December 12, 2007

Season-in-review: The RB's

As we continue our final breakdown of the 2007 season for the Texas Longhorns, we'll t take a look at the team's running backs. With junior running back Jamaal Charles leading the way at the position, expectations were very high for the position coming into the season. So, did the players at the position live up to expectations? Here's a full breakdown of each player at the position and where they need to be going from here.

Jamaal Charles (junior)

Expectations - After a disappointing sophomore season, the expectations on the 40 Acres for Charles were high, but the coaches remained very cautious in their projections for him because they weren't sure that he would remain healthy enough to be an every-down running back or if he had matured enough to shoulder such high expectations. An All-Big 12 campaign was expected, but there were some doubts coming in.

Reality - After a fast start in the first three games, Charles went five straight weeks without a 100-yard game and the Longhorns dropped two of those contests. During that time Charles struggled with ball-protection and for a while it appeared as if the Texas staff had lost confidence in him. However, a breakout performance against Nebraska ignited Charles for the rest of the season and he eventually emerged as the best all-around player on the team.

Stats - Charles rushed for 1,458 yards on 231 carries (6.3 average), while scoring 16 touchdowns on the ground. He also added 15 receptions for 188 yards as a receiver out of the backfield.

High Point - Midway through the third quarter against Nebraska, you might not have ever guessed that Charles was on his way to a career-best performance, but a fourth quarter explosion, which was highlighted by touchdown runs of 25, 86 and 40 yards, kick-started a furious finish to the year. Charles eventually gained 216 of his 290 yards rushing in the final 15 minutes of action.

Low point - One week before lighting up Nebraska, Charles struggled in a lackluster performance against Baylor, as he racked up only 56 yards on 16 carries, while seemingly running with little confidence. It was the fifth time in five games that Charles failed to crack the 80-yard mark.

Bottom Line - It took a while for Charles to find his way and for this coaching staff to help him get there, but after he exploded against Nebraska, he was the single-biggest reason for UT's five-game winning streak following the Oklahoma game. As good as Charles was down the stretch, he's still has never put it together for a full season and you just wonder if he's ever going to get that chance. If he decides to come back for his senior season, he should be a pre-season All-America candidate.

Chris Ogbonnaya (Junior)

Expectations - With Charles locked into the starter's role, Ogbonnaya was viewed as a solid back-up that could provide quality snaps when Charles needed a break.

Reality - Ogbonnaya split playing time in the back-up role with redshirt freshman Vondrell McGee and proved to be a solid contributor for the Longhorns, but he provided very few big plays when he was in the line-up.

Stats - Ogbonnaya carried the ball 26 times for 66 yards (2.5 average) and two touchdowns on the ground, while adding 19 receptions for 204 yards and no scores.

Bottom Line - The truth of the matter is that Ogbonnaya wasn't nearly as productive as many had hoped he'd become coming into the season. His longest rush of the season was only 11 yards and he never rushed for more than 25 yards in a game. Although his reps were limited, he wasn't very statistically productive when he did play. If he's going to continue to receive a decent volume of snaps next season as a senior, he needs to elevate his performance because he was just a guy this year. Texas needs game-breakers on offense and not just guys who are pretty good.

Vondrell McGee (Redshirt freshman)

Expectations - After a strong training camp, everyone in the program was confident that McGee would be a terrific back-up option and if Charles struggled at all with his role as the starter. After arriving as one of the state's top prospects in 2006, McGee was expected to give the running game some juice.

Reality - McGee ended up being a dependable short-yardage running back, but he didn't provide the boost in the running game that many, including myself projected over the course of the entire season.

Stats - McGee carried the ball 70 times for 266 yards (3.8 average) and seven touchdowns.

Bottom Line - McGee is a workhorse-type running back, but he hasn't yet been able to receive those kinds of reps consistently in a game. Although he was a good runner between the tackles, McGee has to show more explosiveness heading into next season because this staff love's big-play running backs and McGee didn't display that kind of ability in his skill set very often. If Charles turns pro after this season, McGee will get all of the carries he can likely handle in 2008. If Charles remains for his senior season, McGee will likely see a back-up role with limited touches.

Cody Johnson (Redshirting freshman)

Expectations - After having surgery on a shoulder less than a year ago, most expected Johnson to sit out a year in an effort to make sure that he's completely healthy.

Reality - As expected, Johnson redshirted.

Bottom Line - Although McGee is the team's short-yardage back, that would appear to be a role that Johnson might be able to take away with a strong off-season. With his combination of size and power, he has a chance to give the program a different type of running option in 2008.

Foswhitt Whitaker (Redshirting freshman)

Expectations - Even though he was an early-enroller last spring, the general consensus was that Whitaker would redshirt.

Reality - As expected, Whitaker redshirted.

Bottom Line - With the top three running backs all scheduled to return in 2008, Whitaker is going to have to prove that he can give this team some big-play potential or he's going to have one heck of a time getting on the field. Upon first glance, it's hard to see him having a strong role in his second season.

Fullbacks

Luke Tiemann (Junior)

Expectations - As a walk-on that's been able to emerge as a viable contributor, Tiemann was expected to give this team a solid blocking option when the team went to multiple-back offense.

Reality - Tiemann is a solid blocker, but he's not the sledgehammer at the position that the Longhorns would prefer to have and he was often replaced in the line-up in short-yardage situations by senior defensive tackle Derek Lokey.

Bottom Line - Tiemann has done a great job of carving out a niche for himself, but his upside if limited to the say the least and the Longhorns would be best-served if one of their young players can step up and win the starting fullback position.

Antwan Cobb (Redshirt freshman)

Expectations - As a former tailback/linebacker, the Longhorns hoped coming into the season that Cobb would emerge as a stronger blocker at the position as the year went on, while also giving the team some versatility and ball skills as a receiver.

Reality - Cobb never emerged as a front-line player on this year's team, but he showed flashes of ability in limited playing time and hopes are high heading into next season.

Stats - Cobb carried the ball eight times for 34 yards (4.2 average), while adding one 16-yard touchdown reception as a receiver.

Bottom Line - It's too soon to know whether Cobb's blocking skills will catch up with his versatility as an athlete, but the Longhorns need this kid to keep developing because there's not a better option at fullback on the roster right now, although Cody Johnson might eventually be someone to keep an eye on. With Lokey departing, the need for stronger play at this position is desperately needed and Cobb needs to be the guy that gets it done.

Nic Redwine (Junior)

Expectations - After a series of injuries throughout his career, not much was expected from him after the move from defense to offense.

Reality - Redwine played in seven games this season, but he wasn't a factor in the offense.

Bottom Line - As Redwine enters his fifth and final season next year, he's not been able to put himself in a position for quality playing time. If we're being honest, it's hard to see that changing next year.

Overall thoughts

There were times late in the season when Charles' playmaking abilities were the best thing this team had going for it. The problem for the Longhorns is that this was a 12-game season and even though Charles had a sterling statistical season, it's tough to forget about the lull in the middle of the season that plagued the offense. That five-game funk that Charles resided in sticks out every bit as much as the three-game stretch towards the end of the season that saved his year. The problems in the running game this year weren't all related to the play by the running backs, as a young offensive line and the lack of an identity as a rushing offense plagued the entire offense at various times this season. The fact that the running game was only occasionally spectacular is kind of indicative of everything the Longhorns did this year as a team.


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