Position Breakdowns: Running Backs

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via www.nashuatelegraph.com

Yesterday we took a look at the Quarterback position that is headed up by Tanner Price and backed up by Ted Stachitas. Today we are looking at the Running Back position.

Starter: Josh Harris (RS-Sophomore, 5'10-210)

Backup: Brandon Pendergrass (RS-Senior, 5'9-200)

Other RB's on the Roster: Nick Knott (Sophomore, 5'10-170)

Ben Emert (Sophomore, 6'1-225)

Tyler Jackson (Sophomore, 6'0-195)

In a 3-9 season, there are very few things that go right for a team, but the running game was certainly one of the bright spots. As some of you may know, I am very, very high on Josh Harris. I believe that he could have one of the better individual years in Wake Forest history on the ground if he can avoid injury. There have been reports of our offensive line improving a lot, and just like I said yesterday about the success of Tanner Price, a lot of this rests on our offensive line and their ability to open up holes for Josh.

Click through to see statistics from each RB that played last year, as well as a breakdown of each players strengths and weaknesses. Stats thanks to http://web1.ncaa.org/football/exec/rankingSummary?year=2010&org=749

Rushing Rankings (NCAA, ACC)

2010- 158.50 (54, 5) 

2009- 131.83 (80, 8)

2008- 121.38 (92, 9)

2007- 143.23 (69, 4)

Rushing
Name No Gain Loss Net TD National
Rank
Atlantic Coast
Rank
Harris,Josh 126 764 44 720 7 83 5
Adams,Josh 91 350 34 316 3    
Stachitas,Ted 35 216 45 171 2    
Brown,Devon 18 147 13 134 2    
Campanaro,Michael 29 135 12 123 1    
Price,Tanner 75 280 160 120 4    
Pendergrass,Brandon 24 122 7 115 2    
Bohanon,Tommy 17 78 1 77 0    
Givens,Chris 16 76 13 63 2    
Jones,Skylar 12 48 7 41 0    
Cross,Brendan 9 47 16 31 0    
Dixon,Willie 1 1 0 1 0    
Team, 7 0 10 -10 0    
Team Totals 460 2264 362 1902 23 54 5
Opponents 491 2644 334 2310 24 99 10

Josh Adams and Josh Adams combined last year for a two-headed rushing attack that yielded 1,046 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year. Adams started the first five games of the year, but the time was already pretty fairly split as Grobe stuck to his philosophy of "feeding the hot hand". On October 16th @ Virginia Tech, Josh Harris got his first career collegiate start, and boy did he ever have a coming out party. 20 rushes and 241 yards later (with 2 touchdowns), there was no doubt as to who the premier back in the backfield was. With Adams gone, and Pendergrass working his way back from a case of Fumble-itis, Harris is going to be the "go-to" guy for the Deacs this year. The Deacs will still have their trick plays and different sets that get the ball into the hands of playmakers like Givens and Campanaro off the LOS, but Harris is the workhorse for this year, and the future.

Josh Harris Runs Over Virginia Tech (via sankarwfu)

 

Josh Harris

  Games
Played
Rushing Total
Offense
Receiving Pts
  Rushes Gain Loss Net TDs Plays Yds No Yds TD TTL
TDs
Career Totals 11 126 764 44 720 7 126 720 8 69 0 7 42

Game-by-Game Breakdown

2010
Career
Totals vs.
Date Opponent Score Played
In Game
Rushing Total
Offense
Receiving Pts
  Rushes Gain Loss Net TDs Plays Yds No Yds TD TTL
TDs
Presbyterian 09/02/10 Presbyterian 53-13 Yes 6 74 0 74 2 6 74 0 0 0 2 12
Duke 09/11/10 Duke 54-48 Yes 12 50 0 50 0 12 50 0 0 0 0 0
Stanford 09/18/10 at Stanford 24-68 Yes 6 25 10 15 0 6 15 0 0 0 0 0
Florida St. 09/25/10 at Florida St. 0-31 Yes 5 7 3 4 0 5 4 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia Tech 10/02/10 Georgia Tech 20-24 No 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Navy 10/09/10 Navy 27-28 Yes 14 55 9 46 0 14 46 3 32 0 0 0
Virginia Tech 10/16/10 at Virginia Tech 21-52 Yes 20 247 6 241 2 20 241 0 0 0 2 12
Maryland 10/30/10 at Maryland 14-62 Yes 10 34 7 27 1 10 27 2 20 0 1 6
Boston College 11/06/10 Boston College 13-23 Yes 19 73 6 67 0 19 67 0 0 0 0 0
North Carolina St. 11/13/10 at North Carolina St. 3-38 Yes 7 20 0 20 0 7 20 1 -1 0 0 0
Clemson 11/20/10 Clemson 10-30 Yes 9 38 0 38 1 9 38 1 9 0 1 6
Vanderbilt 11/27/10 at Vanderbilt 34-13 Yes 18 141 3 138 1 18 138 1 9 0 1 6
Season Totals 126 764 44 720 7 126 720 8 69 0 7 42

 

For Josh  Harris this year, the sky is the limit. If he can work hard and stay healthy, it is not a stretch at all to think that he will be the first rusher at Wake Forest to hit the 1,000 yard mark since Chris Barclay in 2005. There are a few things that Harris needs to work on to become the player that our team needs him to be though. First of all let's take a look at his strengths though. 

