Holy wow how things have changed. A year ago Sooner Nation was talking about having the deepest set of running backs in the entire country and heading into 2012, RB could be one of the most shallow positions on this entire team. Losing Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller, and most recently Brandon Williams has put a strangle hold on the Sooners depth at the position. The projected starter will be coming off a broken ankle. Your arguably most talented player has had both health and concentration issues and will never be capable of being an every down back. A former highly rated recruit seems to be playing timid and lost his explosiveness. And that's about it in terms of guys you can be confident will even be here next year. Not exactly the picture of stability for a unit that this OU offense needs to step up in a big way in 2012.
Starter: Dominique Whaley
Not sure how you could put anyone else ahead of him as the projected starter even considering he'll be working his way back from a serious ankle injury. It is not likely he's ready to go this spring, so by the time he is ready to come back he'll have been out for an extended period of time. It's only natural to assume a considerable amount of rust that he'll have to shake off. That said, I think he proved more than capable during the time he did play this past season that he can be that go-to guy for the OU running game.
Backup: Roy Finch
The guy is the perfect change of pace replacement when they work him in for Whaley. I don't think OC Josh Heupel did a very effective job of using him for most of the year, but from what we've heard that's as much on Finch for not putting in the work during practice. By the time he had worked his way onto the field, Whaley went down shortly afterward so they didn't really have much of a chance to play off one another.
Finch's size is what it is and obviously isn't ever changing. However that doesn't mean that he can't still be an incredibly significant contributor for this offense, it just means he's not (or at least shouldn't) be the every down back. If you can take Stoops at his word, after just a couple games as the primary ball carrier Bob described Finch as "worn down." Which, if true, just proves the point that he needs to be used in spots as opposed to that main guy.
Guys biding their time . . .
I think it's pretty safe to say that Brennan Clay has fallen out of favor with a large part of Sooner Nation. Fair or unfair, many are asking if he's just kind of missing something that has lead him to look like a pretty average football player. I'm not quite ready to write him off and am hoping we can see him recapture some of that burst he had before suffering a couple serious injuries. He certainly has some work to do to convince OU fans he can be that player again (if that means anything), so a nice showing in the bowl game would be a great start towards that.
Danzel Williams is a guy who, very similar to a kid we'll discuss in a second, was originally recruited as a CB but expressed a strong desire to play RB instead. He is another undersized (5'8" 186 lbs) shifty back who can make plays in space. Williams could be a real asset as a receiving threat both out of the backfield and in the slot. We have one of those guys already and while talented, I do not believe he's a better player than Finch so it's kind of hard to see a big role for him in the offense.
Alex Ross has the look of a potential superstar in the making, but you always have to be cautious when bestowing that kind of label on a kid who has yet to even make it to campus. Speaking of which, there has been talk for some time that he could be a possible grade risk. So at this point unfortunately, we can't yet feel confident in his arrival to Norman. Hopefully it's just talk, but until he actually makes it on campus there is going to be some concern. If he is able to make it, I think he'll be a player that will be very difficult to keep off the field. Very similar to how people were feeling about Brandon Williams heading into this past season, but with hopefully a much, much different end result. Ross already has the body of a second or third year player, so he would be ready to play from day one.
Daniel Brooks is the only other current 2012 commitment at the RB position and originally the coaches were recruiting him as a CB. However, given the depth issues at the position and Brooks' preference to play offense the coaches have agreed to give him a shot at RB. The only issue I see with that is he's basically a slightly bigger version of Roy Finch (and probably doesn't have quite as many moves as Finch).
Wrapping things up, with all the losses from guys leaving the program it's looking more than a little thin. I'd feel a lot better about things if Whaley wasn't coming off that broken ankle and if there wasn't the concern Ross possibly not qualifying. With a 100% Whaley, Finch, and Ross I'd have little concern about our running game. But if you're looking at a worst case scenario of Whaley struggling to get back, Ross not qualifying and a Finch/Clay/Williams combo then color me really freaking worried. As we've talked about here, the Sooners have made several late offers to both h.s. and JUCO RBs, so I'd suspect they're not done at the position for his 2012 class and they could very well need another guy (or maybe two).