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Spring Football Look Ahead: The Running Backs

The Spring Football preview series wraps up with a position group that gave TCU fans little reasons to be happy last year, but could be the most improved unit on the team this year.

Waymon James is a bad man, and he has friends
Waymon James is a bad man, and he has friends
Ethan Miller

The running back position is an interesting one for the Frogs this year, as despite losing Matthew Tucker to the NFL draft it doesn't feel as though we've lost anything going into this year, as we never had a full strength Matthew Tucker for our debut Big 12 season anyway. Instead the Frogs plugged along after the ugly Waymon James injury in week 2 with freshman B.J. Catalon at running back and rotated mighty struggles on the ground with surprising gains. The position was so thin that backup quarterback Trevone Boykin was moved to running back the week of Iowa State, only to be thrust back into the quarterback role due to Mr. Casey's wild ride. Things are different this year, as TCU returns enough depth at running back that even another injury or two shouldn't be enough to totally derail the running game (but with that said, let's have a healthy year this time, please?) and TCU's four running back depth chart breaks down into three groups.

The Men- B.J. Catalon and Jordan Moore

Catalon was "the man" by default last year, but he turned in a mixed performance in a role that he wasn't fully prepared for. Though he could motion, be a highly effective pass catcher and formed a dynamic threat when running the zone read with Boykin, Catalon struggled running the ball between the tackles- a critical role for the simplified offense that Boykin was given to run in the 2012 season. Spring has been good to B.J. but competition has stepped up from players returning from injury, players transferring into the program and a player moving into a different position. Jordan Moore chose TCU over some of the cream of the SEC (Florida, Georgia, Auburn) as well as USC and Ohio State, but was thought to be a safety or linebacker in college. Generally coach Patterson is known for taking running backs and turning them into highly regarded defenders, but Moore will get a chance to do the opposite as he offers the offense a power back option that no one else on the roster can match now that Tucker has graduated. No matter how the depth chart shakes out, expect to see a load of Moore in TCU's goal line sets, especially when Boykin switches in at quarterback. Though Catalon and Moore could both be capable starters they don't quite have the hype of the next man on the list, which earns him his own category.

The Myth- Aaron Green

Five Star recruits are a scarce and highly valued commodity in college football, and it's a rare thing thing for teams in Texas that don't dress in burnt orange to find, but when they come things can rapidly turn for the better. Texas Tech transformed from regular bowl team to Big 12 co-champion with Michael Crabtree in his prime, Vince Young won a national title at Texas and Baylor turned from getting blasted by TCU to upsetting #1 Kansas State and securing a bowl bid when they turned Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk loose on the second half of their schedule. Well it just so happens that TCU has a five star running back transfer of their own this year, Aaron Green, whose skillset is quite comparable to the aforementioned Seastrunk. Green originally committed to Nebraska, but grew unhappy in the halls of the Huskers and transferred down to TCU, bringing with him a trainload of hope and hype as he sat out the 2012 season, learning the offense as he redshirted. It's a bit of a disservice to compare Green to Seastrunk, as the latter is a year further in his development and has already displayed amazing skills, but since all of the recruiting services have Seastrunk listed as the player Aaron Green reminds them of it's nice to see that from the realm of pure measurables, Green is taller, faster and has the stronger upper body (though somehow 4.5 speed from Seastrunk puts him in the "as good as it gets" to Rivals, while 4.4 speed relegates him to the lesser "blue chip" category. This is why people have a hard time taking recruiting seriously). Green's most celebrated attribute isn't his speed though, it's his elusiveness- and if he's worked on his hands in his year off her could be an amazing threat as both a runner and a receiver in a poor man's Reggie Bush role. Those are big names that I'm throwing about in describing a player who hasn't played a down yet for TCU, but when you're a five star talent those are the kind of comparisons you invite. He's not going to be LT, but if he lives up to the hype he could be the first TCU back to be given a fair shot to be the featured back since he graduated. Though if he's healthy there is a more deserving candidate to be that featured back in the next category.

The Legend- Waymon James

There is no current player more loved amongst Frogs O' War writers both present and past than Waymon James, and for my money his absence was the biggest reason for the Frogs disappointing Big 12 debut, as if Boykin had had a solid running game to rely on he likely would have been more successful. If James had been healthy I think the Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State games might have all turned out with TCU on top, giving TCU ten wins last year- that's a whole lot of improvement based on one player, but James is simply that good. The former four star recruit who picked TCU over OU, Okie State, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Georgia Tech has similar speed to the aforementioned Green, but is stronger both in the upper and lower body than the best from both Green and Seastrunk. Happily we don't have to worry about whether those numbers translate to- James' yards per carry average has increased each year he's been on campus, from 5.9 in his Freshman year, 7.2 his sophomore year before putting together a monstrous 9.9 ypc in his first two games last year. Sadly James had already taken a redshirt season, so despite missing all but two games last year this will likely be his last year wearing purple, barring a Case Keenum-esque sixth year of eligibility, but the expectations for James this year are sky high- have a video, showing a bit of why we like him so much.

This is one of TCU's standard call that has been infuriating fans since Franchione- the option to the short side of the field. It's quickly read by Kansas' outside linebacker who comes forward to take on James as Casey makes a quick pitch with the defensive end in his face. James runs right by him, shoves the cornerback off balance, lets a defensive tackle slide off his back before shoving out of a linebackers grasp and proceeding another ten yards downfield. How is James able to do this? He's short, so taller tacklers can be slipped a bit if they don't get their shoulders on him, he's fast enough to run away from linebackers and linemen both, he has the power to shove tacklers out of the way and drag foes forward and most of all he has exceptional balance, which lets him stay on his feet through all of these almost tackles. If Waymon James has returned 100% from his injury then in my opinion the #1 Texan candidate for the Doak Walker award is well north of Waco- give James 20 carries a game and a competent quarterback and we'll see some truly amazing things.