COLUMN: Search starts for next feature back
Ever since wide receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis said they’d be returning to OU for their senior seasons, people far and wide have been singing the praises of the Sooners’ 2011 squad.
However, as the offseason has progressed into the start of spring practice, Oklahoma looks a little less like an impenetrable fortress of a team. There are questions on both sides of the ball that will only be answered with time and the development of talent.
Although there are more pressing issues on this team, there is no more compelling position battle than at running back. For years, Oklahoma has been lucky enough to have at least one fantastic running back on every roster.
The string began with Quentin Griffin and has continued through KeJuan Jones, Adrian Peterson, Allen Patrick, Chris Brown and, most recently, DeMarco Murray.
Now several talented backs look to take over the feature back title for the Sooners in 2011.
Leading the list is sophomore Roy Finch. Finch has been cleared for contact during spring practice, but his involvement will likely be minimal to ensure no further damage is done to the ankle that kept him out of last year’s Fiesta Bowl. Finch ran for 398 yards on 85 carries and two scores last season.
But there is a quartet of former backups with experience vying for next season’s starting spot.
Sophomores Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller, along with juniors Jermie Calhoun and Dominique Whaley, all received most of their playing time in games that were well out of reach.
Clay is the most experienced of this group, receiving consistent playing time before getting injured in the second half of the Florida State game. Clay returned after the Texas game and played sparingly the rest of the season.
The wild card of the group may be incoming freshman Brandon Williams. Williams is already in Norman, participating in spring drills with the Sooners. The coaches, particularly running backs coach Cale Gundy, are already raving about his talent and abilities.
So how is this going to all shape up? There’s so much talent and only 60 minutes in a game.
Finch has the talent to be the go-to guy, but after two leg and ankle injuries just a year into his OU career, there are some questions about his durability.
Because Williams already is working with the team, his development will be sped up, allowing him to mature as a college football player.
Clay and Miller may overtake Williams because Williams is a freshman, but last season showed Stoops isn’t above starting a true freshman running back.
Too much talent at the running back position? Now there’s a problem worth having.
— Luke McConnell, journalism junior