Spring Football: Kenneth Pope on the RB’s

By Chris Williams, Publisher
How have the running backs looked so far in spring ball?

KP: So far this spring, just kind of comparing to last spring when we didn’t know much about the group, this spring we know a lot. In particular, you start off with Alexander Robinson. He has really kind of left off at the end of the season this last year with the Minnesota game. He hasn’t missed a beat. He’s one of those guys that is a leader on the field. That is the thing that really makes us go, his leadership. He is such a sharp young man for us, making adjustments on the field with this great vision. He’s able to make the proper cuts. Those things really get you excited. The thing about all of that when you look at A-Rob, he’s kind of the captain of that group. The young guys look up to him and respect him. He does a nice job of coaching them as well. It makes it really good when you have a leader like him, who can lead by example and those young men can follow him.

What has the competition been like for number two?

KP: We have to find at least two more running backs really. I like to have three guys who can really play. If we have four guys who can play, that would be fine. If you look at the young guys, we’ll kind of start off with Beau Blankenship. He is a young man who came in, in the fall and really did a good job. We didn’t red-shirt him or anything last year so he got some good playing time for us on special teams. He gives us a little bit of a step up. When you look at James White (pictured above), every day he improves. He is the type of young man that has quickness. Those are the things that you look at. There’s a lot of upside there. He’s not a big guy but the upside is that he can make guys miss. Hopefully, he can continue getting better as the spring unfolds. The guy who has been really a big surprise in a way is Jeff Woody. We are doing quite a few things with him. He is a physical player. He keeps on coming every day. I am excited about those three football players. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the spring. The competition has been really good. Those guys are trying to find a spot on the roster so to speak. Every day, you don’t have to worry about getting those guys ready to play.

Has one of those guys emerged as a clear-cut number two at this point?

KP: I grade them every week. The thing that I say to those young guys is that I am going to base everything that you do, week by week. We had a big scrimmage this past Saturday and obviously, in my opinion, Jeff Woody really played extremely well in the scrimmage. I base that off of the scrimmage so right now, he is working at the number two. I am still rolling those guys in so every week and every day that we practice, it is a competition. Right now, those guys are all there close together and it makes it kind of interesting. You can see those guys competing every day. That is the thing that we have to do to get better. Jeff Woody is a big, physical back. You like to have a big, physical back. That is very encouraging at this particular point. I hope that he continues on with that type of attitude and production.

You have a couple of other backs coming in this summer. Do you anticipate Shontrelle Johnson to push these guys and be in the mix at number two?

KP: That is one thing that is good about this situation right now. Those young backs are here this summer. The weight coaches will get a chance to work with those guys. Normally, Alexander Robinson takes those running backs through drills in the summer. Hopefully those guys will get kind of a head start. We will find out a lot more about them when we start working them out. But yes, I am anticipating one of those two guys to come in and push these other young guys. It will be an interesting fall for us when we look at Shontrelle the Hollis kid coming in. I am excited about that challenge. The competition level will make us a better football team. Right now, I am really pleased with the three guys that we’ve got. Right now, Jeff Woody has the edge right now of those three guys.

What are Beau Blankenship’s main strengths and weaknesses?

KP: He is a very physical back. He is a guy who is more of a slasher type of runner. He is a guy who is going to get you tough inside yards. He is the type of guy who can make people miss in a small area. The thing I like about him is that he is tough, physical and wants to be a very good player. Every day he gives you a good day’s work. When you look at James White, he is a little different kind of a back. He can really make you miss. I use the expression; he can give you the one cut and make a guy miss in space. The only thing he doesn’t have, he’s not a physically structured guy but he is a guy who I think has speed and ability to make things happen for us on offense. We just have to wait and see on those guys. The encouraging thing right now is that they are all out there competing hard. They give us a good day’s work and as long as they do that, we’ll have a chance to be good. I really feel that way.

What kind of back are you looking for?

KP: In this offense, I don’t think that you have to have a big back, I really don’t. We give you so much misdirection in this offense. I would take speed over size to be honest with you. You guys saw Alexander Robinson in the bowl game. He was able to make people miss in small space. That is the kind of back that you really want. You want the back that can make people miss in small space and give you those type of yards. If you have a big back, yeah, we’d love to have him and we can utilize a big back. I have had the best of both worlds. It is just how you want to utilize him.

When Alexander didn’t play last year, the offense really struggled. If for some reason that would happen next fall, will there be a better situation behind him?

KP: I think that we have enough backs who can give us the lift that we need. The three backs we have here, I have confidence in them all. We have two young guys coming in. We’ll have to wait until they get on campus to see how well they play. Obviously, what we have seen on film makes us believe that they will be very good players for us in the future. We just have to wait and see. The guys we have right now, I would have no hesitation of putting any of the three on the field right now. I really don’t. I think that they would be able to help us, no doubt about it if something would happen to Alexander. All three of those guys can do different things. It is me being able to put them in the right position, should that happen.