RB battle heats up

Published 8:43 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2011

East Carolina running back Michael Dobson (35) catches a pass during a Pirates practice. Dobson is just one of several running backs looking to take the top spot on the depth chart before ECU’s season opener against South Carolina. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — Jonathan Williams’ East Carolina career was packed with ups and downs but it’s safe to say he left on a high note. After multiple arrests threatened his status with the Pirates, the talented back got himself together and turned in a solid senior season as he averaged 5.5 yards per carry and rushed for a team-high 847 yards in 2010.
Playing in first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill and first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid offense, the 6-1, 200 pounder was also third on the team in receptions as he broke a school record for passes caught by a running back with 52 grabs for 431 yards. At the end of the day Williams, who has signed a free agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals this summer, scored 11 touchdowns and was able to stay on the field no matter what the down and distance.
Heading into the 2011 season, McNeill and Riley are charged with having to examine a group of running backs that can make up for the production and the versatility of the departed Williams.
Competing for the job right now are redshirt sophomore Michael Dobson (6-0, 190), JUCO transfer Reggie Bullock (5-9, 176), sophomore Demonte Terry (6-1, 203), redshirt freshman Alex Owah (5-11, 179), sophomore wide receiver turned running back Torrance Hunt (5-8, 175), freshman Chris Hairston (6-0, 180) and redshirt freshman walk-on John Barnes-Smith (5-11, 222).
Out of the seven backs, Dobson has the most experience as a Pirate as he was third on the depth chart last season behind Williams and Giavani Ruffin and ran for 62 yards on 11 carries. However, Bullock has the most college experience as he was the NJCAA’s leading rusher tallying 1,830 and 20 TDs for Arizona Western CC in 2010 to earn NJCAA Co-Player of the Year honors.
“I know Lincoln and (running backs coach) Clay (McGuire) want to develop a competitive group there,” McNeill said. “I know there are some guys battling in the mix there and Lincoln and Clay will pick out the guys that do what they need best in this offense. In this offense, I know Lincoln wants a guy that can do three things: block, run the football and catch it. He also wants somebody that understands protection. I know right now reps are precious and reps are few. I’ve told them not to count their reps, but to make their reps count.”
East Carolina’s preseason depth chart lists Hunt at the top with an ‘or’ next to his name with Dobson and Bullock underneath it. As to which back will get the top spot and remove that ‘or’ is anyone’s guess.
Dobson said his only goal right now is to just give 100 percent every time he steps on the field.
“My thoughts are to just work hard, hard work is the key,” Dobson said. “We have a lot of good guys in the running back room; a couple of experienced guys and a couple of young guys. I think everybody has the same mindset to just come in and work hard.
“As for me, it’s my third year here. I traveled last season so I have a little experience. I played in a few games and I’m just trying to take that with me and bring it into camp and work hard.”
It appears the Pirates are looking for the most well rounded back, which suits Dobson just fine.
“I feel like I do a pretty good job at it all. The blocking, the running and the catching is all incorporated into my game,” Dobson said. “So I feel like this is a good offense for me.”
In an offensive system that does not include a tight end, -assuming that all the backs are good runners- pass protection figures to be a major factor in the race. Learning how to do that can be an extremely tough challenge for an inexperienced back, but Dobson said he has made strides in that area.
“I feel like I’m good at pass protection, I feel like I’ve gotten better since even the spring,” Dobson said. “I’m just getting used to the college style of playing and the way they blitz. In high school (Mount Airy) you didn’t have to pick up the blitz that much, it was a little bit of a shock to me at first but as I matured I feel good about it.”
Dobson said that the bottom line is that he needs to bring the same effort and production to practice each day if he wants to be the starter.
“The key is being consistent,” Dobson said. “What I had to learn is routine plays and consistency. The big plays will come, but I got to stay consistent.”