Search continues for right back to replace Foreman as bell cow
Injuries have prevented top candidate Warren from securing No. 1 role
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.”
Texas running back Toneil Carter made a strong case for himself during the Longhorns’ annual Orange-White spring scrimmage.