Thursday, June 20, 2013
Question of the Week: Dividing carries
By HornsNation staff
AUSTIN, Texas – It has become rather clear that Johnathan Gray will be the primary running back at Texas.
The sophomore is the most versatile of the Longhorns’ three tailbacks and is better equipped to work in space as well as create an explosive play any time he touches the ball.
What has not been clear is just what will happen with the two running backs behind Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Texas coach Mack Brown has by no means lost faith in their ability and has no plans to shelve either of the juniors.
Texas tailback Johnathan Gray should have a much bigger role as a sophomore.
"They all three have played at NFL level when they have been healthy and played well. So we are really lucky to have them. I like all three of them. I just hope Joe [Bergeron] and Malcolm [Brown] will stay more healthy," Brown said when asked about the pecking order of the running backs.
The prevailing thought is that Malcolm Brown will be next in line behind Gray, with Bergeron filling in the holes. Texas will also run some two-back sets, which could employ any variation of the three.
But given that there is so much talent and still only one ball, the question has come up of who should get it when and where? So this week HornsNation has decided to hit that question head on like a running back with a full head of steam.
Gray had 149 carries last season, or 11.4 per game. Bergeron had 127, or roughly 10 per game. Brown only had 61 carries, or eight per game. What Texas needs to do is immediately hand almost all of Bergeron’s 127 carries to Brown. As for getting Gray more carries, well, Texas wants to run 84 plays per game. That’s roughly 15 more plays a game than last season. Extrapolated out over 13 games that is 195 more plays in a season. Texas was nearly evenly split rushing to passing last year (339 pass attempts, 442 rushes). So it is safe to assume if Texas hits 84 plays per game that it will average just about 7.5 more rushes per game.
Gray doesn’t need to take all of those. If he did that would be 19 per game and that might be two or three too many. Two of those touches should be given to Daje Johnson/Jalen Overstreet with Malcolm Brown taking the other one.
So in the final equation Gray would have 16 carries per game, Brown 11, Bergeron four to five and Johnson/Overstreet would be in line to split as many as six carries per game on speed sweeps an the like.
Last year I crunched a bunch of numbers to come up with the perfect answer to the question on everyone’s minds: How could Brown, Gray and Bergeron divvy up the carries for optimal production.
It was a cute exercise, but pretty stupid in hindsight. There’s no perfect model. No matter how many Excel spreadsheets you produce, there’s just no accounting for injuries. Dividing up carries never became the hot-button issue we expected for Texas in 2012 because there were few times when all three backs were healthy and ready to play.
Gray stepped up when Brown was sidelined. Bergeron battled ailments throughout the season. When Brown came back, either there weren’t carries to be had or he wasn’t fully ready for them. A bit puzzling, yes, but a relative non-issue compared to Texas’ other problems last season.
Going into 2013, a division of labor that makes sense to me is 50% Gray, 20% Brown, 15% Daje Johnson/speed weapons and 15% Bergeron. There’s no doubt in my mind that Gray is the best feature back in the program from an all-around standpoint, and he has a chance to become a valued asset as a receiver out of the backfield as well.
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But when you have three backs, there’s no need for excess fatigue. Gray shouldn’t need to carry the ball 30 times in a game this fall. He might not come close to touching 25. If Brown can stay healthy for 13 games, he’s still got a chance to be a potent weapon, and Bergeron will still get what he needs in short- and medium-yardage situations.
Gray doesn’t want a lot of carries. He wants his fair share of them but I can’t imagine he’s daydreaming of 20-plus carries a game. That’s not what he came to Texas for.
In fact, one reason he liked the Longhorns so much was because of the running backs already in place that he knew would take some of the burden off of him.
Let’s not forget that he finished fourth all-time in carries for a high school running back with 1,205. He wants to save some tread on those tires for the NFL.
So assuming all three are healthy -- and we all know what happens when you assume -- Gray should get anywhere from 15 to 18 rushes per game, Brown 10 to 13 RPG, Bergeron 4 to 7 RPG, and Daje Johnson/Jalen Overstreet anywhere from 2 to 6 RPG.
Remember that David Ash will also look to run more this season, as Major Applewhite encouraged him to do in the Alamo Bowl. Most of those will likely come out of passing downs but he should have more of an impact on the running game this season than in years past.