We touched on the running back situation at UConn after the spring game with some quotes from Diaco about where each runner fits in with the offense. The running back committee is here to stay as the Huskies have four strong options to use in the backfield this season, the same four who all saw action last year.
It looks like two are separating themselves from the pack while the other two will be playing secondary roles.
Ron Johnson, Sophomore - 5-foot-11, 226 pounds - Naples, FL
Ron Johnson, UConn's leading returning rusher, is a beastly back who saw playing time in all 12 games last year, starting five. In the season finale against SMU, Johnson ran for 101 yards and a touchdown, cementing his place as the lead running back going into this season. So far through spring ball and summer workouts he has done nothing but impress and is likely holding on to that role. Diaco has described Johnson as a "battering ram" who will be key in red-zone and short-yardage situations. He rushed for 429 yards on 114 carries with three touchdowns last year, expect him to improve on all of those numbers this season.
Arkeel Newsome, Sophomore - 5-foot-7, 182 pounds - Ansonia, CT
Newsome also played in all 12 games last year as a true freshman, and is also in line for a bigger role this year. He had some fumbling problems last year, putting the ball on the ground four times in only 47 carries, but appears to have worked on holding on to the football and being less tentative as a runner. Diaco told the Hartford Courant after UConn's most recent scrimmage that he sees Newsome as a starter:
"Arkeel has to get the ball," Diaco said. "He's an electric player, he's an aggressive player. He's got excellent contact speed, which is kind of a rare trait. ... He runs faster when he's on the field than when he's in his gym shorts. He's got to get the ball."
Last year Newsome ran the ball 47 times for 188 yards, and also caught 11 receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns. There isn't another player on this roster with Newsome's game-breaking potential or ability to make something out of nothing. Hopefully UConn finds a number of creative ways to get him the ball in space this season so he can improve on those numbers this season.
Max DeLorenzo, RS Senior - 5-foot-11, 216 pounds - Berlin, CT
The cagey veteran was the second-leading rusher on last year's squad with 343 yards and a touchdown while leading the team with 4.5 yards per carry. This year, DeLorenzo may see similar usage as a runner, but should also see his role grow as a pass-catcher, according to a recent article by the New Haven Register's Jim Fuller.
With Johnson and Newsome locked in as 1A and 1B backs, DeLorenzo figures to be a key role player and also likely a good option as a 3rd down back given his ability to pass-block and catch out of the backfield. UConn's offense will always be looking to keep defenses guessing, DeLorenzo will be a key element thanks to his versatility.
Joshua Marriner, RS Sophomore - 5-foot-9, 201 pounds - Chesapeake, VA
Thought to be the leader to replace Lyle McCombs going into last season, Marriner didn't seem to catch on as the season progressed. He finished with 110 yards on 36 rushes, adding 73 yards receiving. Diaco had nothing but praise for the redshirt sophomore's work ethic and abilities before last season, but this year may not be the one where his role grows. He will definitely see time on third downs, and also perhaps as a returner, but right now Marriner is fourth in line for touches and likely to be waiting until next year to see more action on the field.
Overall this is one of the most talented and promising units on the Husky roster. If the offensive line can provide solid holes, or at least prevent runners from being blown up at the line, we should see some really great performances from Johnson and Newsome with strong contributions from DeLorenzo and Marriner. With so many different skill-sets available to offensive coordinator Frank Verducci, this backfield should do a good job of keeping defenses on their toes.