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December 5, 2013

Outstanding RB stable ends up underused

AggieYell.com continues its position-by-position look at the 2013 Texas A&M football team. Next up: running backs.

Ben Malena (107 carries for 506 yards and 10 TDs; 4.7 YPC and 42.2 YPG)

After a 2012 season that saw him take Christine Michael's starting job, rush for more than 800 yards at 5.9 yards a clip and become a vital part of the Aggie offense, Malena was supposed to be the leader of a powerful group of backs this year. He was, especially off the field, but the starter didn't replicate his 2012 success. Frequently bottled up at or around the line of scrimmage as the offensive line struggled to move defenders off the ball, Malena saw his carries drop by more than 30, his average yards per carry drop by more than a yard and long carry for the year went from 59 yards to 25. He caught just two more passes, in spite of A&M's increased emphasis on throwing the ball, and saw his playing time decrease as the season went on. For a class act and an emotional leader of the football team, it was a disappointing final season.

Trey Williams (54 carries, 384 yards, 6 TDs; 7.1 YPC, 38.4 YPG):

One of the most staggering statistics from 2013 is that Williams averaged better than 7 yards a carry, yet had 11 fewer carries and just 8 more yards than he did as a freshman, when he backed up Malena and Michael. Part of that is due to early season injuries (he only played in 10 of 12 games), but from the Arkansas game on, he was A&M's most effective back. He needs to be more careful with the football -- a fumble got him benched against Vanderbilt -- but he is the most explosive player on the roster for 2014 if Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans are gone. He may not be an every down back, but he should be the guy who gets the first look.

Tra Carson (58 carries for 308 yards, 6 TDs (5.3 YPC, 28 YPG):

Carson was a revelation in 2013, dumping the hesitant running style he had shown in the preseason and becoming the power back A&M hoped they'd get when he transferred from Oregon. Even though his primary job was to get tough yards in short yardage situations, he showed he was much more than that when given the opportunity.

Brandon Williams (44 carries for 289 yards, 1 TD; 6.1 YPC, 24.5 YPG):

Another home run hitter with great top-end speed, Williams spent a large part of the season as an afterthought due to concerns about his fumbling -- and the number of other quality backs. Ironically, it was fumbles by Trey Williams and Carson that got him into the Vanderbilt game, and he became a somewhat more constant part of the rotation after that. His 43-yard run against Missouri was the longest by a running back this season.

Overall grade: This is very difficult, because none of the backs played especially poorly. They ran the ball well for the most part, they blocked well in passing situations and were useful as receivers. But, as the season went on and until Manziel was too battered to throw efficiently, they weren't used as frequently or as effectively as they were in 2012. The Aggies' major running backs ran for 180 fewer yards on 28 fewer carries than the trio of Malena, Michael and Williams got in 2012. Overall play: B+; Overall effect on the game: C-

Look ahead to 2014:

Returning players: Trey Williams, Brandon Williams, Carson and James White (redshirted)

New arrivals: Varshaun Nixon (194 carries for 1,491 yards and 21 TDs; 7.69 YPC, 124.3 YPG at Lake Travis)

What to expect: The competition for the starting job will begin the first day of spring practice, with Brandon and Trey Williams and Carson all getting a long look. White, who is at about 220 pounds, brings an extra element to the backfield with another different running style. Nixon will have his work cut out for him to crack the rotation. It should be an impressive group that could put up big numbers -- but we also thought that way coming into this season.


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