October 1, 2008

Whittaker, Johnson could be answer to UT's runnning woes

Foswhitt Whittaker appears to finally be ready to make his case as Texas' tailback this weekend at Colorado.

Whittaker is practicing full speed, and coaches say he has been in every meeting, is incredibly smart and knows all of his assignments.

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said if Whittaker's right knee is ready to go Saturday, there's nothing to hold back his playing time.


"Fozzy looks good," receiver Quan Cosby said Tuesday. "He's really quick, great moves."

Whittaker hasn't been seen on the field since he averaged 6 yards per carry at UTEP on Sept. 6 - nearly a month ago.

He missed the Florida Atlantic game to open the season on Aug. 30 because of a left knee injury suffered in fall camp. He missed the Rice and Arkansas games after a right knee injury suffered in practice.

In the meantime, Texas has given Vondrell McGee, Cody Johnson and Chris Ogbonnaya looks at tailback. McGee has failed to reach an average of 4 yards per carry the last three games. Johnson has averaged 4.2 yards per carry (24 rushes for 100 yards) and two touchdowns. Ogbonnaya has been more of a threat as a receiver.

Teammates say Whittaker appears to be close to full strength and will add a lot to the game plan this week.

"Consistency," said Ogbonnaya. "Fozzy can bring can bring downhill when he needs to be and speed when he needs to be. He can also be shifty and break tackles. He can do it all."


Johnson said Whittaker brings a different dimension to the running game.

"There will be more threats on the field with Fozzy," Johnson said. "He brings a different game than me, Vondrell (McGee) and Chris (Ogbonnaya). It will be a big impact to have more threats on the field."

Even with Whittaker coming back, Johnson figures to get meaningful carries. Johnson has dropped his weight from 256 down to 244 and is on a strict diet to get to 235 with a lot of cardio workouts.

Johnson eats smaller meals four to five times a day and does cardio workouts twice a day.

"I've given up everything - wings, pizza hamburgers," Johnson said. "Now I eat eggs, carrots and brocolli. But it all tastes good to me now because I'm used to it."


Johnson said he sees himself as a power back - even when he gets to 235.

"I'm not as quick as Fozzy, but I can pound on a defense and tire 'em down more," said Johnson, who looks up to New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.

Johnson said he doesn't mind sharing carries.

"I like the steady rotation," he said. "It's keeping our legs fresh. If one guy is getting 35 carries, he's going to be really tired. If each of us gets 15, we stay fresh."

Johnson said patience is the biggest thing he's learned.

"You have to be patient to wait your turn to get on the field, and then you have to be patient once you have the ball and you're pressing the hole," he said.


Teammates say Johnson is a big personality, who provides energy on the field and laughter to others off it.

"I like to make everyone laugh. I like to have fun. If you don't like to have fun, I don't like being around you," Johnson said.

Ken Rucker, UT's liaison to the players and former running backs coach, nicknamed Johnson Big Baby last season. But he's also known as Fat Boy.

"Fat Boy came from high school," Johnson said. "My friends gave it to me then and it just carried over to here. Coach Ruck called me Big Baby last year because I was a baby as a freshman and I was the biggest."


With Whittaker and Johnson on the field this week at Colorado, there's a good chance the Buffs won't be laughing. Colorado has given up 311 yards rushing to West Virginia and 259 yards rushing to Florida State in back-to-back games.

Barring any snafus in practice later this week, Texas will get to test its version of Thunder and Lightning - just in time for its toughest stretch of the season.

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