A Look at the 2009 Pac-10 Running Backs
My slideshow on the 2009 Pac-10 quarterbacks was fairly well received so I'd like to make a series out of the Pac-10 skill positions during spring practices this year.
This article is devoted to the running backs who play in the Pac-10, led by arguably one of the best running backs in the country in Jahvid Best of California.
As with any conference in the country, there are great running attacks and some that aren't as great. Running backs are stars on the team, behind only the quarterback and many teams are made or broken by their running game.
So let's begin and go through each teams running back situation.
Arizona developed a great talent in Nic Grigsby last season when he ran for 1,153 yards. They will be looking to him to help out the new quarterback in the absence of Willie Tuitama in 2009.
Many would consider the Arizona attack as a pass-first style offense, and that a run attack was underused. However, the Wildcats were second in the conference for rushing touchdowns with 33.
Keola Antolin provides a solid backup to Grisby and will really help out whoever wins the Arizona quarterback competition.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State returns their leading rusher from 2008 in Dimitri Nance, but Dennis Erickson will be looking to get more out of his rushing attack in 2009.
The Sun Devils went 5-7 last season behind a very spotty offensive line. They had trouble both running and protecting the quarterback so that will truly be the key for Erickson.
Keegan Herring is gone, but the rest of the depth chart is back. There are good rumblings over former walk-on James Morrison, who was hurt before showing his true potential.
If you are Jeff Tedford you have to be feeling good about your running game for 2009. Jahvid Best is a game breaker, with speed to burn.
If he can replicate his form from 2008 he will be an early contender for the Heisman because of his ability.
The best news for Cal, though? They return Shane Vereen as backup, who ranked 10th in the conference for rushing yards in 2008.
Well, Oregon could be really solid next season if LeGarrette Blount can rejoin the team. He was a 1,000-yard rusher last season behind Jeremiah Johnson.
Behind Blount are some relatively untested younger backs. However, don't count out the ability of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who's punishing running style placed him third on the team last season.
With offensive coordinator Chip Kelly taking over the program, the running attack should be in extremely good shape. Oregon has a penchant for developing talent at the skill positions when they need to, just look at where Masoli came from last season.
Let's not forget Oregon led the conference in rushing yards per game and total rushing touchdowns last season with 280.1 yards per game and 47 touchdowns respectively.
Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State is another team that should be pretty pleased with their running attack going into 2009.
Mike Riley has a special talent in sophomore Jacquizz Rodgers, who came in second behind Best in the conference for rushing yards with 1,253. He will have limited action after having offseason shoulder surgery.
The depth behind him is a bit uncertain, but Riley is a good coach and develops underrated talent extremely well.
Stanford discovered the perfect poster boy for the style that Jim Harbaugh wants to bring to Stanford in Toby Gerhart.
Gerhart ran for 1,136 yards and 15 scores last season and brought a bruising style to Stanford's attack.
The problem is that Gerhart is playing baseball for the Cardinal this spring and could be picked high enough in the baseball draft that he could skip school.
The key for Harbaugh will be to develop the depth behind Gerhart during this spring.
The UCLA running game ranked 116th in the nation in yards per game at 82.75. They suffer from the same problem as ASU with a spotty offensive line, and that will be the focus for coach Rick Neuheisel.
Derrick Coleman leads a talented young group with the graduation of Khalil Bell, and has a year's experience to his advantage.
Things certainly can't get much worse for the Bruins.
USC played Joe McKnight, Stefon Johnson, and C.J. Gable last season in a rotating stable. It worked for the Trojans, garnering 195 yards per game last season.
McKnight is the big name going into next season and the return of all five offensive linemen is a good sign for the running game.
Add in a new starting quarterback, look for the offensive game to be run oriented to help break in the new guy.
Washington returns Terrance Dailey, Brandon Johnson, and David Freeman next season; the three best and most experienced rushers for the Huskies.
That could be good for most teams, but as bad as the Huskies were last season look for new coach Steve Sarkisian to reevaluate the position during spring.
Dailey was the leading rusher and had the only true breakaway run of 2008. David Freeman is the best looking back and if he can stay healthy, could put a stranglehold on the position.
Washington State Cougars
Cal transfer James Montgomery could be the answer for a stable of running backs that averaged only 2.7 yards per carry. Granted, he is highly unproven, but like Washington there is little proven for the Cougars.
Paul Wulff had some serious growing pains installing the no-huddle offense at Washington State and it will be a huge help to the quarterback problems to have a proven back.