Commentary

RB lessons from TCU

The Longhorns could model the approach taken by the Horned Frogs

Updated: May 10, 2012, 7:31 PM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

Gary Patterson hasn't worried about egos.

[+] EnlargeTCU
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Ed Wesley was one of three TCU backs with more than 700 yards rushing in 2011. Wesley averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

Or stats.

Or even who starts when.

Instead, the TCU coach has two things on his mind when it comes to his running backs -- wins and staying healthy.

"A recruit will come in and say who's your No. 1 tailback," Patterson said. "We don't care about that. We just want you to be productive while you are here and be healthy when you leave."

For the past three years that has been the case for the Horned Frogs. Since 2009 they are the only FBS program that has had three running backs each rush for at least 500 yards each season while also having a quarterback throw 190 or more completions.

TCU's record over that time is 36-3.

There you go Texas fans, it can be done. And in 2012, the Longhorns could have the weapons to do it.

Johnathan Gray, the nation's top running back recruit, will join Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in the backfield in 2012. That combination has some salivating over the possibilities -- namely co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.

But there are a few questions that have lingered this offseason: Are there enough carries to go around? Should Bergeron go to fullback? Will one transfer? Is Gray only going to be used in the wild formation?

Quick answers: Yes. No. It's impossible to predict, but doubtful. And no.

What Texas has because of these three running backs, as well as an offensive line that returns four of five starters, is the potential to have three backs gain more yards in a single season than any trio in Mack Brown's 14-year tenure.

The trio might not get 1,000 yards each. But at least 700 yards each, just like TCU's Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker did in 2011, is certainly a realistic proposition.

Brown, Bergeron and Fozzy Whittaker combined for 1,611 yards on 310 carries in 2011. Brown had the bulk of that with 742 yards on 172 carries. Bergeron had 463 on 72 carries. Whittaker had 386 on 66 carries. Overall, the trio averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas can help its injury-prone running backs by spreading the ball around and diversifying their roles.
Texas had another 84 carries by Jeremy Hills and Cody Johnson. Unless there is another injury, Hills probably will not touch the ball much in 2012. Johnson is gone, and Bergeron, not fullback Ryan Roberson, will most likely get the ball in short yardage situations.

So the potential is there for Texas to have at least 400 rushing attempts from Brown, Bergeron and Gray. Maybe more if Texas cuts down slightly on its 358 pass attempts from a year ago. And if it moves some of D.J. Monroe's 42 carries from 2011 over to one of the running backs.

That means Texas very conceivably could rush for 2,000-plus yards with the three running backs. Divide that number by three and there are three rushers approaching 700 yards.

Of course, dividing things up is the tricky part.

Patterson said it is just a matter of getting egos out of the way and letting the players know early on that this is in their best interest.

"You attack it with the fact that it is all about winning and staying healthy," he said. "They know whether it is 700 or 1,400 yards, what really matters when it comes to getting to the next level is yards per carry."

That is the number that the pro scouts are looking at, the coach said. The scouts are also looking to see how much wear and tear a player had to go through in college. In fact, according to Mack Brown, it was the prospect of not having to carry the entire load that attracted Gray, as well as his father, former NFL running back James Gray, to Texas.

"(James Gray) said in the process, 'I want you to get good backs. That is one of the most important things in the process, because I want Johnathan to play with good backs, and I want there to be some depth there,' " Brown said. "I thought that was a very unique approach and a very sensible approach."

Now everyone will just have to wait and see what type of approach Texas takes when it comes to its trio of running backs.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation