Heading into the 2013 football season, the Texas Longhorns had one of the deepest stables of running backs in the country. Fast forward a few months and a position that was once a strength has become a troubling question mark.
The trouble started on a cold November night in Morgantown when sophomore Jonathan Gray went down with an Achilles injury. The Longhorn offense was never the same after Gray’s loss. Now, it is uncertain when he will be able to return and even more uncertain if he will ever be the same back he was before the injury.
Now, senior Joe Bergeron’s status with the team is cloudy. I’m sure most Longhorn fans breathed a soft sigh of relief when he took to Twitter to deny reports that he was going to transfer. However, when it was later announced the Bergeron would miss the remainder of spring practice, apparently due to grades, those fears came right back.
Has Austin seen the last of the B&B Trucking Company? If Bergeron does indeed leave, that would leave Texas with Malcolm Brown and not much else at one of the most important positions on the offense.
Does anyone remember when all of college football was drooling over Brown coming out of high school? It’s hard to remember now that he was once considered one of the bluest blue chips ever and most Longhorn fans thought he would be the savior of a proud Texas running back tradition.
Through three seasons, he has yet to prove worthy of that hype. Brown’s 2013 was his career best, when he gained 904 yards and scored 9 touchdowns. He also posted 4 of his 9 career 100 yard games in 2013 and broke his two longest runs from scrimmage: 30 yards against Kansas and 40 against Oregon.
Still, that’s a far cry from the type of production a savior is expected to put up. Brown lacks breakaway speed and explosion and at this point looks more like a between the tackles grinder than a true difference maker. He’s also missed eight games due to injury in his career and has only started 12 games in his three years combined.
Brown had better improve on his promising 2013, however, because there is nothing much behind him if Gray or Bergeron doesn’t come back in 2014.
Daje Johnson, for all his explosion and big play ability, is looking more and more like another D.J. Monroe; unable to harness his substantial talent consistently enough to be a true difference maker. Johnson struggled when Major Applewhite tried to use him as an every down back in ’13 and early reports are that he is destined for the slot in the new offense.
Then there is Jalen Overstreet. Overstreet tantalized in a mop-up role against New Mexico State in the season opener, gaining 92 yards and scoring two touchdowns. All he did after that was gain a sizzling 10 yards on 11 carries while failing to see the field in four games, including the disappointing Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon. Overstreet is a converted quarterback and will probably need more than one off-season of work to begin to grasp the complexities of being a regular running back.
The future may arrive this fall in the person of Donald Catalon. Catalon is a 6’0″ 200 lb back out of Houston Eisenhower with nice size and sprinter’s speed. If Gray is slow to return and/or Bergeron does indeed wash out, Catalon could walk on to campus as the number two back. The Texas coaching staff had better hope he’s worth it.
There will be another RB in the 2014 class in D’Onta Foreman, but Foreman projects more as a H-Back or full-fledged fullback due to his size and strength. If Foreman could be another Cody Johnson, he will carve out a niche for himself, but you still can’t hang your hat on a short yardage specialist.
Bergeron’s status could remain unsettled into the summer, but the hope is that he gets his grades in order and returns for his senior year at UT. Mack Brown’s staff never fully utilized him, although he shoulders some of the blame for that, but he also owes it to himself to see if the new staff can find a way to use him better.