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It’s their turn now: running backs, part 1

A healthy Vereen is ready to assume the lead role at Cal. Dave Miller

Print This May 06, 2010, 04:00 PM EST

One of the best aspects of the college game is that no matter how many players graduate or leave early to move on to the next level, at the end of the day the football program remains — and readies itself for the next season with a new batch of emerging talent.

With the 2010 NFL Draft in the books and the spring football season coming to a close on college campuses, the National Football Post takes a look at some of the players who will be replacing the marquee names drafted two weeks ago.

Second in the series will be a look at the running backs who will become household names by the time opening kickoff arrives on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Andre Ellington/Jamie Harper, Clemson: Clemson won’t have to worry about replacing the production of the talented C.J. Spiller with just one player, as Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper will combine to ease the loss of the new Buffalo Bill. Spiller was prone to nagging injuries during his career, so the Tigers are experienced in using multiple backs. Both Ellington and Harper had at least 68 rushes and averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry in 2009, and both should have increased roles in the receiving game. Will they provide the game-breaking ability on special teams like Spiller? No, but the Tigers will be more than steady on offense with four returning offensive linemen and improved play from quarterback Kyle Parker. Ellington rushed for 86 yards on 16 carries, including a 34-yard touchdown run, in the team’s spring game, while Harper netted 33 yards on 12 carries. Ellington came into camp seemingly bigger and stronger, and he remains more of the home-run option of the two.

2009 stats:
Ellington: 68 rushes for 491 yards and 4 TDs (7.2 YPC).
Harper: 80 rushes for 418 yards and 4 TDs (5.2 YPC).

Robbie Rouse, Fresno State: While fellow sophomores Michael Harris and A.J. Ellis will also get carries, it’s clear that Robbie Rouse is the lead back to replace new San Diego Charger Ryan Mathews. Backing up Mathews last season, Rouse averaged 5.8 yards per carry and rushed for four scores. In the Bulldogs’ spring game, he ripped off a 25-yard touchdown run and added a two-point conversion to close out a productive spring season. He’s a dynamic player for sure, but the main concern is his ability to handle a heavy workload, as he only stands 5-7 and 185 pounds. However, Rouse will make an impact on Saturday afternoons, even if he doesn’t average the 23 carries a game Mathews did last season.

2009 stats:
Rouse: 82 rushes for 479 yards and 4 TDs (5.8 YPC).

Shane Vereen, California: With Jahvid Best moving onto the NFC North and the Detroit Lions, Shane Vereen is ready to assume the lead role and continue the tradition of recent prolific Cal tailbacks. While head coach Jeff Tedford historically has employed dual backs, Vereen will get the majority of the carries. After all, he actually finished as the Bears’ leading rusher last season. He should be completely healthy in the fall after playing the last few games of ‘09 with a torn meniscus and a shoulder injury before hurting his ribs in the Poinsettia Bowl. In his last four contests, he rushed for 566 yards on 108 carries and six touchdowns. He’s also capable of catching the ball out of the backfield. Yeah, he’s ready to be the guy in Berkeley, Calif.

2009 stats:
Vereen: 183 rushes for 952 yards and 12 TDs (5.2 YPC).

Brandon Bolden/Enrique Davis/Rodney Scott, Ole Miss: It’s not likely that any of these backs will be able to provide the home-run threat that Dexter McCluster offered out of the backfield or on special teams, but that’s what Jesse Grandy will try to do for the Rebels on offense. With a collective effort, however, this trio should be able to provide balance for an offense led by sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley. Bolden has dropped weight and looks more dedicated than ever, and he’s coming off a solid ’09 campaign in which he rushed for more than 600 yards and averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry. The kind of spring that junior Enrique Davis had is exactly what head coach Houston Nutt thought he was going to see when he arrived on campus. Davis’ elusiveness and breakaway speed made him a much-hyped recruit, and those traits can make the offense even more dangerous if he’s matured like many believe. Rodney Scott will also be in the mix for carries after showing improvement throughout the spring.

2009 stats:
Bolden: 129 rushes for 614 yards and 4 TDs (4.8 YPC).
Davis: 32 rushes for 110 yards and 2 TDs (3.4 YPC).
Scott: 35 rushes for 138 yards and 2 TDs (3.9 YPC).

Tyler Gaffney/Stepfan Taylor/Jeremy Stewart, Stanford: How does Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh go about replacing the 1,871 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns provided by Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart in 2009? Well, first and foremost, he shouldn’t try because it’s impossible to find a suitable replacement. But can a combination of sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart be enough? The trio combined for 497 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season, so they have work to do if the Cardinal expect the power-running game to continue to succeed. Four starters returning from a cohesive offensive line will help. If all else fails, talented quarterback Andrew Luck can put the entire offense on his shoulders, right?

2009 stats:
Gaffney: 22 rushes for 87 yards and 1 TD (4.0 YPC).
Taylor: 56 rushes for 303 yards and 2 TDs (5.4 YPC).
Stewart: 17 rushes for 107 yards and 1 TD (6.3 YPC).

Mario Fannin/Onterio McCalebb/Dontae Aycock/Michael Dyer, Auburn: All the talk will surround top signee Michael Dyer, who many expect will make fans forget about 1,300-yard rusher Ben Tate. But Dyer hasn’t arrived on campus yet, so senior Mario Fannin has the best opportunity to grab a big chunk of the carries this fall after being moved around the offense throughout his career. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry in ’09, but he only carried the ball 34 times. However, he has the body to establish himself as an every-down SEC back. Onterio McCalebb also could get his share of carries if his production in league contests improves from last season. Redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock, who played quarterback in high school, is a perfect fit to take Fannin’s multi-purpose role as head coach Gene Chizik wants to utilize his athleticism in the open field in a variety of ways.

2009 stats:
Fannin: 34 rushes for 285 yards and 0 TDs (8.4 YPC).
McCalebb: 105 rushes for 565 yards and 4 TDs (5.4 YPC).

Tauren Poole, Tennessee: He may not have been given the chance if Lane Kiffin was still in Knoxville, but junior running back Tauren Poole is set to replace Montario Hardesty as the featured back at Tennessee. Poole had a great spring, impressing coaches with his ability to break off long runs and stay upright after initial contact. With the quarterback position still unsettled, the Vols may lean heavily on Poole in the fall.

2009 stats:
Poole: 10 rushes for 85 yards and 0 TDs (8.5 YPC).

Next: Part 2, where we’ll look at the running backs replacing those drafted in rounds 4-7.

Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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