UTEP Football Position Breakdown: Running Backs
Aug. 3, 2009
This is the seventh in a series of articles previewing the 2009 UTEP football team. The Miners will start fall drills on Thursday, Aug. 6.
UTEP had a major hole to fill at running back last season after Marcus Thomas took his talents to the NFL.
Thomas rushed for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior in 2007, finishing ninth in the nation in scoring with 9.8 points per game.
And while the "by committee" approach may have worked for the most part, it wasn't what running backs coach Jeff Banks had in mind when the season started.
"You always hope to have someone emerge as a go-to-guy," Banks said. "And by that I mean someone who can get you 25-30 carries a game, get into a rhythm and feed off the fact that he has more reps than the other guys."
Injuries, however, prevented the Miners from developing that marquee player - although Jackson, Buckram, Frazier and Palmer each had big games over the course of the season.
Jackson rushed for 105 yards at Louisiana-Lafayette, and Buckram put together a 107-yard performance against Tulane. Frazier and Palmer compiled 74 and 64 yards, respectively, versus New Mexico State.
All but Jackson return for the 2009 campaign. The question is, who will take charge of the Miner ground game?
"Donald has the most experience and expects to start, and Vernon had a great spring," Banks said. "Those guys give us a lot of speed. They are breakaway threats."
Buckram and Frazier are healthy right now. Keeping them that way could be the key to the season.
"Body weight is a factor," Banks said. "Donald is 195 pounds. That's as heavy as he has been. And Vernon is as strong as he has been.
"You can also work to build strength during fall camp in the month of August. But you have to be tough enough to play every down. Both are capable of doing that and both are coming in injury-free, which hasn't happened in a while."
Another significant returnee is junior Jason Williams, who redshirted a year ago while recovering from an ankle injury. The bruising 5-10, 210-pound Williams has rushed for 154 yards in 20 career games.
"Jason played a lot as a true freshman," Banks said. "He had a great spring and a great summer and has a chance to be an every down back."
Palmer is currently suspended but could provide help down the road after establishing himself as the team's short-yardage back.
"How he does in fall camp will determine whether he's in the mix," Banks said. "He's durable."
The wild card in the Miners' plans is Leilyon Myers, a transfer from Palomar Junior College who originally signed with Washington out of high school. Myers missed the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury after rushing for 869 yards and 13 TDs in '07.
"Leilyon has been here all summer," Banks said. "He has worked hard to get down to 220 pounds from 234. He was a proven running back in-between the tackles at the junior college level. And he has three years to play [at UTEP]. So our number one goal is to bring him along, maybe not carrying the load but helping us win games in Conference USA."
Keys to success for this year's crop of backs include reeling off long runs and protecting the football.
"We have to be able to make big plays in the secondary if we're going to be a dynamic group," Banks said. "We have to be consistent week in and week out. I think health is a big part of that, obviously, and keeping our body weight where it is for some of the smaller guys is going to be important. We had three fumbles last year. Our goal for this year is to have zero.
"We're going to have a veteran offensive line and a veteran quarterback who will get us out of blitzes, and we'll be running to the looks that are best for the team. Having a 1,000-yard rusher will mean that we have a consistent starter, just like we've had in the past with Howard Jackson and Marcus Thomas."
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