AUSTIN, Texas -- Like the quarterback position, there are plenty of options for Texas at running back in 2013.
And, as it is at quarterback, there is also a clear top option, Johnathan Gray. Not only is the rising sophomore the leading returning rusher (701 yards), but with the switch to the spread offense, he presents Texas with a more tools than the other two possible starting running backs, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown.
Gray has plant-and-go ability that is superior to the other possible every-down backs. That means he can be utilized as a big-play threat in many more scenarios than Brown and Bergeron. He also works in space better than the other two backs. And given that the spread offense not only spreads the offense but the defense as well. It’s only natural that play-caller Major Applewhite is going to tinker with a variety of ways to get Gray the ball this spring.
As for the other backs, Texas will have to figure out a way to utilize each of their independent skill sets while also not forgetting about the talents Daje Johnson can bring to the running game.
Here is a look at how the coaches might start to change the roles of the running backs, other than Gray, as the team moves through spring.
Malcolm Brown: Injuries have plagued Brown for most of his career at Texas. When healthy, he is Texas' best combination of speed and power to the outside edge. He is better at getting the corner and then running over defensive backs.
Texas should use Brown as Gray’s immediate backup. And given that he can do so many things well, will tailor several plays for his skills.
Brown does not have great hands coming out of the backfield but is improved in that area. Applewhite might be inclined to use him on more inside screen plays because of his ability to run through a tackler as opposed to outside screens, where being more elusive usually equals more yards.
Brown averaged less than eight carries a game in 2012. If he proves to be adaptable to the spread -- and that really should not be much of a problem -- he could position himself to get a dozen touches per game in 2013.
Joe Bergeron: Bergeron will see a decline in production in the spread offense and it will start this spring. While Texas could still utilize him in draw play scenarios and should utilize him inside the 20s, gone are the games in which Bergeron is the bell cow of the Texas run game.
What Bergeron needs to work on in the spring are his hands and his blocking. Like Brown, he could be used on inside screens and delayed screens. Also because of his ability to run inside, he could serve as a dummy on draw fakes, providing David Ash with another blocker in the backfield.
Bergeron is an asset because of his willingness to get the tough yards. Texas does not want to completely abandon that physical running nature and will also need him in goal line sets and jumbo packages.
Daje Johnson: Perhaps Bryan Harsin’s biggest failure was not consistently using Johnson as both a receiver and a runner. Applewhite undoubtedly saw the weapon Johnson can be and will tinker throughout the spring with ways to get him the ball. Because of Texas’ willingness to throw, opponents are going to have to dedicate more people to receivers outside the box and this should give Johnson more room to run on this plays when Texas does position him in the backfield.
To get a clue of the potential Johnson brings, Applewhite should look at West Virginia’s Tavon Austin in the final five games of 2012, particularly the Oklahoma game.
Texas’ no-substitute, ho-huddle offense could stress a defense and with a playmaker like Johnson on the field for an entire series, it could eventually break a tired and confused defense.