February 27, 2012

Spring peek: Running Backs

GoldandGreenNews.com continues its look at each position group heading into spring practice, and today we take a look at one of the Rams' deepest positions: running back. While emerging star Chris Nwoke returns, there is a lack of experienced players behind him. But those void of experience make up for it with an abundance of talent. Here's a look at who's returning.

Donnell Alexander, R-Fr.

Alexander is one of three talented freshman backs that redshirted in their first year on campus. The son of sack legend Derrick Thomas, Alexander showed flashes of explosiveness in fall camp before redshirting. He's bulked up to 210 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame and looks the part of a stout running back, and he no doubt has the tools to become a solid threat both between the tackles and to bounce it outside. Alexander has good balance as a runner, and is a solid back in just about every facet. He's a guy most fans tend to forget about from the Class of 2011, but wouldn't surprise those close to the program if he blossoms into a solid option in the Ram backfield in 2012. This spring is a huge opportunity for him to make a great first impression on Coach Mac.

Dorian Brown, R-Fr.

Brown's arrival in Fort Collins was highly anticipated due to his production as a junior at Thompson Valley in Loveland. A torn ACL just before his senior year not only scared bigger schools away, but it also prevented him from preparing physically for his true freshman season. Now, the huge tailback is expected to be at full go this spring. At 6-1, 230 pounds, Brown has the power and breakaway speed that will have coaches drooling if he can get back to his old form. A first team All-Colorado selection after his junior year, Brown's knee is still a major question mark, as Ram fans are fully aware of what a blown knee did to Kyle Bell's playing career. However, Fairchild's staff knew Brown was a high risk/high reward recruit coming out of high school, and the current staff is hopeful Brown can continue to play at a high level. If he can, CSU could have itself a very powerful backfield.

Chris Nwoke, Jr.

Nwoke shared much of the workload with Raymond Carter off and on last season and never seemed to get into much of a rhythm running the ball. That is, until bursting onto the scene in back-to-back weeks against UNLV and San Diego State, in which he totaled 388 yards those two games. Nwoke had two 230-plus yard games, racking up 232 yards against SDSU and scorching Air Force's porous defense for 269 yards, both of which were at Hughes Stadium. In all, he finished the 2011 campaign with 1130 yards (10th highest in CSU single-season history) and nine touchdowns, earning him second team All-MWC honors.

Now, the six-foot, 215 pound power back is looking to do even more as an upper classman. Nwoke finally reached the potential that so many had expected from him coming out of ThunderRidge in Highlands Ranch, and he is expected to be the main cog in the offense, especially with a lack of proven skill position players around him. If he continues to stay healthy and hold onto the ball, Nwoke should only get stronger as a runner. The spring period will likely be used to gauge the talent behind Nwoke in order to prevent wear and tear on him. As hard as Nwoke runs with the ball, that could also be an added benefit for the defense.

Davon Riddick, R-Fr.

Riddick is the third freshman in the group to be mentioned, but no less talented than either of the other two. He is the leanest of the freshmen at 6-foot, 205 pounds, but knows how to break free from tacklers and use his wheels in space. Last fall, he tended to show nice vision to find running lanes and patience in using his blockers, which is something that slowed Nwoke's development a little bit. Riddick put up solid numbers in high school coming out of Abilene (Cooper) Texas, but it remains to be seen if he can truly translate his talent to the college level. The spring practices and summer workout schedule will be huge in setting apart the younger backs.

Mark Woodbury, Sr.

Woodbury has seen action on the third team and scout teams during his career, mostly as an extra body in practice to give the defense different looks. He hasn't played in game situations, and he is likely to see more of the same, especially with a healthy Dorian Brown this spring. Once Mister Jones steps foot on campus in August, Woodbury will probably slide even further down the depth chart.

Note: Mister Jones is taking classes at Arapahoe Community College before his anticipated enrollment at CSU in the fall.

Analysis: While it would appear that Chris Nwoke is set to carry the load in Dave Baldwin's offense, several talented backs will be vying for valuable playing time alongside him. Baldwin showed at Utah State that he likes to use several backs. Robert Turbin was Baldwin's workhorse back last year, while Michael Smith saw a decent amount of carries come his way, too. Jim McElwain shared a similar philosophy at Alabama with a two-back system, spearheaded by Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. So, based on past trends and statements made by Coach Mac this winter, it's safe to say that a stable of backs is the preferred method of use to gain yards on the ground. Expect a hard-fought, intense battle amongst the three redshirt freshmen to gain carries as second and third options behind Nwoke.

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