By John Shinn
Many boxers had one great punch, but the greats always used combinations to reach the top.
Football is no different when it comes to running the ball. One quality running back — no matter how good — is never enough.
That’s why the duo of seniors DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown gives Oklahoma one of the best backfields in college football.
“The two of them together make a very special backfield,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Those guys, there are not a lot of teams around the country with two thousand-yard rushers side by side … The two of them give us a lot of opportunities back there.”
Besides the obvious, of being able to have a fresh running back on the field at all times, it’s the tandem’s versatility that separates it from the rest of the pack.
Both Murray and Brown rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, but they also caught touchdown passes — four for Murray and one for Brown — and along with averaging more than 5 yards per carry.
That’s the reason both received All-Big 12 honors.
If they can stay healthy, both are expected to turn in as good or better seasons in 2009.
Health, however, is always a crapshoot when it comes to running backs. A November injury ended Murray’s season each of the last two years. He’s yet to play more than one play in a Big 12 championship game and has never stepped on the field for a bowl game.
He’s been slowed by a preseason hamstring injury, but has tried to limit contact on the practice field.
“It’s going to be a good thing going into the season opener fresh and not having to go through camp getting bruised up. There’s going to be a positive to this,” Murray said.
Brown went through more of preseason practice, but the improvements he made originated in the offseason. Injuries haven’t kept Brown off the field much during his career. Offseason surgeries, however, have limited his offseason workouts.
But the most recent offseason counts as the first time in three years he hasn’t had to go under the knife.
“All I wanted to do this offseason was to increase my abilities and improve on something I could use on the field,” Brown said. “I just needed to improve my speed and that’s what I focused on for the vast majority of the summer and I improved it.”
Running backs coach Cale Gundy said there’s more spring in Brown’s step because of the offseason work.
“He’s faster. There’s no doubt,” the coach said. “His 40 times have shown it and I think you guys will see some difference when it comes to game time.”
A healthy Brown and Murray will be critical for the Sooners this season, but there’s always more in the mix. The last two years, Mossis Madu fought to get into the mix. Madu was moved to wide receiver in the spring and will play a major role there. But he will also get some plays at running back.
Those three are well established parts of the Sooner offense. The change-up it hopes to throw at defenses this season is redshirt freshman Jermie Calhoun. The former high school All-American brings something OU hasn’t really had since Adrian Peterson’s last season in 2006. Calhoun, who weighs, 220 pounds, is a thicker back, perfectly suited for running between the tackles.
“He is bigger than most backs that we have had. He is bigger than Chris Brown, but he has feet kind of like a scat guy, so I am always trying to make sure that he always is running like a 218-pound guy,” Gundy said. “He needs to get better. He is a redshirt freshman and he is getting more reps with us and getting more comfortable. He has shown some signs of being a good football player and we are going to have to use him this year.”
With Brown’s and Murray’s contact limited in the preseason, Calhoun has worked a lot with the first unit. He’s getting a chance to prove he’s OU’s running back of the future.
Because of the depth and talent at the spot, the present couldn’t be much better for the Sooners.