Monday, March 02, 2015

UConn spring preview: Running backs

When it came to the use of the running backs during the 2014 season, bizarre would be the best word to try to describe the state of affairs.

Josh Marriner, who was talked up in a major way by head coach Bob Diaco at American Athletic Conference media day, had 24 carries in the first four games and then failed to carry the ball in four of the next five games.

Max DeLorenzo had a run of four straight games with double-digit carries and then combined for three carries in the next four games.

Down the stretch the Huskies turned to the true freshman duo of Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome. Johnson finished as the team's leading rusher while Newsome displayed an ability to be a threat in the pass game. While there were times when their lack of experience showed, it should be noted that the three most productive rushing games of the season came in weeks No. 12, 8 and 9. Johnson's 101-yard performance was one of the few bright spots in the season-ending loss to SMU. Now the hope is that by throwing them into the fire that Johnson and Newsome will be ready to take the next step as backs and provide a consistent running game.

With all four tailbacks and fullback Jazzmar Clax all coming back, the coaches should have a much better feel of what they have to work with after a season's worth of mixing and matching even if the perhaps working with the running backs and calling the plays is the recently hired Frank Verducci. The only back missing from the equation is Matt Walsh, who was moved to linebacker after splitting time at fullback with Clax over the last two seasons.

"You can see their movement skills in the out of season conditioning program and the thing is you don't have five of the same guy," said Verducci, UConn's new offensive coordinator and running backs coach. "You have a skill set here, a skill set there and another skill set. The challenge there is to play to their strengths but not so rigid that when Arkeel is in the game it is an outside run, when Ron is in the game you know it is an inside run, when Max is in the game you know it is a pass so you have to be able to mix it up and have to work on the deficiencies that they have. You can't just work to their strengths, if Arkeel is a great outside runner but not great in pass protection, he has to get better in pass protection. You'd like a guy to be the lead dog in the pack and I would hope that competition brings that out but if not, we will play to their strengths.

Verducci did throw out there the possibility of DeLorenzo being utilized as either a fullback or tailback in two-back sets,

"Max will have an opportunity to show ..," Verducci said. "It is all in how you package it. Is Max a fullback or it he a second tailback in the game? He has a unique skill set that hopefully we can maximize and hopefully improve him as a player of things that maybe he doesn't do great right now.

Everything he has shown me to this point is he is willing to do that.
Marriner is the tailback with the least amount of buzz surrounding him coming into camp but he offers an intriguing mix of speed and strength as he could be the Huskies' strongest pound for pound player.

"Josh is just an outstanding athlete," Verducci said. "That is going to be one of the challenges for us in the spring to put him in enough situations, when you have that many guys you really have to be organized to get all of them the looks necessary to get a clean evaluation out of them."


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