- David Ubben, College Football
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This wasn't the spring Texas Tech envisioned last fall, especially at running back.
On February 17, Texas Tech became the league's first team to strap on the pads for 15 offseason practices.
The Red Raiders were deep at running back last fall, and Eric Stephens could have been the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ricky Williams in 1998. But his 565-yard 2011 season ended far too soon with a dislocated knee in the Red Raiders' fifth game. His status for 2012 is still in flux.
One name is left at the top of the depth chart: Kenny Williams.
"Like coach says, 'It’s my job to lose,'" Williams said.
With Washington and Stephens sidelined, Williams took advantage of the touches he got late in the season. He averaged almost 5 yards a touch on his 14 carries in the season's final two games. Included in that was the first and second touchdowns of his career in a season-ending loss to Baylor at Cowboys Stadium.
"I didn’t start, but I played a lot," he said. "That was pretty wild."
Williams came to Tech as the nation's No. 14 running back in the 2011 class. Even for a player as highly recruited as Williams, Year 1 was a long line of lessons.
"The overall speed of the game, catching on our plays and pass schemes," Williams said. "The whole first year was a learning experience."
Coaches told him they expect him to be the team's most improved player from the end of the season to the spring's start. He's physically gifted, but that only takes a running back so far, especially at pass-happy Texas Tech, which threw the ball more than all but one team in college football in 2012.
Washington and Stephens are hurt, but they can help Williams master the mental and technical side of the position.
"We'll go over blitz schemes. That’s one of our running back coach’s big things," Williams said. "Every running back can run the ball. What’s going to separate you is, can you pick up the blitz?"
He's still learning. But this spring, he's had to start doing and doing it often.
"We kind of feed off each other’s energy when we’re all out here," Williams said of his injured teammates, "but I’ve got to find a way to make my own energy and just pick it up."
Fellow 2011 running back recruiting classmate Bradley Marquez was moved to receiver, but Williams still has to outpace juco transfer SaDale Foster and teammate Ronnie Daniels to win the job officially.
And once Stephens and Washington do return, Williams isn't looking to hand the job over to his older competition.
"I expect to be a starter," he said. "Nothing less. You can’t expect anything less for yourself, right?"
This wasn't the spring Texas Tech envisioned last fall, especially at running back.On February 17, Texas Tech became the league's first team to strap on the pads for 15 offseason practices.