UConn's history of producing quality running backs goes back to 2002 when UConn was still in it's FBS infancy and Terry Caulley, as a freshman, ran for over 1200 yards and 15 touchdowns. The next season he was part of a three-headed backfield that amassed over 1800 yards and scored 22 touchdowns.
Since then we've seen multiple thousand-yard seasons from UConn running backs, we even saw two running backs do it in the same season. We also had the pleasure of watching a 2,000 yard performance, when Donald Brown ran his way into the first round of the NFL Draft with a preposterous 2008 season. Whether it was Cornell Brockington, Brown, Caulley, Andre Dixon, Jordan Todman, or the recently departed Lyle McCombs, much is expected from the UConn backfield. For our nascent football program you could say it is one of the only traditions we have.
I'm not so sure it's the case this year, though.
Sure, Arkeel Newsome comes in with high expectations, but nobody expects him to come in and dominate as a freshman. It would be great-- actually it would be freaking amazing-- but nobody is putting that kind of pressure on him. We've heard good things in camp about fellow freshman Ron Johnson and redshirt freshman Josh Marriner-- who right now is the front-runner for the primary running back duties.
There are a few additional issues holding back our collective expectations, the same issues which may be the reason a UConn RB hasn't surpassed a thousand yards since 2011. If the quarterback can't keep defenses honest, and if the offensive line can't create space off the line of scrimmage, then your backs really aren't in any position to succeed are they?
For now the O-line and the QB situation remain question marks, but lets take a look at what we have in the cupboard at running back.
The Factor Backs
RB- Joshua Marriner, RS FR, 5'9", 193 lbs.
Joshua Marriner should be getting the lions share of reps at running back this year. Bob Diaco has been raving about him ever since the news broke that Lyle McCombs was no longer with the team. On the depth chart he is listed as competing for the starting role with redshirt junior Max DeLorenzo.
Marriner redshirted last year after a decorated high-school career at Western Branch High in Chesapeake, Virginia where he ran for over 2,000 yards his senior year and also starred on the track team. He is a beast in the weight room, but still has impressive speed for somebody who is built like a tank. His high-school coach has nothing but glowing remarks on his dedication, speed and character, calling him "the steal of the Eastern seaboard" and openly wondering why there wasn't more interest in his services, "now he can spend the next three years proving everyone wrong"
After yesterday's open practice and media session Bob Diaco shared that he was hoping to have one running back emerge from the pack to take the majority of the carries. Look for Marriner to be that guy in Week 1 against BYU.
RB- Max DeLorenzo, RS JR, 5'11", 210 lbs.
With McCombs out, Max DeLorenzo's 349 yards last year qualify him as UConn's leading returning rusher. The bruising runner from Berlin, CT got his first taste of regular action last year and while his averages are nothing to write home about, I remember noting how hard he worked to earn each and every one of those yards given the lack of push from the offensive line. (By the way Berlin Bruiser. Boom)
According to the Hartford Courant's Desmond Connor, "Marriner and [DeLorenzo] will be stalwarts carrying the ball" and others will compete for time as well. I could see DeLorenzo being used primarily in goal-line and short-yardage situations this year. He will also be paired with Marriner in the backfield at times.
RB- Arkeel Newsome, FR, 5'7", 180 lbs.
I've already said pretty much everything I think and know about Arkeel Newsome last week, but there is a little more to say.
Bob Diaco specifically mentioned Newsome yesterday as someone who he has been impressed with and who also could see time as a returner. We all know that Bob likes his players to be big, so it should come as good news Newsome is at least bigger than Diaco had thought, per CT Post's Chris Ellsbury, "He's got more mass than I thought and he uses it. He runs at full speed the whole time." You take a look at this man and those tree trunks of legs and tell me he isn't big or strong enough for college football.
Newsome is currently battling with two other backs for playing time behind Marriner and DeLorenzo. I think he has a shot to still get a decent amount of touches simply because he offers a different skillset than the rest of the backs on the roster.
FB/TB- Jazzmar Clax, RS SO, 5'11", 241 lbs.
After losing the starting fullback job last year to true freshman Matt Walsh, Jazzmar Clax now has a firm hold on the starting fullback position and can also carry the rock from the tailback spot as well. Diaco has named him along with Newsome and freshman Ron Johnson as one of the runners vying for carries after Marriner and DeLorenzo.
Clax only played in three games last year and to be quite honest I don't see him carrying the ball very much this year either. He should be on the field a lot more now that he's the starting fullback, but he is most likely a power-run blocker and short-yardage guy.
FB- Matt Walsh, SO, 6'1", 227lbs.
I thought Matt Walsh may move to the defensive side of the ball after the hiring of Diaco because he was such an accomplished linebacker at Daniel Hand High in Madison, CT. As of now he is the second-string fullback even though he appeared in all 12 games last year as the starter. At the very least look for him to contribute on special teams.
RB- Ron Johnson, FR, 6'0", 217 lbs.
A bruising back who originally committed to Louisville until they hired Satan, Ron Johnson is part of the competition for carries right now but in my opinion is behind Marriner, DeLorenzo, Newsome and also Clax. Bob Diaco has been impressed by how he is faster than he looks but I wouldn't be surprised if Johnson takes a redshirt this year given the logjam at the position.
He is a 3-star recruit from Palmetto Ridge High in Naples, FL.
RB- William Weyrauch, RS SO, 5'10", 211 lbs.
Weyrauch is a walk-on who transferred from Stonehill College. He is from Chesire, CT where he played at Cheshire High.
So that's our running back crew. At first we thought we might see a running back by committee but Diaco's comments yesterday revealed that he is looking for someone to be the lead back-- or perhaps impies that somebody has emerged as a worthy lead back. As I've said before, this team is probably running the ball 30 times a game so the other guys will still play some sort of role.
Overall, this is a talented group that should be a lot of fun to watch. Offensive Coordinator Mike Cummings is planning on playing power football with these guys. Imagine an off-tackle run with Marriner holding the rock with 6-foot-8 Andreas Knappe at Right Tackle, converted lineman Steve Hashemi at Tight End and 241 pound Jazzmar Clax leading the way-- we should be able to get yards when we need them.