Oklahoma has always managed to put some of the most dominate college running backs on the field, at least in the past decade. Players like Kejuan Jones, Quentin Griffin, Adrian Peterson, Allen Patrick, Chris Brown, and DeMarco Murray have all graced Sooner fans with their presence and abilities. But it is this level of performance and output that we as fans have come to expect. Heading into the 2011 season, the running back position still remains somewhat of a question mark. It is one part of this Sooner offense that will need to get going for sure if Oklahoma plans on bringing home the hardware. Sure, there is a plethora of talent waiting in the stables but no one on the roster has had significant experience while battling injury. Jermie Calhoun, while a very talented back, just can't seem to crack the depth chart and as a junior, I'm not sure the road is going to get much brighter for him either. At least not if he can't hang on to the ball or fulfill his blocking assignments. Dom Whaley, a walk on who was picked for the red/white game before Calhoun in the draft, had an impressive spring but only time will tell if the coaching staff will give him the nod. But then we can turn around and look at players who have shown a ton of upside such as Brennan Clay, Jonathan Miller, and Roy Finch. And waiting in the shadows is true freshman Brandon Williams who has garnered much attention and hype without ever stepping onto the big stage to show the country what he is made of. Couple these players with the O-Line that has the ability to spring a player from the backfield into a dead sprint to the finish line and great things could happen all season long. So, in another attempt to ease the waiting game, I pose the question: Who will emerge as "the" running back at Oklahoma?Jonathan Miller has been a solid back for the Sooners. In 2009 he played seven games before suffering a season ending injury that would cost him the 2010 season as well. With the talent and recruits that OU has, Miller often gets overlooked but on 18 carries he managed to gain 130 yards giving him an average of 7.2 yards a carry. He has also continuously been gaining strength and size and now sits at 5-11 197 pegging himself as the biggest and most powerful back with experience in the Oklahoma system on the roster. This sets him up nicely to potentially get the majority of the carries as his body will be able to absorb hit after hit more effectively. However, one question still remains, how prone is he to reinjury?
Brennan Clay came in as a very talented back and saw early action before being injured against Florida State in mop up duty. Clay is a smaller back but only in the weight category. He stands 5-11 185 but is quick as lightning with a 4.46 forty coming out of high school with the ability to change direction on a dime. Clay could become the go to back if he adds a little more strength. The downfall to Clay is the tangible numbers that he produced last season. In three games Clay got twice as many carries as Miller did in seven games with 36 for a total of 127 yards. This only gives him an average of 3.5 ypc. Of all the backs on the roster, I think Clay is the least prone to injury.
Roy Finch is a player you simply cannot keep off the field. Many have crowned him the next OU Heisman winner (assuming Landry doesn't earn one first). His elusiveness was spectacular and gave Sooner fans a flashback to Quentin Griffin. Finch has a motor that keeps on churning and unbelievable balance but at 5-8 173 some are left questioning his durability. While he adds a change of pace and direction from Miller and Clay, the kid cannot seem to stay away from injury. Finch does have the most on-the-field experience when it comes to the running back debate with 85 carries for 398 yards giving him an average of 4.7 ypc, an acceptable number for a guy who wasn't 100% ever.
All of these running back have suffered injuries in their first seasons with OU. This has helped set up others with valuable playing time behind DeMarco Murray and it will certain show with the departure of Murray to the NFL. This may come as a surprise to some but, assuming that everyone is good to go once the season starts, I expect this to be the depth chart and I expect Miller to be the workhorse of the group. Of course things are subject to change as Brandon Williams (I can only hope he is the home run threat every time he touches the ball that he is being touted as) is inserted into the equation and as Finch continues to get healthy.