Position Battles: Running Back

A&M enters the 2014 season with 4 scholarship running backs, 3 of which are juniors. However, the two leading rushers from the 2013 season are gone with Johnny Manziel (759 yards) declaring early for the draft and Ben Malena (551 yards) graduating. With the departure of Johnny Manziel and a heated QB battle underway, look for the coaching staff to lean heavily on our running backs in 2014. This will allow A&M’s green quarterback to have time to adapt to the offense and speed of play, while giving one of the best running back corps in the nation an opportunity to finally showcase what they can do.

James White is our sole underclassman running back. A 3-star prospect out of Pearland, Texas, he held offers from Texas, OU, Oregon, and Auburn among others. He ran for 1,697 yards and 22 TD’s his senior year of high school and is growing into the role of a “bruiser” back. A&M redshirted him in 2013, and Larry Jackson’s weight program has done him well. He’s listed at 6’0” and weighs a solid 218 lbs. After Tuesday’s practice this week, Sumlin spoke highly of White, “James looks good, especially on special teams. He’s right there with those guys fighting for playing time, but I look for him to be a full-time special team guy with a contribution at running back also.” James is a redshirt freshman and will get his chance at being A&M’s feature back once the upperclassman graduate.

Brandon Williams was a heavily recruited 5-star prospect and the #3 running back nationally according to scout and rivals. In 2011 he committed to Oklahoma and received playing time his freshman season racking up 219 yards on 46 carries. But after his freshman year, he looked to transfer reportedly for family reasons. Sumlin was able to land him, although per NCAA rules he was required to sit out a year. But following the 2012 season that he sat out, the team awarded him the Weight Room Off-Season MVP award. That coupled with an explosive Maroon and White spring game, had many believing him to become the feature back for 2013. In that spring game he ran for 59 yards and a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass. He looked every bit as good as the hype had suggested. However, the upcoming season didn’t go as well for him. He was only given the ball 44 times, mostly in mop-up duty, and he consistently found himself 3rd or 4th on the depth chart. He made the most of those 44 attempts rushing for 269 yards, 1 touchdown, and an impressive 6.1 yard per carry. With the departure of Manziel and Malena, look for him to gain more touches. However his role will still be limited as he finds himself behind Trey Williams and Tra Carson on the depth chart.

Trey Williams is another 5-star prospect and was also the #3 running back nationally, but from the 2012 recruiting class. His high school resume is absolutely unheard of including Parade All-American honors, Sports Illustrated All-American honors, and the 5A Offensive Player of the Year. The list goes on and on but one doesn’t need to look any further than his senior season where he posted 3,890 yards rushing and 48 touchdowns. He also contributed 10 kickoff returns for 346 yards and 2 scores along with six punt returns for 113 yards and another TD. The guy can play, and he was the biggest recruit A&M had landed since Christine Michael. Naturally, he received playing time his freshman year and had 65 carries for 376 yards and 5 touchdowns. This was good for 5.8 yards per carry. Surprisingly, his attempts dipped in 2013 with Trey only receiving 58. However, his efficiency exploded with 6 touchdowns and 7 yards per carry. Look for Jake Spavital to utilize him much more in 2014 and for A&M to give him at least twice as many carries. He is a playmaker that produces at the highest level and A&M most likely cost itself a game or two in 2013 by not utilizing his talents.

Tra Carson is the other transfer running back that Sumlin landed. A lightly recruited 3-star prospect (according to Rivals) out of Texarkana, he held offers from Arkansas, Iowa, Oregon, and Kansas. Attending Oregon, he posted 245 yards as a true freshman on 45 carries. However, just like Brandon Williams, he wanted to get closer to home and family after his freshman year. Per NCAA rules, he sat out for the 2012 season. In 2013, A&M utilized him sparingly giving him the ball just 62 times, but many of those being short yardage situations. At 6’0” and 230 lbs, he was able to bruise his way to 7 touchdowns and 329 yards with 5.3 yards per carry, especially impressive considering the game situations he received. 247 Sports wrote an article about the top 10 performers following the first week of spring practice. Tra Carson landed at #3 and was the only running back listed. They said,

“The “Bus 21” got back to abusing anyone in his path this week. With Ben Malena gone, the Oregon transfer is now receiving the bulk of the carries in an Aggie offense that is looking to become more run oriented next season.”

This is rather surprising considering the abundant talent and star power behind him in Brandon Williams and Trey Williams. But it may be a wake-up call for both running backs to focus on the small things. Kevin Sumlin is a stickler when it comes to running backs and wide receivers being able to block. If you don’t block, you won’t play. This is reportedly the one area that is keeping Trey Williams behind Tra Carson on the depth chart. However, if Trey Williams fixes it then expect him to push Carson for minutes and carries. A&M has a wealth of talent at the running back position and expect them to lean heavily on all three backs throughout the 2014 season.

Prediction: Tra Carson*

*Tra Carson will be listed as the starter but Trey Williams will fix his blocking issues and split carries with him. Coaches will rotate the 3 running backs as follows (Tra Carson – 40%, Trey Williams – 40%, Brandon Williams – 20%).

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