PROVO — Is it a big worry that this late in fall camp BYU is still talking about an offense with running back by committee?
For some, it is a hand-wringing moment and a major issue.
For others, it’s no big deal, with the thinking being that the work will simply get done with first-up guys Squally Canada and Riley Burt, and then the Cougars can just plug in other able bodies according to down, distance and need.
What is the truth?
It probably lies somewhere in between. A Lexus type Jamaal Williams or Harvey Unga back would be a luxury, but is not a necessity. Besides, somebody will probably emerge.
On Monday, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said he had no problem doing it by committee. His running backs coach Reno Mahe echoed that sentiment. Nobody’s losing sleep over who the starting running back will be.
“When I played,” said Sitake, “Ronney Jenkins, who wasn’t a starter, was playing behind Brian McKenzie. You have to use more than one guy at running back and one guy on the offensive line. It’s a team game and you work to get the best 11 players to take the first snap in the game. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Sitake said there will be different people on the depth chart who will be in his lineup for specific packages to “give the offense the best chance to score.”
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, a 14-year NFL veteran, will focus on what is productive.
Back in the day, Detmer set a gob of records throwing to receivers, tight ends and running backs. He was an equal opportunity target picker. His running backs were worker bees, hard-hatted playmakers who weren’t fancy but simply read defenses and caught the ball when targeted.
Detmer’s backs had names like Fred Whittingham Jr., Peter Tuipulotu, Stacy Corley, Mike Salido, Scott Charlton, and Eric Mortensen. The most productive was halfback Matt Bellini. In his final season of 1991, he had Tuipulotu, Jamal Willis, Mark Atuaia, with Mortensen and Brad Clark.
They had to block. They had to read and attack defenses. With few exceptions, they were not marquee, NFL-bound names in anybody’s universe. But they made plays all day. Sometimes all they needed to do was check off a block and head into the flats to draw linebackers to the sideline for Norm Chow's offense.
In BYU’s pro-style scheme, it is more important to have a productive run game threat that defenses have to plan for than an identifiable mule that will be the focus of the offense on every play.
A standout star mule, however, would be ideal.
Sitake told reporters Monday that it seems the media and public are more worried about a defined depth chart that lists how running backs rank than he is.
“This week, we’ll try to work and define that so we’ll be ready to address it the week before the game.”
Sitake says he likes to think the problem is more one of things being so close that making a choice is tough, rather than someone isn’t stepping up.
Whether they're worried about their running backs or not, you can’t tell by listening to Sitake and his staff. If they’re losing sleep over who will be toting the ball against Portland State, they aren’t projecting a tell — in words or body language.
They’re laid-back. Like picking a foursome in golf, like it really matters who tees off first.
They’ve kept the backfield candidates hungry, engaged, motivated and eager to please. Competition is intense. Who is going to step up, who is trusted?
That is all to come as the home opener looms just a dozen days away.
“As LaVell would say, ‘I think we have a chance to be pretty good,’” said Sitake.
Edwards uttered that mantra every August of his coaching life.