If you take a glance at the Kansas football roster the running backs are divided into two camps. There are halfback and then there are fullbacks. While one player is noted in both categories, the divide seems pretty obvious for most. This is a position where Kansas had built a strong stable of talent during the Turner Gill years.
Now this group has a chance to work with a coach who stresses personnel packages and balance. They also have a chance to continue to work with the same position coach and a head coach who has been around some great NFL running backs during his time. How Weis utilizes this group should be a consistent storyline throughout the season and it looks like it could be an enjoyable one.
Tony Pierson - Pierson has the wow factor. In the Spring game he put his blazing speed on display and showed more of what Kansas fans had learned to expect from his limited play in 2011. Everytime Pierson touches the ball he has a chance to score and that will be a tremendous weapon for Weis as he looks to retool this Kansas offense. The biggest question is durability. Pierson is just 5'10" 170 pounds. Weis has openly said that he's not an every down back which means we can expect Weis to use what he's referencing as a "personnel grouping" to get Pierson involved on offense. He'll garner respect from opposing defenses and we should expect some great Tony Pierson moments during the season. Having this type of player is going to make the play caller's job a fun one.
Brandon Bourbon - Moving into the more traditional backs we start with Brandon Bourbon. Heading into fall Bourbon probably has a slight advantage over incoming junior college transfer Taylor Cox. The only problem with Bourbon has been his ability to stay healthy. When he's in the game he's a tough physical runner that is fun to watch. He has the speed, he has great size and he can be a punishing back. Now it's just a matter of catching a good break and getting a full go at things. Also of note, Bourbon is listed as a more generic 'running back' which could give some indication as to how he might be used. It might mean nothing but he isn't bundled under the halfback label or the fullback label at this time.
- Taylor Cox- Cox is a bit of an unknown but given that he is a 'Weis' guy, there must be something there that is worth pursuing. Cox also falls into the more traditional running back role similar to Bourbon but with a little less height. In terms of his durability he is a thick back and he's held up during his previous stint so he'll definitely be someone that will be worth keeping an eye as the position battle unfolds.
James Sims - Here's a prediction, James Sims will be looking at a starters workload within three games of his return from suspension. At first it looked as if the suspension for Sims could be a pretty big blow to his prospects with the new staff but this past week told a completely different story. The staff couldn't say enough about Sims and his overall ability. He's been called the most complete back and Weis says that there isn't anything he can't do. It seems that everytime we're ready to move on from James Sims, he rises to the occasion. At a lean 195, he appears as committed as ever to this team and the program and I for one can't wait to see this story unfold.
- Marquis Jackson - Jackson is up to 220 after moving from wideout this spring and he's listed as a halfback/fullback. He had a very productive spring game and has the look of someone who could develop into a solid contributor. Sometimes you see a player that has a chance to really benefit in the long term from a coaching change, Jackson could be that guy but it may be in a way that none of us would have ever expected. The fullback connotation is what intrigues me most. Does he continue to put on weight? Does he maintain his ability to make a play in space? Do we have a pro-style fullback talent on our hand?
- Ryan Burton - Burton is a senior walk on at a stacked position. Hats off to anyone who contributes to the program through three coaches and handles the grind that is 'walk on' football.
During the first three games we can expect a healthy does of Tony Pierson in specific situations complimented by a rotation of Cox, Bourbon and potentially Jackson. Depending on how those players produce and what Weis ultimately decides to do with Jackson, Sims will be the wildcard after game three. That's when this group will be at full strength if they can avoid injury and that's when a more consistent combination or committee might begin to establish itself. Based on what we've heard this week it really seems as if Pierson and Sims could be a great combination in the backfield with Bourbon and Cox providing contributions from time to time. Of course Bourbon and Cox will have the first crack at things so if they can perform, they have the ability to keep Sims off the field.