COUNTDOWN TO 2013: Cougar Running Backs

PULLMAN – There are signs of life from the WSU running game for the 2013 season. Couple some rising backfield talent with a deeper, bigger and more experienced offensive line and substantial yardage gains should follow. But those gains might not necessarily come via the traditional route.

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The Cougs have nowhere to go but up when it comes to the running game. By now you've heard the same things beaten to death this offseason – last in the nation in 2012 with just 349 total rushing yards (including sacks), a paltry 1.4 ypc and 29.1 rushing yards per game.

One caveat you haven't heard as much – WSU didn't try to run the ball. They were last in the nation in attempts too, at 252 per game -- and that number includes 57 sacks. By comparison, Arizona had 544 rushing attempts, more than twice the Cougs' number.

That said, WSU must run the ball better in order to score more points, particularly from 30-40 yards in where the Cougs often bogged down last year. And the other thing you're likely going to see more of in 2013 -- Cougar running backs on the receiving end. (Three WSU RBs last year tied for most catches at the position with 14 apiece. Look to the chart at the end of this article for what should be in store for the RBs under Mike Leach.)

IT ALL STARTS with sophomore Teondray Caldwell (5-10, 185) this season in the backfield. It's hidden among the numbers but the Los Angeles product showed flashes of potential in 2012. Indeed, in seven of the nine contests he played, Caldwell had at least one 10-yard rushing carry.

Having averaged 4.8 ypc last year, it's entirely possible to expect Caldwell to put together a strong 2013 campaign.

BUT HE'LL HAVE to fend off stiff competition if he hopes to shoulder the load for the Cougs this season -- several returnees and a few freshmen will be vying for the rights to tow the pigskin.

Senior Leon Brooks and junior Marcus Mason return, each looking to prove to coaches they can handle more carries, touches and reps out of the backfield.

While Brooks (5-6, 165) figures to remain the change of pace back because of his size and stature, Mason might be the one to watch out for this fall.

After having been buried on the 2012 Cougar running back pecking order following a lackluster fall camp, Mason (5-9, 176) suddenly began receiving a good chunk of work over the final five games of the season. In those five contests, Mason nabbed 14 receptions and 12 carries.

Having run with the 1's and 2's for a majority of spring ball, Mason is getting his shot at claiming some playing time this fall.

THE REAL INTRIGUE, though, that may lie with the incoming freshmen -- one of which possesses a rare blend of size and speed.

Gerard Wicks (5-11, 203) averaged over 7-plus ypc at Polytechnic High and displays some of the best balance I've seen from a prospect's video tape in some time. He has the ability to bounce off a would-be tackler with ease and noticeably fights for extra yards at every opportunity he gets.

Yep, he's a grinder, in the absolute best sense of the word.

Wicks is also polished for his age. He has the size, speed and burst to succeed in the Pac-12 and all things being equal, should have a nice career out on the Palouse.

Heralded by Scout's Greg Biggins as "one of the bigger sleepers in the whole entire Pac-12 conference," Wicks has the opportunity to come in and steal the RB spotlight with a strong fall camp.

MEANWHILE, ANOTHER SoCAL product, Jamal Morrow (5-8, 177), also has lots of potential -- but it remains to be seen whether he'll line up in the backfield. Some believe Morrow's best spot is at cornerback, so fall camp should speak volumes toward his future.

Morrow tallied almost 2,100 yards his senior year at Heritage High and clearly has the speed to play the running back position. Time will tell whether his body can shoulder full time duty at the Pac-12 level and in a Leach backfield.

OTHER NAMES that may surface in 2013 are senior Theron West and third-year sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa.

West (5-7, 170) has had trouble holding onto the ball in practice during his time at WSU and questions about his size and ability to block are still relevant talking points. At this point and time, West looks more like a dynamic return man than a running back, but fall camp will put that into sharper focus.

Laufasa, a walk on, is an interesting case. Having come out of virtually nowhere this spring, Laufasa (5-10, 216) showed he may be the prototypical short-yardage back for the Cougs -- if that designation is given this season.

He hits the hole hard and shows reckless abandon when busting through the defensive front seven. Laufasa also has surprising light feet for such a big back.

Bottom line:
At this point, having not been exposed to any fall practices just yet, expect Caldwell and Wicks to battle it out for time on the field this season, possibly even sharing a 50/50 split for carries in 2013.

And beyond the carries, keep in mind that Mike Leach wants his running backs to get a lot of touches during the season, with many of those coming via the short pass.

No. of receptions per season by leading Texas Tech running back
2000 – 52
2001 – 92
2002 - 98
2003 – 69
2004 - 60
2005 - 67
2006 - 75
2007 - 34
2008 - 43
2009 - 57

No. of rushing attempts per season by Tech under Leach
305 in 2000
261 in 2001
385 in 2002
308 in 2003
293 in 2004
308 in 2005
220 in 2006
246 in 2007
317 in 2008
319 in 2009

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