recruiting heating up and fall camp around the corner, it is a good time to assess how the Buffs are looking at each position going into the season and for the upcoming years. A few days ago, we covered the quarterback position. Next up are the running backs. Below is the depth at the position by eligibility year as we stand today:
|Summer Eligibility Chart - Running Backs|
|POS||SR||JR||SO||R-FR||2011 SIGNEES||2012 VERBALS|
|RB||Rodney Stewart||Josh Ford||Tony Jones||Malcolm Creer||Terrence Crowder|
|Brian Lockridge||Cordary Allen|
2011 Season - Things look bright for the Colorado Buffaloes at the running back position, something we were unsure of a year ago. The Buffs best offensive player in 2011, Big 12 All Conference running back Rodney Stewart, returns off a 1,300 yard rushing season. Stewart averaged just under 110 yards/game, which ranked him 12th in the NCAA and third in the Big 12 conference. The only other Pac-12 player who ran for more yards a game a year ago was Heisman finalist LaMichael James from Oregon. Stewart also caught 29 passes for 290 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
The 5'7" running back also showed his durability and established himself as the Buffs' workhorse a year ago, playing in all 12 games averaging 27 touches per. Returning senior RB Brian Lockridge had the next most carries, 35. The Buffs lose Will Jefferson due to injury. Jefferson played both wide receiver and running back in 2010. He caught 14 passes and ran the ball 29 times, often out of the wildcat formation.
Some feel the Buffs lack depth at the position but based on the spring performances of other running backs not named Rodney Stewart, Colorado should be fine. Redshirt freshman Tony Jones and sophomore Josh Ford turned out great performances in the scrimmages and spring game. Both are smaller running backs like Stewart (Jones - 5'7" 180lbs / Ford 5'9" 195lbs / Stewart / 5'7" 175lbs) but what impressed me most about the young players this offseason is the power which they ran with. Jones leg drive is great after contact and he finishes runs by lowering his shoulder, not going down easily. Jones, the former Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year, ran for 60 yards on 11 carries in the second scrimmage and 53 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, scoring a touchdown in each simulated contest. Jones often drew the praise of Bieniemy and head coach Jon Embree this offseason.
Ford made his name in the spring game, running for 164 yards on 17 attempts and a score. Ford, a former Mullen High School standout, transferred back home from Kansas State.
Another reason for optimism is the return of offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, a former running back at Colorado and coach of NFL Pro Bowl RB Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. Bieniemy will be a great resource for the young running backs waiting in the wings behind Stewart.
Depth - Rodney Stewart will be a key player and the focus of the Buffs' offense in 2011. He showed in 2010 that he is durable and can stay healthy while maintaining a heavy workload. Although the running backs behind Stewart are inexperienced, they seem capable based on their spring performances. Brian Lockridge returns from an injury riddled 2011 season. He will provide speed out of the backfield and has the most-game experience behind Stewart. For his career, Lockridge has 87 carries for 404 yards and three scores. He has also had some success as a kick returner.
Don't be surprised if Tony Jones is second on the depth chart for the Hawaii game, though, and by the end of the season getting some meaningful carries to help preserve Stewart. The Buffs don't have a bye this year, playing 13 straight games in a row and although Stewart carried the entire load a year ago, it will be imperative for Lockridge, Jones, Ford and bigger back Cordary Allen to step up and provide Bieniemy with a viable rotation.
Malcolm Creer, an incoming 2011 signee, looks to be a redshirt candidate but most are excited about his potential. The 5'11", 200 pound RB out of Palisades, California picked CU over Washington. Creer seems like a high character guy who passes the eye test on film. He's physical, runs with balance, and rarely gets hit straight up. When he takes the field this fall, he and Cordary Allen will be the two biggest running backs on the team.
2012 Recruiting - The Buffs have one running back commitment so far in Terrence Crowder. Crowder, 5'10" 212 pound back from Galena, Texas picked CU over offers from Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas and Texas-San Antonio. He earned first-team all-district honors as a junior, rushing for 1,338 yards and 15 touchdowns while helping Galena Park High School to a 7-4 record.
Crowder is a little under the radar having not been reviewed by rivals.com yet. He is listed as a two star on scout.com.
Bottom Line: The Buffs have one of the top running backs in the Pac-12 in Rodney Stewart. He should thrive under the tutelage of Eric Bieniemy and the pro-style offense they plan to implement. The offense will feature a full back as well as the use of a multiple tight ends which should be music to Stewart's ears. Throw in the fact that Colorado brings back one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country and has a couple of weapons at the receiver position; it is easy to start getting excited about the running game.
If players like Tony Jones or Josh Ford can step up and nab 50-75 carries from Stewart this year to keep him fresh, I expect a big year from the senior. Keeping Stewart healthy over a grueling 13 game season with no bye weeks is something the coaching staff will have to manage.