Texas Longhorns 2009 Preview: Running Back

Dino NicandrosAnalyst IJune 16, 2009

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Vondrell McGee #2 of the Texas Longhorns carries the ball against Matt Featherston #46 of the Texas A&M Aggies on November 27, 2008 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  Texas won 49-9. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Earl Campbell. Ricky Williams. Cedric Benson. Jamaal Charles.

Some of the greatest running backs in college football history have played for the University of Texas. Both Campbell and Williams were awarded the Heisman Trophy, while Benson and Charles set numerous Texas rushing records.

Heck, some might consider Vince Young one of the better running backs to play in the burnt orange.

Texas has long been known as a run-first team that uses a steady dose of power running to open up short to intermediate throws.

For a long time, players like Campbell, Williams, and Benson were the catalysts of the Longhorn offense, as they received 25 to 30 carries a game and 20 to 25 touchdowns a season, on average.

The climate, however, has changed in Austin.

Back in 2003, Greg Davis implemented the zone-read to accommodate the rare skills that Vince Young possessed, and with great success. Young essentially served as a second running back on the field while lined up in the shotgun.

Since then, Davis has overhauled the offense yet again to fit the skills of Colt McCoy. The Longhorns now run a version of the spread that makes use of a short to intermediate passing game to open up a quick-hit running game.

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Gone are the days of the power runner.

After Jamaal Charles' early exit in 2007, the Longhorns were left with a stable of young running backs, none of which were able to separate themselves from the other backs. Because of this, the 2008 season saw the beginning running back-by-committee approach on offense.

Texas had five backs, including Colt McCoy, who rushed for at least 250 yards.

Junior Vondrell McGee seemed like the next likely candidate to join the 1,000-yard rushing club at Texas, but so far, it hasn't panned out that way.

Last season, he rushed for 376 yards and four touchdowns on 88 carries, nowhere near the 1,000 yard mark.

He was accompanied by recent graduate and Rams running back, Chris Ogbonnaya. Ogbonnaya served as the versatile third down back for the Longhorns and it looked, for a while, that he would be the consistent threat Texas needed out of the backfield.

He too failed to live up to the full time starter role, though he did rush for 373 yards and four touchdowns along with 540 yards receiving and three touchdowns.

Sophomore Fozzy Whittaker showed the most speed out of the group, but he was derailed by injury and never fully recovered. Whittaker finished the season with 284 yards on 64 carries.

Sophomore Cody Johnson was the team's power back and had arguably the best season of all of the running backs, rushing for 338 yards and 12 touchdowns, though many were near the goal line. Johnson showed remarkable agility for a back of his size (240 lbs.) and seemingly won the starting job this spring before going out with a hamstring injury.

Mack Brown scored big this offseason when he landed 6'3", 225-pound freshman Chris Whaley.

Coach Brown indicated his desire to restore some attitude to the Longhorn running attack, and Whaley, with his rare combination of strength, size and speed, may just be the back Texas needs.

Backs Tre' Newton and Jeremy Hills will also look to increase their work loads in the rotation, while Antwaan Cobb will work full time at fullback after shuffling back and forth between tailback and fullback.

Texas' offense was deadly last season, but the running game lagged behind the passing game at times.

If Texas is able to restore some of that famed balance, not even Urban Meyer's Gators may have enough to stop the Longhorn juggernaut.

Moreover, the Longhorns need a running back to step up and relieve pressure from McCoy, who actually led the team in rushing last season with 561 yards and 11 touchdowns. McCoy is as gutsy and tough as they come, but the hits will take a toll on his body after a while.

This is a talented group of backs. Look for either Johnson or Whaley to win the starting job, with McGee and Whittaker providing the home run threat.

Next up: Receivers

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