NORMAN — The meeting room for Oklahoma’s running backs doesn’t have many empty chairs. Depending on whether do-every-thing fullback Trey Millard is part of the discussion, there could be as many as seven players vying for a carry.
On paper, Oklahoma appears to have its deepest running group in coach Bob Stoops’ tenure. Senior running backs Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Trey Millard combined for 18 rushing touchdowns and 1,761 yards last season.
Redshirt freshmen Alex Ross and David Smith and true freshman Keith Ford all seem to be pushing for playing time, making for a very crowded backfield.
“It’s a good group. The deepest, I don’t know about that,” Stoops said.
The tepid response to the depth question came from recent history. It was just two years ago OU worked through the preseason with what looked like a very deep backfield.
By the second half of season, it was a much different situation, and a perfect example of how fleeting running back depth can be.
OU started preseason camp with Clay, Finch, Millard, walk-on-turned starter Dominique Whaley and highly touted recruits Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brandon Williams.
By the middle of the season, Whaley suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Clay was dealing with an assortment of ailments. Miller and Calhoun both transferred before the season even began when Williams moved ahead of them on the depth chart. Then Williams transferred to Texas A&M at the end of the regular season to be closer to home.
The cupboard went from stocked to bare in less than a season.
“I brought up the situation a few years ago when we had four or five guys and a couple decided to quit because a young guy was moved up in front of them because of how he played and then he ended up transferring,” Stoops said. “You never know where it will all go.”
Perhaps that was the nightmare scenario the Sooners won’t have to face again. All of them appear to be healthy and Ross, Smith and Ford all know they’re currently behind seniors on the depth chart. No point in leaving when the opportunity to go from fourth-string to focal point is just a year away.
Ross understands the situation.
“It’s not that hard,” he said. “We’re just all out there working, and so regardless of how many people there are, we’re all there for the same reason, to get better for the team.”
The other reason is the Sooners have a history of spreading out carries. The last season it finished without at least two running backs getting more than 75 carries was 2001.
Clearly, Williams, who rushed for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns, Clay, who averaged 6.0 yards a carry on 93 totes, and Finch will receive the brunt of the workload.
How it all gets divided will play out over the season. However, situations and depth charts can change quickly.
“The one thing I’d say, every year that has gone on here, and this goes back to when Adrian Peterson was here, guys get injured,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “You need everybody.”
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