Texas Football: Breaking Down the Longhorns' Backfield Battle for Playing Time

Cole DolanCorrespondent IIIMay 15, 2012

Texas Football: Breaking Down the Longhorns' Backfield Battle for Playing Time

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    It has been a rocky road for the Texas Longhorns since Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley departed for the NFL.

    Quarterback play has been inconsistent at best, leading to a heavier load placed on the running game and the defense.

    Needless to say, the 'Horns have not exactly been in the national championship picture.

    With the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation enrolling by fall, the Longhorns certainly have the pieces to get back on the right track.

    Next to the quarterback battle between Case McCoy and David Ash, the battle for playing time between the variety of running backs may be the most interesting before the Longhorns open their 2012 schedule at home against Wyoming on Sept. 1.

    There are several players to choose from, but whom exactly will Mack Brown put his confidence in by fall?

Malcolm Brown

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    Malcolm Brown returns as the Longhorns' leading rusher in 2011.  He rushed for 742 yards on 172 carries and managed five touchdowns.

    However, Brown did miss three games due to turf toe, two of which the Longhorns lost.

    With highly touted freshman Johnathan Gray arriving in the fall, Brown really needed to end the season on a high note in the 2011 Holiday Bowl.

    He didn't come close.

    While the Longhorns won, Brown only managed 35 yards on 13 carries for an average of 2.7 yards per carry.

    That's not the performance he needed to keep a stranglehold on the starting job, and it doesn't help that he is seeing less action during the spring in an effort to limit injuries.

    On paper, Brown has got to be the leading candidate for the primary running back position, but he could quickly find himself out of the spotlight if he doesn't stay healthy and fend off the hungry competition.

Joe Bergeron

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    Due to his explosiveness, Bergeron tends to be more of a crowd favorite than Malcolm Brown. 

    Despite likely being No. 2 on the depth chart behind Brown, Bergeron will benefit from offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's affinity for special packages and multiple running backs.

    Don't even be surprised if the Longhorns even come out in a type of wishbone set every now and then.

    Last year, Bergeron rushed for 463 yards on 72 attempts for a nice-looking average of 6.4 yards per carry.  He even posted a 10.5-yards-per-carry average against Kansas and a 51-yard run against Texas Tech.

    Then he missed three of the final four games due to injury.

    Now, much like Brown, Bergeron is being limited during practice in an effort to minimize injury possibilities.

    Going forward, Bergeron is certainly more explosive than Brown and he showed glimpses of becoming a star running back in Austin.  Ultimately, staying injury free will go a long ways in determining just how many carries he will be getting in the fall.

Johnathan Gray

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    Johnathan Gray comes into the Texas program after shattering almost every record ever set by a running back in the state of Texas.

    Naturally, as one of the most decorated high school players in history, Gray already has high expectations placed on him.  He has already been compared to Longhorn running backs Earl Campbell and Cedric Benson and already has Mack Brown scheming up special packages just for when he arrives in the fall.

    While Gray may not immediately take over the starting job, he will certainly push the other running backs to become better.  Meanwhile, he will likely see duty as the running back for the special packages in Harsin's arsenal.

    It is only a matter of time before Gray becomes the star running back in Austin, and there is nothing stopping him from making that time come sooner rather than later.