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Football Outlook -- Running Backs
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 04/05/2006
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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2006 Football -- Carrying the Ball

Running backs coach Kasey Dunn and offensive coordinator Mike Canales have some good choices, but little in the way of track record, to contemplate in putting more spark into Arizona's running game for 2006. The Cats return players who combined for a total of 49 rushes in 2005 -- 15 of those by receivers on end-around plays.

One guy had the other 34 carries -- Chris Henry. He's the favorite to pull out the stops and check in for a junior year of note, built around what most consider huge potential.

Henry's sophomore year in 2005 coincided with senior seasons by four-year regulars Mike Bell and Gilbert Harris, a pair of

Chris Henry, No. 19 this year
players being examined closely by professional teams. Canales called plays by running backs 313 times a year ago, and the latter duo accounted for 279 of them. This year Henry's the guy whose number gets called.

At 6-foot, 215 pounds, his build somewhat somewhat belies his primary asset -- speed. The Stockton, Calif., product looks like a linebacker but was the California CIF-State 100-meters winner in spring 2003. Coaches believe pure speed is a feature that will become part of the running attack this year.

Henry doesn't fall into the "they're a little bit behind but by the end of spring they should be caught up" group that head coach Mike Stoops describes among his youthful contenders. He's been on the varsity for three years, playing some as a true freshman before an injury caused him to redshirt as a hardship case, then contending for top-level action the last two years.

Brandon Lopez
"Replacing a Mike Bell and a Gilbert Harris at running back will be a main focus. I really like Chris Henry," Stoops says. He also notes that redshirt freshmen Xavier Smith and Terry Longbons, two guys who are slightly behind, have what coaches want this year: speed.

"I think we have more speed in the backfield than we ever have. Those guys are game-breakers and can take the ball the distance, and we have a chance to be much faster in the backfield," he says. But Bell's forte was consistency, and the emerging tailback will be the guy who brings that emphasis -- picking up the protection schemes, doing the little things every time, knowing the system.

"I don't think we've seen the real Chris Henry yet. Now that you're looked at as 'the guy,' I hope that changes his mind set. He's not the No. 3 guy, he's the No. 1 guy," Stoops said. "Chris has at times shown great maturity. You look for consistency. It's not a roller-coaster. You come out every day with an attitude that 'this is how it's done and this is how I'm going to do it.' That's something I think Chris has learned."

Smith and Longbons each had moments in fall camp last year, but the depth ahead afforded them redshirt years. They'll push

Xavier Smith
Terry Longbons

hard for the role, and should help give the position a solid rotation. Plus, there are some guys coming in the fall who will get evaluated swiftly, in Derke Robinson and Glyndon Bolasky. But, Stoops is convinced the trio of Henry, Smith and Longbons are capable of playing at "a very high level." UA also brings in another versatile freshman who was a two-way prep star, Brooks Reed, who could be tried at fullback, H-back, tight end or linebacker in his first camp.

At fullback, sophomore Brandon Lopez, a tough player converted after redshirting his freshman season (2004) as a middle linebacker, gives UA returning experience. He took the job mid way through last year and has shown he can add quality underneath pass routes and rugged blocking to the offense. He caught four passes, and knocked heads last year on special teams. He'll be tough to dislodge. The staff recruited one true fullback/H-back type, Earl Mitchell, who could be given a chance, but Lopez' experience and good hands should be tough to overcome.

For fullback, figure it this way: Stoops' philosophy likely comes strongly from his most recent work at Oklahoma, which had the All-Big 12 fullback a year ago -- a 230-pound guy who carried the ball one time for three yards. But J.D. Runnels also caught 20 passes and did the dirty work for a tailback of note. Lopez -- and presumably Mitchell, too -- fits the mold.

It's a sure bet that with sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama's meteoric rise to the front lines, Arizona's attack will feature the deep and short passing game. UA running backs will be called on. A year ago, combo back Harris snared 22 passes and I-back Bell caught 18. Expect those numbers to rise, and expect the guys doing so to be team-oriented, "assignment strong" (thanks to OU sports information) players who know what they're doing. Wildcat coaches believe they have the players in place to accomplish that.

Chris Henry Year-by-Year

             G-GS   Att      Yds    TD

2003    2-0       14      33      0

2004    11-0     56      159    2

2005    11-0     34      119    0

Running Back Ramblings... RB mentor Kasey Dunn is a no-nonsense and player-friendly coach whose style is well received by the players in his ranks... Plenty of dirty work in practice is performed by scout-team running backs, and credit goes to Eric Schlegel, Billy Ring, Robert Jones and Travis Cotton, walk-on players who contribute a lot to the improvement of the program. They're all back for more this year... Henry's career-long run was a 21-yarder on 2nd-and-8 in the fourth quarter against UCLA, when he carried the ball five consecutive times. He had his career high of 55 yards on eight carries against UCLA in 2004, and his most work (14 carries) in his first game, against NAU in 2003... Bell and Harris participated in the NFL Combine in February and have been working out for teams in preparation for the April draft. They'd join first-round pick Trung Canidate (2001) as recent UA running backs in the pro ranks... Henry appears to have the first-step burst and the high gear that made Canidate such a breakaway threat, plus he's big enough for work in traffic... Bell came up short three times in his bid for individual 1,000-yard glory, gaining 920, 950 and 952 yards the past three seasons. An injury that knocked him out of the fourth quarter at ASU cost UA a better shot at victory and Bell a chance at the four-digit mark... The UA staff beat out some big boys for incoming backs Robinson and Bolasky, all-state stars from Texas and Arizona, respectively. Bolasky's been at spring ball, watching with eager anticipation... Stoops says Mitchell's physical play is "all fullback," although he could factor at the hybrid H-back position in camp as well... Fall freshman Brooks Reed is not unlike current Wildcat Brandon Lopez, a two-way high school star who earned evaluation on both sides of the ball and is the starting fullback entering camp. He opened at linebacker, where Brooks is likely to begin training...

 

2006 Arizona Running Backs

38           Travis Cotton        RB          5-11        180         Fr.*

19           Chris Henry          RB          6-0          215         Jr.*

31           Robert Jones       FB           5-9          241         Sr.*

42           Terry Longbons   RB          5-11        200         Fr.*

45           Brandon Lopez    FB           6-1          224         So.

37           Billy Ring               RB          5-6          165         Fr.*

41           Eric Schlegel        FB           6-1          230         So.*

30           Xavier Smith         RB          5-11        196         Fr.*

Fall Freshmen Newcomers:

                Glyndon Bolasky RB          6-0          192         Tucson, Ariz. (Sabino)

                Earl Mitchell          FB           6-2          250         Houston, Texas (North Shore)

                Derke Robinson  RB          6-0          200         Lewisville, Texas (Hebron)

 

 

 

 

 

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