The Texas Longhorns have 23 new players arriving this offseason as members of their 2014 recruiting class. After losing significant depth at tailback, none could be more instrumental to the program's immediate success than running back Donald Catalon.
Jerrod Heard and Derick Roberson are the faces of this group of newcomers. Over the next four years, no two players will be more important than the quarterback and pass-rusher of the future. As for the 2014 season, Catalon is already on the fast track to a major role without even stepping on the practice field.
Since they did not land an impact safety, the Longhorns do not have a 2014 recruit that needs to contribute immediately. The 'Horns return eight starters on defense, and every departed offensive player has a backup that is ready to assume more responsibility.
At least that was the case before spring practice began. Now that Joe Bergeron has been suspended due to academic issues, the Longhorns need all the help they can get behind returning All-Big 12 runner Malcolm Brown.
Even with Johnathan Gray out for the foreseeable future with a ruptured Achilles, the Longhorns entered the offseason with a deep stable of runners led by Brown. The senior rushed for 462 yards in the four games Gray was out, and Bergeron's 1,392 career yards gave Texas a trusted backup with offensive weapon Daje Johnson on hand as a change-of-pace back.
Losing Bergeron complicates that expected depth, especially because Brown has missed eight games in his career. Johnson and redshirt sophomore Jalen Overstreet are the other Longhorn backs that carried the ball 10-plus times last season, though, neither should be relied upon to spell Brown on a regular basis.
Weighing just 180 pounds, Johnson is in no way built to handle the ball between the tackles. What he brings is pure, game-changing speed that is better utilized when he is moved around the formation. He possesses great talent, but trying to give him heavy carries would be counterproductive.
Overstreet, a converted quarterback, is less of a known commodity. He rushed for 92 yards on nine carries last season against New Mexico State, but his other 11 totes gained just 10 yards. Coming in at a sleight 215 pounds, the 6'2" glider is no more built for an increased role than Johnson.
In all, that's one out of three tailbacks with proven skill to handle a solid workload. And there's no guarantee he can stay healthy.
For the incoming Catalon, that provides an opportunity to immediately step in as the backup until Gray and/or Bergeron is back in action. The Houston product was 247Sports' top running back recruit in the state, and he possesses a skill set that would be a nice complement to Brown's punishing style.
Catalon's scouting report, courtesy of SB Nation's Wescott Eberts:
And in any case, Catalon's speed in pads is what will be important once he makes the transition to college. In that regard, the opening highlight from the above video shows Catalon bursting into the open field and outrunning a defender with an angle, as well as every other player on the opposing defense.
So it's safe to say that he possesses more than enough explosiveness. A decisive runner who likes to plant his foot and get upfield, Catalon prefers to make subtle cuts at top speed -- he's more of a slide cutter than a jump cutter with elite lateral agility.
A prerequisite for any good running back is good balance and Catalon certainly has it, as he can keep his feet if opponents try to tackle him too high.
One area of improvement for Catalon is to consistently use his 190-pound frame to move the pile at the end of runs. While he can occasionally break arm tackles and drive his legs on contact, he doesn't always maximize runs by finishing strong against smaller opponents in the secondary.
An added bonus to his game is that he has experience out of the backfield as a receiver, so he could be a candidate to split out wide at times in college.
As indicated above, Catalon brings good speed and lateral quickness to the position, while his receiving ability would make him useful on third down. So long as he can add 10 pounds to his 5'11" frame, which shouldn't be a problem, there is enough there for him to spell Brown for 10 totes a game.
A lot can change for Texas by the start of the season. More injuries can befall key contributors, Overstreet or Johnson may prove more ready than expected or one of Texas' missing backs could return to the field in time for the opener. All of which could temper the need to get Catalon rolling as a freshman.
For now, the backfield is the area that needs a fresh body, and the Longhorns are fortunate have a guy like him ready to fill the void.