Without a doubt, Josh Harris has ELITE speed. He doubles as a track athlete when he is not running by people on the gridiron. He was labeled as the "fastest HS athlete in America" in an article in February, 2009. Due to an injury in high school, Wake Forest was able to get this diamond in the rough away from the other big schools in Texas. This could be a miss that they regret. Coming out of high school he ran a 4.4 40, benched 415 and squatted 580. Since he has put on 20 pounds since then, I would imagine that he has gained a good bit of muscle, so those lifting numbers should be higher now.

Not only does Harris have outstanding speed, but he also hits the holes quickly and is deliberate in where he wants to go. The only problem comes when Harris dances around in the backfield a little too long and gets caught from the side/behind. This will not be a problem if the O-line can open up decent holes and Harris can improve on reading them and getting there quickly.

While Harris has a ton of potential, it is clear that he can work on his consistency. Yes he ran for 764 yards last year, but 379 of those yards (50%) came in two games (Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt). If we are going to rely on him to be the cornerstone of our offense and build around him, which I believe we need to do to have any sort of sustainable success over the next two-three years, Harris has to produce at a more consistent rate. He can no longer have these games where he rushes for 20, 34, 38, and 55 yards. Some of those numbers are skewed on the low side because of the lack of running opportunities that were available due to being down by 5 touchdowns, but the point is still valid.

Chris Barclay rushed for 1192 yards on 235 carries in his sophomore year (12 TD's) after similar numbers to Harris in his freshman season (144/703/9 compared to 126/720/9). I would expect Josh Harris to trend on the same path as Barclay and have a big jump this year. I doubt that Harris will get around 1200 yards, or anywhere 235 carries (I'm guessing 210-220), but I definitely see him getting 1050-1100 yards. That would be a very impressive achievement and alleviate a ton of pressure from Tanner Price and the rest of the offense. 

 

Brandon Pendergrass

  Games
Played
Rushing Passing Total
Offense
Receiving Kickoff
Ret.
Pts
  Rushes Gain Loss Net TDs Att Comp Int Yards TD Conv Plays Yds No Yds TD No Yds TD TTL
TDs
Career Totals 30 257 1153 111 1042 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 258 1042 29 192 0 1 7 0 8 48

Game-by-Game Breakdown

2010
Career
Totals vs.
Date Opponent Score Played
In Game
Rushing Passing Total
Offense
Receiving Kickoff
Ret.
Pts Tackles
  Rushes Gain Loss Net TDs Att Comp Int Yards TD Conv Plays Yds No Yds TD No Yds TD TTL
TDs
Ast Solo Asst
Loss
Solo
Loss
Loss
Yds
Presbyterian 09/02/10 Presbyterian 53-13 Yes 7 41 3 38 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 38 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 0 0 0 0 0
Duke 09/11/10 Duke 54-48 Yes 2 8 0 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Stanford 09/18/10 at Stanford 24-68 Yes 5 34 0 34 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 34 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Florida St. 09/25/10 at Florida St. 0-31 Yes 2 4 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia Tech 10/02/10 Georgia Tech 20-24 Yes 5 16 3 13 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 13 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 0 0 0 0 0
Navy 10/09/10 Navy 27-28 Yes 3 19 0 19 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 19 1 17 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Virginia Tech 10/16/10 at Virginia Tech 21-52 No 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Maryland 10/30/10 at Maryland 14-62 No 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Boston College 11/06/10 Boston College 13-23 No 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
North Carolina St. 11/13/10 at North Carolina St. 3-38 No 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Clemson 11/20/10 Clemson 10-30 No 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Vanderbilt 11/27/10 at Vanderbilt 34-13 No 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Season Totals 24 122 7 115 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 24 115 2 20 0 0 0 0 2 12 0 0 0 0 0

 

Brandon Pendergrass is a player that came into Wake Forest as a highly rated recruit. He was ranked as the 20th best running back in his class, and considered Nebraska, Miami, and Virginia Tech before coming to Winston-Salem to play for Coach Grobe. ESPN was very high on him, and saw him as a bruising running back for his size.

Pendergrass is a short, stout, compact package with surprising power and excellent balance and agility. He is built like Barry Sanders. An explosive back. Has good lower-body strength and leg drive. He shows impressive initial quickness and burst through the line of scrimmage. He sees blocks developing and is able to make sharp cuts in order to get through a tiny seam. He is a powerful runner for his size. Breaks a lot of arm tackles and gains lots of yardage after initial contact. Lowers his shoulder upon contact and will deliver a serious blow. Is the hammer, not the nail. He is an effective inside runner despite his marginal size. He shows the speed to consistently turn the corner as an outside runner. He lacks ideal experience as a receiver but has shown flashes of developing into a weapon in that area. He is a bit raw as a route runner but shows the ability to pluck on the run and adjust to the poorly thrown pass. He also is a huge weapon after the catch when he gets the ball in space. Size is really Pendergrass' major weakness; he's not very tall. However, he plays much bigger than his size would lead you to believe. Has the elusiveness to make people miss but will take a licking and keep on ticking when he has to pound the ball between the tackles. Major upside here.

