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For associate head coach and running backs coach Stan Drayton, 2017’s preseason practices are full of knowns and unknowns.
Drayton knows his running backs are giving the type of effort he wants and expects. Drayton also knows where they need to focus that effort.
“We’re still not timed up in the run game yet,” Drayton said. “We’ve definitely got to go to work in pass pro in regards to fundamentals and technique, but they’re giving great effort. It’s just a matter of putting that effort along with some fundamentals and technique to get game ready. We still have our work cut out for us.”
He knows he has a 6-foot-4, 250 pounder waiting to run through lines in junior Chris Warren. He knows he had sophomore Kyle Porter, who left Tuesday’s practice with a shoulder injury, taking the first team snaps. He knows he has sophomore Kirk Johnson preparing to get back between the lines. He knows he has freshmen Toneil Carter and Daniel Young ready and willing to get snaps and carries early.
What Drayton does not know is who will lead the group.
“I wish I had a bell cow right now to be quite honest with you,” Drayton said. “Right now I’ve got a committee of backs competing for a spot. I don’t think a bell cow has emerged at this point. Again, the competition is good. At some point, somebody’s going to separate themselves. We’re not at that point yet.”
With Warren, Drayton has a big-bodied runner. He knows he has a player that has shown the ability to run over defenders in games. Drayton just needs to see it more at the Denius Fields.
“I think the thing he’s doing the best right now is he’s respecting the game,” Drayton said. “He’s been a little bit of a lethargic football player in the past in regards to practice. I think he’s becoming a better practice player. I think he needs to continue to do that for the rest of his career. Play the game on the practice field.”
With Porter, Drayton had a running back who has a very solid game with few holes. Now, Porter is not only dealing with a shoulder injury, but learning how to move well near the line of scrimmage. What Drayton does not know and needs to see is more decisiveness at the point of attack.
“I think he’s kind of oozing into it as opposed to bursting through the hole,” Drayton said. “If he can kind of get that part of his game on point, he’ll become more of an explosive back. You’ll see more big plays coming out of him with that mindset.”
With Kirk Johnson, Drayton likes the effort he’s seen, but also knows Johnson is dealing with nagging injuries. It’s likely there are more unknowns than knowns about Johnson.
“He’s giving great effort, but he’s playing slow and the reads are not there,” Drayton said. “You know how it is, these guys need reps. He’s not timed up in anything yet, not the run game or the pass game. There’s still a lot to learn. I still have a lot to learn in regards to Kirk Johnson.”
With the freshmen, Drayton knows each back has something they are particularly well-skilled in. With Carter, it’s home run speed paired with struggles knowing the playbook.
“He’s the one guy that I believe if he gets a crease he can hit a home run for you, but he’s still got a lot of work in regards to learning schemes,” Drayton said. “He needs to be a guy that can get on the board and draw the play to the point to where he feels comfortable with the play and transfer that into execution to where there’s no processing going on. There’s still a little bit of processing going on in regards to his play, so we’re not seeing what he’s fully capable of doing right now.”
With Young, it’s natural ability. However, he’s wearing the Texas practice uniform for the first time.
“He’s a very tough runner,” Drayton said. “Big body type that can accelerate a little bit. Still green. He’s learning the system.”
With all these strengths in the committee, there is one weakness that sticks out to Drayton: “average” pass protection.
“They’re aggressive, and that’s one of the toughest things and longest thing to develop for a running back,” Drayton said. “You teach them how to run the ball with great pad leverages and lean. You have to contradict that teaching when it’s time to pass pro. They’ve got to be a little bit more patient.”
Drayton will have to solidify these knowns and figure out the unknowns in order to start a successful Texas tenure. He can do that by selling one of the top knowns the University of Texas has to offer in its running back history.
“They like Texas,” Drayton said of out of state prospects he visited. “They know what Texas is. That’s the beauty. When you go out of state and you do wear the burnt orange, they have an immediate respect for the program. They have an understanding of the history, which was very surprising for me. This young generation of kids really don’t care so much about tradition anymore. They’re all about living in the now, and I get that. When I went across the country looking at these backs, they had an understanding of our tradition here, which was very exciting for me.”
The unknown is who will answer Drayton’s call to join his room. “We’ll see how those chips fall,” he said.