August 27, 2011

Jayhawks have crowded backfield




Offensive coordinator Chuck Long called the competition at running back one of the tightest races he has seen in coaching. But for an experienced running backs coach like Reggie Mitchell he just wants to see his group play with more consistency.

Although there is a lot of potential in the backfield a lot of the players are young and inexperienced. That's where Mitchell finds it a challenge to mold them into a group that will help win games.


"Every year is different," Mitchell said. "Other than Rell Lewis, we don't have a lot of experience in there. Every guy is a sophomore or younger. Hopefully a year from now we will develop some leadership and guys will say 'Hey this is the way we go about doing our business'. It's fun because you hope they will get to where you want them to be."

During August camp all of the backs have shown their talents. Still, with youth being dominant, some days are better than others.

"We are just looking to be more consistent," Mitchell said. "Everybody has had their good days and bad days. Everybody has kind of dropped off at some point so we need to be more consistent and build towards the McNeese State game."

When Gill arrived at Kansas he said their goal was to find a featured back. That may not hold true this season although James Sims stepped up as the main back last season.

"We've talked about trying to find a starter," Mitchell said. "You try to find the guy that wants to play. Hopefully somebody will jump to the forefront. Right now because James has played he might be a little ahead of the other guys. Brandon has made great strides and so has Darrian. Anthony has shown in the little that we have used him that he can play."

Since each back has a certain strength there is a good chance the backfield will feature different looks all season. That's Mitchell's prediction a week before the first game.

"Right now I would see it by committee because each guy has a different skill set," he said. "What we are going to do is try to put those guys in the best position and be able to utilize their skills. I don't see one guy getting the bulk of the carries or anything like that."


Now Showing: The fullback

Last year the Jayhawks didn't have a true fullback. That will change now that Nick Sizemore is eligible after sitting out since transferring from Buffalo. The 6-foot-2, 246 pounder will give the coaches an added feature they missed last season.

"Nick has done a good job," Mitchell said. "He's a tough guy and playing fullback that is a prerequisite. He has some athleticism and he can catch the ball. When you hand it to him he's an adequate runner and I have been pleased with what he has done in fall camp."


More news and notes on the running backs

-- It would be an understatement to say Mitchell has coached good running backs in his career. In his first stint at Kansas he coached June Henley and then Thomas Hamner at Minnesota. Hamner ran for 1000 yards in all four seasons. Mitchell has also coached T.J. Duckett, Rashard Mendenhall, and Pierre Thomas.

Mitchell was also a four-year starter himself at running back for Central Michigan.

"He doesn't talk a lot about the players he's coached but he has told us he's in the books for taking it 80 yards for a touchdown," Bourbon said with a laugh.


-- One area the running backs have focused on is pass protection. A lot of the younger players came from one-back systems in high school. Pass protection takes a lot of practice to improve.

"When you get a like Darrian who isn't a big guy they might struggle with that anyway," Mithcell said. "But they have come on. It isn't a matter of not knowing who to block it's a matter of being able to recognize it fast enough. We have another week to get ready and I hope they will be up to speed."


-- Mitchell mentioned each back has different strengths. For a quick idea we asked Bourbon about the players most talked about in the running back competition.

On James Sims- "I think he has good vision and balance. He has power and can break tackles.

On Anthony Pierson- "Oh man, he's got the speed."

On Darrian Miller- "He's got good balance and a lot of wiggle."

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