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Recruiting: Replenishing The Backfield
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OU turns focus to running backs
When Cale Gundy peers into the future, heâ€™s short. Make that short on running backs. Oklahomaâ€™s depth chart will be alarmingly condensed at the end of the 2005 football season.
Kejuan Jones and Donta Hickson will be gone, their eligibility expired, leaving Adrian Peterson and Jacob Gutierrez as the only players left in the Soonersâ€™ running backs stable. And while Petersonâ€™s presence continues to make life much easier for OU at present, the not-too-distant future obviously is a whole different story.
As the recruiting season gets into full swing, Gundy and the Sooners are in full search mode, searching for the heir-apparent to Peterson, who could decide to enter the NFL draft following his junior year.
â€śGoing into it right now, (Adrianâ€™s) a sophomore and if he continues to get better, you never know how long heâ€™s going to stay in college,â€ť said Gundy.
Since Petersonâ€™s arrival in 2004, the Sooners have experienced some moving and shaking in the backfield, including the premature departures of Tashard Choice and Courtney Tennial, and the defection of D.J. Wolfe to the defensive side of the football.
It makes sense that finding depth at the position has become a major point of emphasis for Gundy during this recruiting season. Two running backs on scholarship just wonâ€™t cut it next season.
â€śI played three guys in the game just the other day,â€ť said Gundy. â€śWe like to play two guys throughout the game to keep them fresh and healthy. Last year, at one time, I played four guys throughout the season.â€ť
Peterson is a lock for next seasonâ€™s lineup. Jacob Gutierrez projects as a specialty back in the OU offense. There is much to be ascertained about his abilities as an every-down back, despite the fact he is a talented runner in open space.
With Peterson heading into his junior season, will there be extra snaps for another player coming into the system?
â€śWell, of course,â€ť answered Gundy.
â€śItâ€™s a great opportunity to play here,â€ť said Gundy. â€śThe opportunity weâ€™re going to have â€” Iâ€™m only going to have two players on scholarship heading into next season. You look around the country and most places have four to five players on scholarship at the running back position.â€ť
With so many players wanting to play right away, the Sooners can almost guarantee prospects an opportunity during the 2005-06 recruiting period.
And so the chase begins. The Sooners start in Harrisburg, Penn., with LeSean McCoy, the nationâ€™s No. 1 overall running back according to Internet recruiting service Rivals.com. McCoy checks in at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, and heâ€™s been clocked at 4.4 in the 40.
Of course, the Sooners donâ€™t stop there. They also have their sites set on Las Vegas, home of Demarco Murray, the nationâ€™s top-rated all-purpose back. Murray (6-0, 183) and has been clocked as fast as 4.37 in the 40.
Other running backs in the mix include C.J. Gable (5-11, 180, 4.6) of Sylmar, Calif., Mon Williams (6-2, 192, 4.52) of Mesquite Horn, Texas, Javarris James (6-0, 201, 4.67) of Immokalee, Fla., Knowshon Moreno (5-11, 205, 4.48) of Middleton South, N.J., Chris Brown (5-10, 192, 4.46) of Alexandria, La., and Evan Royster (6-0, 190, 4.45) of Chantilly, Va.
Still, McCoy is probably the cream of the crop. Most running back recruiting boards start with McCoy. Heâ€™s the No. 4-rated overall player in the country by Rivals.com.
A year ago, McCoy ran for 2,828 yards and 33 touchdowns. He also hauled in more than 400 yards in receptions. As a sophomore, he amassed over 2,500 yards on the ground.
McCoy is a versatile back with the ability to adjust his style to a number of different offenses. He fits the I-formation well due to his ability to run between the tackles. His cutting ability and vision allows him to find creases quickly. And he has good hands.
For the Sooners, the most intriguing thing about McCoy would be his ability to fill dual roles.
The schools McCoy currently lists among his leaders are Oklahoma, Miami, USC, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Alabama and Penn State.
With his list of seven favorites, the Sooners will have to battle for one of McCoyâ€™s five official visits. USC and Miami already appear to have two of those spots taken. Virginia Tech is also a good bet to receive one of his visits.
Murray has been compared to USCâ€™s Reggie Bush and is equally adept at running and receiving the ball out of the backfield. Heâ€™s a very good runner between the tackles but even better in open space. He is capable of making an impact anywhere in the country.
Currently, Murray gives OU a slight edge over Florida, Miami, USC, Michigan, Texas A&M and South Carolina.
Murray has ties to Oklahoma via former teammate Ryan Reynolds, who is already playing as a true freshman in Norman. Heâ€™s visited the OU campus on two different occasions and plans to visit OU officially on Sept. 30. He also has another official visit scheduled for Miami on Oct. 27.
Murrayâ€™s decision could wait all the way to signing day, as he wonâ€™t take his other three visits until after his high school season. But as things stand right now, the Sooners are in very good shape with Murray.
Gable is another talented and versatile running back who logged just over 2,000 yards on the ground during his junior season at Sylmar High School. Much like Murray, Gable is capable of playing receiver or running back at the next level. In fact, his high school will be using him more as a receiver during his senior season.
But as a do-everything ball carrier, Gable shines as a punt and kickoff returner, receiver and running back. And some schools even envision him being a great cornerback at the college level. Rivals.com rates Gable as the No. 5 running back in the country.
He currently lists USC as his favorite, but he trying to determine his official visit schedule at this time. The schools other than USC in the running are Miami, LSU, Oklahoma, Washington, UCLA and Mississippi.
Moreno also has a keen interest in Oklahoma. He recently traveled to Norman for an official visit during the TCU game. The 12th-rated running back in the country enjoyed his time in Norman and even with the loss, Moreno said the Sooners are still squarely in the picture.
â€śI had a good time,â€ť said Moreno. â€śOklahoma is definitely a school Iâ€™ll continue to consider.â€ť
Brown is a name from a familiar place, as Alexandria, La., is also the home of current Sooners Rufus Alexander and Nic Harris. Those connections have made Oklahoma a favorite for the talented running back and the No. 19 running back in the nation.
Brown currently lists Oklahoma and Alabama as his top two prospects, with Arkansas not too far behind. Mississippi State, Southern Miss and TCU are also in the mix.
Royster is another notable running back with an offer from the Sooners. He rushed for 2,200 yards as a junior and visited Oklahoma during the TCU weekend as well. Royster is still racking up offers from teams all over the country and lists Oklahoma, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Nebraska and Penn State as possible destinations.
James is a soft commitment to Miami. A cousin to NFL star Edgerin James, this James says heâ€™ll still take official visits to Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida and USC.