Spring Practices … First Look: Running Backs

Program Note … Spring practices begin March 18th (Spring Game: April 27th). Between now and the start of spring ball, previews will be posted for each unit of the 2019 Colorado roster.

… Previously posted: Quarterbacks

The roster: 

RUNNING BACKS (6 scholarship):

Seniors: Beau Bisharat
Juniors: None
Sophomores: Alex Fontenot
Redshirt freshmen: Jarek Broussard; Deion Smith
True freshmen: Joe Davis*; Jaren Mangham*

* Early enrollees, will be on campus for spring practices

The stats (2018):

Beau Bisharat … 21 carries for 143 yards; no touchdowns … no receptions

Alex Fontenot … 11 carries for 43 carries; one touchdown … no receptions

Joe Davis … (HS) 52 carries for 252 yards; five touchdowns … eight receptions for 79 yards; one touchdown (limited action due to an ankle injury). Davis played for Colorado state champion Valor Christian. He had over 2,500 yards rushing and over 1,100 yards receiving (with 42 touchdowns) in his high school career.

Jaren Mangham … (HS) Mangham rushed for over 1,000 yards as a junior and again as a senior at Detroit Cass Tech. He was named all-state both seasons, and won MVP honors in the Inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame World Bowl this winter.

Who will be CU’s next 1,000-yard rusher?

Last season, Virginia Tech transfer Travon McMillian rushed for 1,009 yards, despite carrying the ball behind a sub-standard offensive line.

In 2016 and 2017, Phillip Lindsay rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,189 in 2016; 1,474 in 2017), despite carrying the ball behind sub-standard offensive lines.

With those numbers, it would be fair to conclude that 1,000-yard rushers are relatively common at Colorado. After all, CU has had some pretty decent running backs over the years … and certainly has had more productive offensive lines.

The reality … since 1994, when Rashaan Salaam rushed for 2,055 yards on his way to the Heisman trophy, there were only three 1,000-yard rushers before Phillip Lindsay came along (Chris Brown in 2002; Bobby Purify in 2004; and Rodney Stewart in 2010).

So, in 2019, will Colorado regress to the mean … with no 1,000-yard rusher in Boulder?

Looking at the returning roster, that would be a reasonable conclusion.

Colorado will have six scholarship running backs on the roster in Mel Tucker’s first season – and four of those backs are freshmen.

The Buffs’ two returning backs, Beau Bisharat and Alex Fontenot had a combined 186 yards rushing in 2018, or 40 yards more than Travon McMillian had by himself last fall in CU’s 28-21 win over Arizona State.

Talk about a wide open competition …

Remember us?

Two of the players competing for playing time this spring are red-shirt freshmen. It’s easy for Buff fans to forget players who we were excited about last recruiting cycle, but who have spent the last year out of the spotlight, working on scout teams.

Allow me to reintroduce Jarek Broussard and Deion Smith.

Jarek Broussard … From Dallas, Texas … Rated as a 3-star recruit by the major recruiting services … Was the TAPPS District 1 MVP as a junior and a senior … Garnered first-team TAPPS All-State and All-District honors as a wide receiver both seasons as well … Team MVP as a senior … Under coach Chuck Faucette, the Friars went 12-1 his senior year, losing to St. Pius X in the semifinals of the D1 TAPPS Playoffs and went 9-5 as a junior when they beat Bishop Dunne 21-17 in the D1 TAPPS championship game … As a senior, he had 63 carries for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Deion Smith … From Houston, Texas … Rivals.com rated him as the No. 24 all-purpose back in the country … Had a 3-star rating from 247Sports.com and ESPN with ESPN ranking him 52nd at his position in the country … Ranked No. 46 on the Houston Chronicle’s Top 100 High School Football recruits list for the class of 2018 … Was a finalist for the Houston Chronicle Private High School Offensive Player of the Year award … First-team Southwest Houston Area TAPPS selection as a junior and received his team’s Playmaker Award that year … Under coach Terry Pirtle, the Eagles went 7-4 his senior year, 10-2 as a junior while reaching the TAPPS D2 Quarterfinals and 6-5 as a sophomore … In just five games as a senior (he suffered a knee injury midway through the season), he racked up 783 yards rushing on 81 carries, as he averaged 9.7 yards per carry, 156.6 yards per game and scored six TDs … As a junior, he rushed 122 times for 1,223 yards and gained 100 or more yards in 5-of-11 games.

What does “balance” mean? 

According to Neill Woelk’s bio of new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, Johnson’s offensive philosophy is simple — balance.

“Throughout his coaching career, his teams have almost always been adept at throwing and running the ball. He ran a balanced attack as a record-setting coordinator at Louisiana for five years, and for the last two seasons, brought that philosophy to the table at Georgia. As a quality control offensive assistant for the Bulldogs, he helped implement a scheme this season that saw Georgia throw for 227 yards per game and rush for 251 yards per game while averaging 39.15 points per contest.”

Sounds great, but the CU offense – a unit which struggled the second half of the season last year – was “balanced”.

In fact, for the first time in school history, the Colorado offense produced a 1,000-yard rusher (Travon McMillian, 1,009 yards) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Laviska Shenault, 1,011).

Can’t get much more balanced than that … right?

The key to success, Johnson says, is the same on every play, run or pass … it’s execution.

“You have to execute,” Johnson said. “When it’s third-and-8 and everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to throw it, you have to be able to execute. At the end of the day, that’s what will make you successful. Can you block and execute what’s asked of you at that particular moment in that particular situation and win that particular opportunity? If you can do that, you have a pretty good chance of moving the ball.”

Of course, as every Buff fan knows, the real key to CU’s offensive success lies in the ability of the offensive line, first to move the line of scrimmage on running plays, and then to protect the quarterback on passing plays.

Last season, the offensive line allowed opposing defenses 106 tackles for loss, including 34 sacks.

And yet … the offensive line produced a 1,000-yard rusher – for the third consecutive season.

Wanna guess how many times in Colorado history that the Buff offense has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in three consecutive seasons?

Try once … in 1988 (Eric Bieniemy, 1,243); 1989 (J.J. Flannigan, 1,187 and Darian Hagan, 1,004); and 1990 (Bieniemy, 1,628).

And those were some pretty good teams.

So … if Colorado produces a 1,000-yard rusher this fall, it will mark the first time in school history in which the Buffs have a 1,000-yard back in four consecutive seasons.

We’ll see if any of the candidates this spring establish themselves as the back most likely to accomplish that feat …

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