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August 14, 2009

Backfield Presents Many Viable Options

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While there's a scramble going on to find the best players at each position during WKU's fall camp, there's been one stabilizing position.

The Toppers' running backs return arguably the most experienced group on the field. And for the first time since before last season even started, they're all healthy. In turn that's lessened the toll on each running back, though the coaching staff might want to find the biggest tree they can to knock on.

"Any time you can get that many quality guys in the mix, then certainly you're not overworking one over the other," running backs coach Stuart Holt said. "The key is just keeping them healthy and not making it to where they've gotta stay hydrated. Those guys, they move constantly out here, so we monitor their weight and how much they're losing each day and make sure they're getting their fluids back."

Seniors Marell Booker and Tyrell Hayden and sophomore Bobby Rainey, the class of the group, make for a pretty formidable trio. And each brings something different to the table.

Booker is a bull of a runner, who takes contact head on, Rainey adds a tremendous burst of speed and Hayden throws in a superb mix of both. The overall talent among the three brings up a conundrum of who could see the field more. But WKU has worked in plays to involve all three as much as possible.

"We're looking at some two-back sets, we're looking at having two guys in the game, but being one back," Holt said. "In essence, one is playing receiver, doing some screens and some quick game. Anytime we can get them on the field, it'd be great if we can get them all three on the field at once. We're trying to do as much as we can to get them there. We're trying to get them on the field within the parameters of our offense."

Learning the new plays could be the biggest challenge, thus far for the running backs and so far, the results have been good. But other areas have been addressed also.

"We're always gonna focus on taking care of the ball, having no fumbles, making sure that we secure the football, especially in key situations," Hayden said. "Another thing we're looking at is pass protection, notifying defensive fronts and picking up blitzes from linebackers, safeties, getting a good idea of what the offensive line is doing and knowing what we're supposed to do."

On top of the three aforementioned running backs, true freshman Keshawn Simpson has made a push to be included as well. With good depth, Simpson still might be redshirted, but his play has been very encouraging.

"Hopefully, we can get him ready and be able to count on him in special teams," coach David Elson said. "It's just tough when you've got three that good. The whole redshirt decision on a guy like him, but physically, there's no question he's ready to play at this level. It's just a matter of mentally."

There's a lot of potential for what WKU can do with arguably its strongest position on the field. But whether they can stay healthy is another question.

Booker missed one game with an eye injury last fall, while Rainey had surgery for a torn tendon in his right knee. Rainey is back at full speed, though he's had another injury creep up.

"I feel great," he said. "No injuries right now. I'm just taking precautions with my shoulder, but other than that I feel great."

If there were only trees in L.T. Smith Stadium.


Check back tomorrow for InsideHilltopperSports.com's exclusive video from the first day of two-a-day practices.




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