While Penn State is certainly Linebacker U, and the University of Southern California is Quarterback U, at the FCS level the University of Massachusetts had been Running Back U.
Now, for the first time in years, there appears to be some question as to who will shoulder the load.
In the past UMass has always had a grinder, a guy who can get between the tackles and push for the extra yard. The UMass Running Back Standard has been: 1) around 6’0 and 215 pounds, 2) runs down hill, 3) very little flash, and 4) has no problem meeting a linebacker head on.
This year, there is a new offense, a new coach and generally a different feeling surrounding the program. It’s unclear what kind of running back Coach Molnar wants for his no-huddle spread offense, but if his recruiting is any indicator – he wants tough multifaceted athletes.
Below is my projected depth chart for next season. Obviously it’s incredibly early, and my opinion may change on April 28, but for now it’s good to get take a look at the candidates.
Michael Cox (6’0/214)
In mid-March it was announced that Michael Cox was transferring from Michigan to UMass to finish out his college football career. The Dorchester, Mass. native played three years with the Wolverines, but never really solidified himself as a starter. Of course, life is much different in Ann Arbor than it is in Amherst, and being a four-star recruit means you are just another face in the crowd when you wear maize and blue. Also, Cox saw three coaches during his time with the Wolverines: he was recruited by Lloyd Carr, stuck around for Rich Rodriguez and finished his career with Brady Hoke.
Cox is a big kid, and coming out of high school he had solid 4.5 speed. For four years, Cox practiced with some of the best college athletes in the country, learned how to take hits from a Big 10 defense, and spent a considerable amount of time fighting for a position. Let’s just say the guy is a little battle tested, even though he rarely saw the field.
Cox also seems to fit the mold of the most recent running back Coach Molnar worked with – Cierre Wood at Notre Dame. Both players have good size and don’t mind hitting a defender in the mouth. Wood had limited receiving yards last year, and it is unclear how a Molnar-run spread offense will include running backs in the receiving game.
I think Cox will be a good transitional back as the underclassmen learn the system. He is a hometown kid with size, speed and motivation to make his last year as a college football player count. There are obviously questions about whether his experience and ability translates under the lights, but I have a feeling that when UMass faces Michigan on September 15, he will greet his former teammates with his shoulders lowered.
Jordan Broadnax (5’9/175)
Seemingly the polar opposite of Cox, Broadnax is a smaller back that can shift and make tacklers miss. This past season Broadnax had limited carries, but he did see a span of seven games where he had at least one run. His most statistically significant game was against Delaware where he had 35 yards on 15 carries.
Broadnax was supposed to red shirt last year, but due to several injuries, he decided to forego the red shirt year and help shoulder the load.
When I watched Broadnax last year, I saw a kid with a lot of natural ability that was still learning the system. He sometimes danced a little too much in the backfield, and at times it looked like he was out of position on a pass block. That being said, he also looked like an athlete that was always one block away from a 30- or 40-yard scamper. Also, by all accounts Broadnax has done a lot to work with the system and he took it upon himself to learn the position from Jonathan Hernandez last season.
Also, Coach Molnar has indicated that Broadnax has hit the ground running (pun intended) this spring.
I see Broadnax getting a lot of work this year, but I think Cox will be the feature back. He can be the shifty relief, but I’m not sure if he’s ready to be an every-down back.
Alan Williams (5’8/191)
Before last season, Coach Morris said that Alan Williams would be used to essentially give Hernandez a breather. Williams improved his status throughout camp, but then suffered a foot injury against Holy Cross that kept him off the field for six weeks. Coach Morris immediately put Williams back to work when he recovered, and the then-junior ran for 47 yards on 12 carries against Richmond.
Willams has good size for his smaller frame, and by all accounts he has drastically improved his pass-blocking during his four years in Amherst. I’m not sure if the Framingham native can be a feature back at the FBS level, but he certainly seems ready to take some carries and block on passing downs. Williams is a ridiculous athlete, and has caught Molnar’s eye during spring practice.
After the top three, question marks start to show up. For instance, I’m still not entirely certain what happened with Chris Burns – a Pitt transfer – last year. Since UMass was still FCS when he transferred, he was able to play out of the gates but never carried the ball. Perhaps he will be used as a block-first fullback next year, but this isn’t a new idea.
Jamar Smith had a few carries last year, but for the most part he was quiet. According to his UMassAthletics profile, he had a few FBS offers and is slated to be “the next in the long line of standout tailbacks at UMass.” This could be a kid that competes for a starting spot, but I just haven’t seen enough yet. He may prove me wrong in the future.
Stacey Bedell is the top running back from this year’s recruiting class, and while I assume he will redshirt this year, this is a kid UMass fans need to keep an eye on. UMass basically stole Bedell from Long Island, and without getting into it too much, a number of sources have been infinitely impressed with this kid. If there wasn’t so much depth at the running back position already, I think Bedell could turn a few heads as a freshman.