He has seen some ups and downs while at Wake Forest in his career. He ran for a career high 540 yards his RS-Fr year, but has declined the past two years as he split time with Josh Adams and Josh Harris. Pendergrass played in the first six games of the year and accumulated 115 yards with 2 TDs. He also had some problems holding on to the ball ,specifically against Navy when he fumbled twice. 

Pendergrass, like Harris, has pretty damn good speed. He has been clocked at a 4.45, and has a little more power than Harris as well. As ESPN nails, size is Brandon's biggest problem in terms of being a "power" back . His smaller size does allow him to slip through tackles that larger guys would not be able to. He will serve as a very suitable back up to Harris, and if he can stay healthy and hold on to the ball, he could have a very productive year as well. Another thing he has in his favor is that he will likely be running on a defense that is gassed when Harris is spelled. 4.45 speed+a tired defense will lead to some long plays if he can hit the hole and get into the open field.

Brandon Pendergrass TD (via DeaconSports)

 

The third string job is more than likely Nick Knotts' to lose. The Texas native hails from Wylie high school (same as Nikita Whitlock), and is the half-brother of Chris Givens. Coming out of high school he was clocked at a 4.7 40 (more elite speed), and ran for 1,000 yards with 8 touchdowns his senior year (1200 and 22 tds his senior year). Wake Forest landed Knott over Arkansas, Colorado, Louisville,and Oklahoma State. Here is what ESPN had to say about him:

Knott has enough size for the running back position at the major level of competition. This is a player who doesn't run to his timed speed. Flashes quick feet but fails to show the burst or second gear necessary to convert average gains into big plays. Lines up as a set back in the spread offense; displays adequate quickness and vision into the line of scrimmage; runs with a darting style but lacks the wiggle to break free at the 2nd level of defense. This player gets what%u2019s there with flashes of good finishing effort. Appears to have the catching ability to run short check down routes with RAC similar to his run production; if receiving skills can be developed this would add to his value. We feel this is a boarder line developmental player with the athletic potential to be more productive than he has presently displayed. Knott will not be an immediate starter or early impact player. Time and a red shirt year could allow him to develop physically and improve his technical skills.

It is disconcerting that he does not run to his timed speed, but he has had a year to redshirt and develop, and will also likely see limited action this year. If he takes the year to learn from Harris and Pendergrass, he could see some good time in a couple of years.

Obviously our backfield has the speed locked down, but we can also pack a powerful punch too with Tommy Bohanon and Ben Emert. When we choose to lineup in the I-form/weak/strong/goalline set, Bohanon will be the FB on the field leading the way. I will be the first to tell you that Tommy is a BIG BIG boy. He also has pretty good foot speed to match his powerful approach.

Ben Emert is no slouch either, and came in as pretty highly rated (16th) by ESPN at his position. From our initial commitment article on him in 2009:

The first thing you'll notice about Emert is his body type. The guy is built like a brick house. He had 1,500 yards and 28 touchdowns his senior season at West Forsyth H.S. in Cumming, Ga. He racked up 275 and 5 TDs in a game in October.

 

Chances are Emert will play fullback. He is listed at 6'1", 224 right now, but with a redshirt year of weight training, he could easily get up to 230 or 240 if the coaches want him to. And not a pudgy 240 either. 

This appears to be another diamond in the rough for Grobe and the staff. Emert is extremely under the radar. This guy falls completely in the Wake Forest recruiting model--tough kid, strong academics (4.5 GPA!), hard worker, listens to coaches.

ESPN has him ranked as a 72 and shows he also considered Air Force, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. Those are right in our recruiting wheelhouse (seeing as we keep losing guys to Wisconsin...). The WWL also projects him as:

[a] power runner who squares his shoulders in the running lane, takes on tacklers with his pads while finishing runs. Rarely goes down on first hit, showing good pull through ability.

While they will not get nearly the amount of carries that Harris and Pendergrass will see, our coaches certainly should not shy away from putting them on the field (at their real position, not out at flanker like we did with Mike Rinfrette), and let them lead the way for Harris to rack up the yards and touchdowns.

Overall, I think we are pretty set at runningbacks for this year and the future. I love what we have in Josh Harris and could easily see him making 2nd team All-ACC, and maybe 1st team if he exceeds my expectations. A lot of this will depend on the offensive line, and as much as I hate to say it, the play calls that go on the field. Last year there were concerns that Harris did not learn the playbook, therefore we had to make simplistic playcalls when he was out there, and it also led to him being the backup until the VT game. When Harris is on though, he has as much raw speed and talent as any running back in the ACC. Let's just hope that he continues to work hard and put in the time necessary to become the foundation of an offense, because we need him to be that guy for us this year.

Coming up tomorrow or Wednesday will be the breakdowns of another position brimming with talent: wide receivers. I hope you all enjoyed this article, and re-learned what we have coming back at the running back position.

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