Search con­tin­ues for right back to re­place Fore­man as bell cow

In­juries have pre­vented top can­di­date War­ren from se­cur­ing No. 1 role

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - COLLEGES - By Nick Moyle nmoyle@ex­press-news.net twitter.com/nr­moyle

AUSTIN — Texas for­mally in­tro­duced Tom Her­man as its head foot­ball coach on Nov. 27. Three days later, the sec­ond 2,000-yard rusher and third Doak Walker win­ner in school his­tory de­clared for the NFL draft.

Not an ideal home­com­ing gift for Mack Brown’s former grad­u­ate as­sis­tant.

A fresh coach­ing staff and a chance to chase the Heis­man Tro­phy be­hind es­sen­tially the same of­fen­sive line ap­par­ently wasn’t enough to per­suade run­ning back D’Onta Fore­man to re­main in Austin for one more sea­son. His de­par­ture turned UT’s most stable skill po­si­tion into a mul­ti­ple choice ques­tion with­out a clearcut an­swer.

Would an­other bell cow emerge from out of Fore­man’s mas­sive shadow? Or would Her­man and run­ning backs coach Stan Dray­ton adopt a com­mit­tee ap­proach?

They had nine months to find a so­lu­tion.

Right away, Chris War­ren ma­te­ri­al­ized as a fine can­di­date. Not that he was an easy in­di­vid­ual to over­look, in any case.

War­ren was even big­ger than the 240-plus pound Fore­man and, over his past six games, rushed for 737 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and seven touch­downs. In the penul­ti­mate con­test of his fresh­man sea­son, he bowled through Texas Tech for 276 yards and four scores.

Try­ing to drag down the 6-4, 250-pound back was like cor­ralling a bull with­out the ben­e­fit of a lasso. He sounded like an ideal can­di­date to move into Fore­man’s va­cated post.

“I’ve coached some backs in my day, but I’ve never seen one that looks like Chris War­ren,” Dray­ton said. “Jerome Bet­tis is the only one I can think of that was that size.” Door to op­por­tu­nity

But War­ren’s tremen­dous stature didn’t guar­an­tee health. In fact, his time in Austin has re­cently been marked by a string of un­for­tu­nate events.

A knee in­jury ended War­ren’s sopho­more sea­son af­ter four games. A ham­string is­sue cut short his spring. He con­tracted the mumps this sum­mer and suf­fered a con­cus­sion two weeks ago.

In March, Her­man said he wasn’t ready to swathe War­ren in bub­ble wrap. He’s still singing the same tune fol­low­ing the con­cus­sion, but a few more im­pair­ments might al­ter the song.

“If you get into the four, five, six in­jury cat­e­gory, God is prob­a­bly try­ing to tell you some­thing,” Her­man added. “But at this point, (I’m) not con­cerned at all.”

War­ren’s in­abil­ity to re­main on the field dur­ing UT’s spring ses­sions left a hole that sopho­more Kyle Porter was more than happy to fill.

One of the top-rated backs com­ing out of Katy, Porter played a limited role as a fresh­man, fin­ish­ing with 205 yards on 46 car­ries.

With his pri­mary ri­val down, Porter “seized” the mo­ment, ac­cord­ing to Her­man.

“(Porter) never com­plains, never asks for a play off, al­ways goes full speed, al­ways div­ing,” Her­man said in April. “He makes yards as he’s get­ting tack­led, he never gets driven back­wards, so he’s been a joy to be around so far.”

And then, the new No. 1 sprained his an­kle and had to be held out of UT’s Or­ange-White spring scrim­mage.

That in­jury be­gat a Toneil Carter-led back­field. The early en­rollee out of Lang­ham Creek toted the ball 10 times for 60 yards dur­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion and prop­erly in­tro­duced him­self — shoul­der first — to cor­ner­back Eric Cuf­fee, who spent some time star­ing at the sky fol­low­ing a col­li­sion.

Her­man wasn’t ex­actly ef­fu­sive fol­low­ing the game, but he did see about 200 pounds of clay he could work with.

“A cou­ple of the neg­a­tive things cer­tainly stand out in my mind,” Her­man said. “But if you take a step back and re­al­ize where he’s at — he’s played col­lege foot­ball for not even 12 padded prac­tices be­cause he was hurt for a cou­ple — the fu­ture is bright, if he stays the course.” No sep­a­ra­tion yet

By all in­di­ca­tions, Carter and fel­low fresh­man Daniel Young haven’t veered too far off course since fall prac­tice be­gan.

Dray­ton raved about Young’s “nat­u­ral in­stincts,” while Her­man la­beled Carter the “most fluid ball catcher” of the bunch.

But there’s no Fore­man here. Not yet.

“I wish I had a bell cow,” Dray­ton said. “Right now, I have a com­mit­tee of backs, to be hon­est with you. The com­pe­ti­tion is good. No­body has sep­a­rated him­self yet.”

Even with all that ex­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tion, the con­tenders have been their own worst en­emy. Carter is the only one of the afore­men­tioned group who has re­mained fully healthy since Her­man ar­rived.

And just when it seemed Porter had a grip on the lead spot, he sprained his shoul­der and was rel­e­gated to re­hab­bing and non­con­tact drills. So the start­ing gig re­verted back to War­ren, with John­son and Young next in line.

“Pro­duc­tion comes in all shapes and sizes and all dif­fer­ent kinds of forms and ro­ta­tions,” Her­man said. “Would you like a guy to re­ally, re­ally sep­a­rate him­self? Yeah, but if they don’t, but they’re all play­ing at an aboveav­er­age to winnable level, then I think that’s a good thing.”

Tom Reel / San An­to­nio Ex­press-News

Texas run­ning back Toneil Carter made a strong case for him­self dur­ing the Longhorns’ an­nual Or­ange-White spring scrim­mage.

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