With August training camp just a week away we continue on with our Texas A&M position previews in the Countdown to 2009 with running backs. After a 2008 season in which the Aggies went away from the run game to focus on passing, A&M wants to incorporate much more of a run game into its offense.
In 2008, A&M didn't run the ball much at all even with explosive running backs such as Goodson and Gray in the backfield. The Aggies averaged just 88.2 yards per game on the ground and 2.9 yards per carry. The main reason for the lack of yardage on the ground, however, could be attributed directly to the offensive line that was decimated by injuries and a lack of depth.
In 2009, the Aggies will be without Goodson, but they return Gray and Stephens - both sophomores. Both are backs that can wiggle away from tacklers and break big gains, but neither figures to be a bruising back that can run over defenders. If the offensive line is once again a problem, the Aggies will need a big back that can do just that.
Enter Rivals.com five-star freshman Christine Michael who not only provides a bruising back that can take a defender one-on-one but also one that can turn up field for an explosive play. Redshirt freshman Jay Tolliver also showed in the spring that he can butt heads with the defense up the middle as well.
In 2008, the Aggies got away from the run game in a big way as A&M went to the air early and often. Head coach Mike Sherman has said once again that he wants a run game to offset the high-flying passing offense. There is no question the Aggies have the talent in the backfield, but do they have the blocking up front to give them a chance to make something happen with the ball in their hands.
THE VETERAN: Cyrus Gray
Despite being just a sophomore, Gray is the veteran of the rather young group of Aggie running backs after starting eight games last season. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and is also a major threat in the passing game and on special teams.
With Goodson gone, all eyes will be on Gray to lead the young group of backs on and off the field in 2009. With a little more blocking, Gray could get into the open field more often which makes him a very dangerous back.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON: Bradley Stephens
Stephens has always been a workout warrior and a standout on the practice field, but in 2008 Stephens didn't see the field much as a redshirt freshman. But Stephens suffered from fumble-itis, which limited his in-game carries. That, however, is gone and Stephens could see a lot more time on the field.
Stephens definitely has the talent to push Gray, and if the Aggies push Gray out wide in certain cases then Stephens could be in the backfield. Both could see the field together a lot in 2009. Last season, Stephens showed a lot of promise in August camp and could do so once again this August.
WATCH OUT FOR THE FISH: Christine Michael
A lot of hype surrounds Michael as he begins his career in Aggieland, and since he provides a type of runner that A&M needs he could make an immediate impact as a true freshman. Sherman has already said that he will play this season and not redshirt, and the reports out of offseason 7-on-7 workouts is that he is a beast.
Veterans such as Trent Hunter have already said that they can't wait to see what he can do when the Aggies get into full pads in August camp. If the offensive line doesn't improve this season, then Michael may be the best bet for the Aggies to have an impact in the run game.
Sherman definitely wants a much more impactful running game this season and the Aggies do have the talent in the backfield to do it. This August, however, won't be as much about finding a replacement for Goodson - the Aggies already feel that they have that in Gray, Stephens and Michael - but rather about the offensive line.
If the line can prove to be better blocking for the backs, then the Aggies could definitely have big time threats out of the backfield. But if A&M's running back continue to get hit behind the line of scrimmage then the Aggies are going to be hard-pressed to gain much on the ground - no matter who is carrying the ball.
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