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Thursday, June 20, 2013
Burnt Orange Breakdown: Johnathan Gray

By Carter Strickland

During the summer, HornsNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Texas roster -- excluding the Longhorns' 2013 recruiting class -- in our Burnt Orange Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Mike Davis, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 32 Johnathan Gray
Sophomore running back

Expectations for 2013: Gray will be the main focus of the running game. After averaging just 11.4 rushes per game in 2012, the sophomore should get closer to 17 rushes per game in 2013. The spread offense is much better suited for his talents, and he could become an explosive yard-gainer in the mold of Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle in 2011 and 2012. Texas will also use him as a receiver out of the backfield and try every way it can to get him in space where Gray is the best of Texas’ three running backs.

Best-case scenario for 2103: The added carries should push Gray up over the 1,000-yard mark. Texas has not had a rusher reach 1,000 yards since Jamaal Charles in 2007. In addition, Gray only had two 100-plus yard games last season and should be poised to at least double that in 2013. He should benefit from Texas’ push to get 15 more offensive plays per game and its willingness to diversify the offense and fully exploit all the talents at its disposal. This will allow Gray to not be the primary focus of the defense and force the defense to guess where the ball is going. A player of Gray’s skill can use that guesswork against the defense or get big gains.

Worst-case scenario for 2013: If Texas does not establish Gray as the top running back and give him the requisite carries, it could become a mess in the backfield. While Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Gray can remain friendly and solid teammates, in order for Gray to understand his importance on the team and work toward the goal of being a 1,000-yard rusher, he needs to coaching staff to stand behind him and let him known that he is the top option for Texas. If that doesn’t happen, it could take away some of his confidence and therefore inhibit the way that he runs when he does get his shots.

Future expectations: In almost any other offense, Gray would be the unquestioned first option. But Texas does have two other talented running backs who need to get the ball. That is not going to change over the next two seasons. If Gray does stay until his senior year -- running backs are no longer a huge premium in the NFL so that is a likely scenario -- he will only have one season, his last, without Bergeron and Brown. That could limit his production in 2013 and 2014. But still, he is poised to be a 1,000-yard-a-year back. And having Brown and Bergeron could help him stay free of the wear and tear that usually accompanies a featured back.