We continue our position previews and we are staying on the offensive side. Earlier this week we took a look at the quarterback situation. Now we are going to go look at what is happening with the running back unit.
Alvester Alexander - Declared early for the NFL.
Ghaali Muhammad - Switched back to linebacker
A year ago it looked like Wyoming would have a very deep and senior heavy running back unit. Instead we now have a inexperienced unit that is filled with underclassmen. With Alvester Alexander declaring for the NFL Draft as a junior and Ghaali Muhammad moving back to linebacker the two would be seniors are gone.
Now junior Brandon Miller is the old man of the group. Last year Cowboy running backs totaled 1,584 yards on the ground. The Pokes utilized a three man rotation most of the season between Alexander, Muhammad and Miller. Personally I loved having Ghaali Muhammad at running back last year. Thought he really provided a nice change of pace at running back and he was very hard for opposing defenses to bring down. He has shown a great willingness to play wherever the coaches thought he could help the most.
Only three running backs (Miller, Sutton and Parham) were healthy enough to participate in spring drills.
The former walk-on has proven that he can handle the running back position and is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. Now on scholarship Miller heads into fall training camp as the lead back. Last year he spent time as a hybrid running back/receiver for much of the year. When Ghaali was injured for the season, Miller came back to running back and add some depth. Last year he rushed 66 times for 364 yards (5.52 ypc) and two touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 199 yards and a score. Listed at 6-0 193lbs Miller is an all purpose back that is great at finding holes and quick enough to exploit an opening when he finds it. It seems like Miller had his best performances last year when I least expected it.
In the spring game Miller ran 10 times for 32 yards, he also caught three passes for 22 yards. It seemed like all of the running backs struggled this spring production wise but Miller was the most consistent. Now he'll be working to maintain his starting spot. With his versatility Miller can be very dangerous weapon for the Pokes this year. His pass catching ability is certainly the best on the unit.
The original plan for Sutton was to redshirt in 2011 and then hit the field hard in 2012. That was scrapped after Muhammad was injured against TCU and was out for the year. Coach Christensen wanted more depth in the backfield and so Sutton burned his redshirt during the ninth game of year. His best performances of the year were his debut with 56 yards against Air Force and in the New Mexico Bowl where he carried four times for 33 yards and caught a 14 yard touchdown pass. In the middle three games he struggled against New Mexico, Boise State and Colorado St.
Sutton will need step up his game to become a bigger contributor in 2012. He'll need to more consistent in practice to make sure he'll more carries games. He showed some nice flashes last year and right now appears to be the biggest competition for Brandon Miller. He has the talent and the ability, now is the time for him to make the most of this opportunity.
The last time Kankolongo played in a game for the Pokes was 10/16/10 against Utah. He carried three times for one yard. As a freshmen he totaled 13 yards on 13 carries. Ranked three stars by Rivals the running back from Canada has dealt with plenty over the last couple years. He missed the first game of his freshmen year due to a violation of team rules. He then played sparingly in five games and never seemed on track. During 2011 spring practice Kankolongo was scrimmaging well but missed the spring game due to another suspension. In fall practice he injured his knee and was forced to use his redshirt for the 2011 season. The injury was severe enough that he could not participate in any contact drills in 2012 spring practice.
Now a redshirt sopohomore it seems like we have a more mature and ready athlete on our hands. Hopefully he has learned his lessons and won't be dealing with any more suspensions. At 5-11 205lb he reminds physically of Alvester and I think he runs with a similar style. His knee is still a question mark and we will have to see how much workload he can handle. A strong 2012 campaign for Nehemie would very exciting to see, he is a dark-horse right now in the running back race.
This walk-on from Arizona used his redshirt in 2011. During the spring he was used as a running back and receiver. Listed at 5-10 175 Parham was a dual threat quarterback in high school. In the spring game he ran twice for four yards and caught one pass for four yards. If he plays this he may be utilized the way that Brandon Miller was in 2011 as hybrid running back/receiver. It may be tough for him to see the field this year with so many scholarship athletes competing for playing time right now.
D.J. MAY and SHAUN WICK
These two freshmen both signed with Cowboys from the West Coast. May is from Federal Way, WA where he went to school with freshmen DT Uso Olive. Meanhile Wick went to school further south and hails from Ventura, CA. Both are listed at 190lbs with May standing an inch taller at 5-11. On signing day Christensen said that he expects at least one of them to play this year.
This will certainly be a very important battle to watch. On tape both players seem to have very similar running styles. Wyoming was the only FBS school to offer Wick who was unrated, while Idaho also offered May and was given two stars by Rivals.
If the Cowboys go with a three back rotation again in 2012 then there will be two main battles to watch. Miller and Sutton for the lead back position. Then Kankolongo going against May, Wick and Parham for that third spot. Kankolongo is the largest of those four by 15 pounds. With Muhammad moving to linebacker the coaches may want to utilize a back with more size on third downs.
This youthful unit will need to step up big time to help the Pokes offense operate and keep the pressure off Brett Smith. The coaches don't want Smith to run as often as he did in 2011. This young group will need to show some big improvement and be able to move the ball consistently to do that. There wasn't a lot to cheer about after the spring season, hopefully fall will be different story.
The Cowboys don't utilize the H-Back spot very often but it always seems Coach Christensen is mentioning the desire to evolve the spread offense. Right now Riley Lange is the starter at H-Back followed by Tedder Easton. Both are over 240lbs, perhaps we'll see them used more in 2012. Lange caught a total of three passes in the first two spring scrimmages. Easton ran for 42 yards on 10 attempts in the first scrimmage before injuring himself and missing the rest of spring practice. Will be interesting to see if they are kept for just for blocking or given a chance to carry the ball themselves. Lange was a solid defensive end recruit before making the move to H-Back where the team needed depth.