Jeff Grimes could really use a productive, healthy, multi-dimensional, pass-catching, 1,000-yard rusher from BYU’s running back corps this season.
But is that just too much to ask or expect?
Not if you talk to players and coaches. They like this group of backs and they absolutely love the offensive line whose job it is to to make that possible.
Either sophomore Lopini Katoa or South Carolina senior transfer Ty’Son Williams are the prime candidates to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in BYU’s best-case world.
Williams averaged about 5 yards a carry at South Carolina before he was sidelined by injury last season. Katoa, who has worked in the offseason on footwork, hip movement and speed with former Cougar star Jamaal Willis, has put on 10 pounds of muscle from a year ago. He gained 5.6 yards a carry last year.
“He is more capable of protecting himself this season,” said his position coach.
Grimes said getting a 1,000-yard rusher out of this group of backs depends upon how they decide to use them.
"I think we certainly could. I think the question will be how many guys deserve to get reps in the game? Last year, we played running back by committee because we had to, we didn't have a lot of other options because we had so many injuries. This year, we might do it because we have so many options, not because we have to. And that's not a bad thing," Grimes said.
"But if there's one guy who shows that he's clearly better than everyone else, then that'll certainly be reflected in the number of carries that he gets. But whether or not we get a 1,000-yard rusher, I think, will be dependent on which direction to go there."
The last time a BYU runner surpassed the 1,000-yard seasonal mark was 2016 when current Green Bay Packer Jamaal Williams gained 1,408. In 2013, quarterback Taysom Hill gained 1,593 yards on the ground.
Those are numbers a BYU offense could use.
It would make coordinator Grimes’ job much easier.
Squally Canada gained 710 yards in 2017 on 120 carries. Katoa was BYU’s leading rusher as a freshman last year with 423 yards on 76 carries.
Zach Wilson, in whatever kind of season he is going to produce in 2019, will be far more productive if he has a solid run threat by his side, a force that defenders have to respect.
When running back coach AJ Steward was asked if the group would be known as slashers or pounders, he was reticent to put a label on his guys.
“I don't think you could put one tag on them,” Steward said. “I mean, honestly, we're very versatile. We have a bunch of different types of guys. But at the end of the day, I hope that we just play the game the right way, we protect the football, we make correct reads and have good technique and fundamentals. I think if we do that we'll have a great season in our room. So, if it isn't evident right now, when we talk in a few weeks, I want you to watch it. I want you to say, ‘yeah, I think discipline is the main characteristic of your guys.’”
Right now in camp, Steward wants everyone to be hungry and paying attention. He needs to keep the competition for reps high and have every player believe they can contribute. Sorting out the pecking order will come later.
The best news is he has a lot of bodies to work with and he likes the talent level.
“It is a luxury. We kind of learned from a rough lesson last year that you can never have enough. So, that was kind of my mindset in recruiting and in this offseason. It’s just covering our tracks and making sure we have not only quantity but the quality of guys in here that can push each other and be prepared for when their number is called. If you look across the country, injuries happen and especially at the running back position, so we could get down to our seventh or eighth guy this year.”
Steward said his guys simply have to be ready to roll.
“That is what kind of happened last year and so that's been a good lesson for me as a coach to always get everybody in the room prepared for success because it could be eight-nine games down the line where you're looking to count on a true freshman walk-on to lead the way.”
Steward said both senior transfers Williams and Emmanuel Esukpa from Rice have been leaders, along with Katoa. Because Katoa served a church mission out of high school, they actually are all the same age and same graduation class out of high school.
Steward has been impressed with Katoa’s maturity and approach to the offseason after his freshman campaign.
“He's done a great job. I mean, he has done an incredible job of getting his body in the best position to be successful for this fall camp. The game has really slowed down for him. He was a redshirt freshman last year and he took some quality reps and found himself in some big situations and it kind of grew him up faster than most guys his age. I'm happy for him, you can see it. He looks like he's ready to have a great season.”
A thousand-yard rusher out of BYU?
It may not look that way in September, but if the frontrunners are healthy in November, it is certainly doable. Should be doable.
Put it this way, this team could really use one.