Before last season started, I teased coach Gill and his staff about the number of running backs the team was stock piling. I mean, why do we need 8 guys for a position that will have one, maybe two, guys on the field? Well, as we found out quickly with the quarterback situation, you can never have too many quality guys anywhere.
The season started with journeyman Angus Quigley as RB1, a guy who had played LB the previous season. With some good depth at RB, it appeared Gill and co. wanted to redshirt talented freshman James Sims and Brandon Bourbon. However, Quigley and Deshaun Sands were woefully ineffective in the debacle against North Dakota State, and wound up quickly losing their spots in the rotation. For the year, Quigley would only rush the ball a whooping 71 times. Enter the freshman Sims, and everything changed.
Sims ended up carrying the ball 168 times for 748 yards, a healthy 4.4 yards per carry, and scored nine touchdowns. Due to the Jayhawks’ struggles in the passing game (and that might be putting it lightly), the true freshman was often the only offensive threat out there.
Now, KU returns Sims and adds some new talent to the position. In all likelihood, running back is the area where KU is the strongest.
James Sims – 6’, 226 – Sophomore (29)
Sims had pretty much the most productive of a season as you could expect from a true freshman. He displayed a great balance of speed and power, giving the Jayhawks something they could rely on offensively that was missing early in the year. It was no surprise that Sims’ two best performances came in two KU victories – he ran for 101 yards and a score against Georgia Tech and torched Colorado for 123 yards and four touchdowns. Our own Rivet has around 11 posters of Sims in his house, so that has to count for something as well.
Heading into the 2011 season, it appears the job is the sophomore’s to lose. That being said, Sims will face plenty of competition this spring and fall for playing time.
Deshaun Sands – 5’7, 190 – Sophomore (36)
Deshaun is the son of KU legend Tony "Tuxedo" Sands, and many thought he would have an outside shot at some serious PT heading into last season. Sands never really found a role in Chuck Long’s offense, finishing with 216 yards off 55 attempts. He is an undersized scat-back type, but as the year progressed, KU often used other weapons such as D.J. Beshears as a changeup from Sims. Sands had his chances, earning 10 attempts against North Dakota State and 11 against Southern Miss. He just wasn’t very productive, and at this point, it’s hard to see him ever being a big factor in KU’s rushing attack.
Heading into 2011, it appears Sands will likely remain a backup. He is young and has plenty of time to develop, but it appears he has a lot of work to do to climb up the depth chart.
D.J. Beshears – 5’8, 174 – Junior (20)
While he is technically listed as a wide receiver, Beshears also ran the ball at times last season for the Jayhawks, while also serving as the team’s kick returner. Beshears is a slash type player – basically he is fast and deadly with the ball in his hands, and the coaches want him out there in any capacity to make plays. Beshears ran the ball 55 times for 226 yards, giving KU a home run threat from RB, WR and kick returner.
While Beshears is dangerous, I would expect his time as a running back to decrease next season with several talented arrivals to the position. However, he has shown the ability to be an electric kick returner, and I expect the coaching staff will continue to find ways to get him the ball.
Rell Lewis – 5’9, 205 – Senior (6)
Rell is a guy who has seemingly always been in the conversation to be in the mix at running back, but has never actually gotten there. He has struggled with injuries throughout his career at KU, and missed all of last season after suffering a season-ending leg injury in August practice.
Many people are counting Lewis out, but I’m not so sure. Rell moved up to number two in the depth chart before getting hurt last year, and has shown flashes at times when he has actually been on the field. It appears though that Lewis will need a monster spring to get back in the mix for playing time. One area Lewis could find some playing time is on special teams – he played in every game on special teams in 2009.
Brandon Bourbon – 6’1, 208 – RS Freshman (25)
Bourbon was a guy who was labeled as a big-time get for Gill and his staff, and he appears to have all of the physical tools needed to excel at the college level. For being a guy with decent size, Bourbon also boasts a 4.45 40 time. In his junior season of high school, bourbon finished with 248 carries for 2,420 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Despite all the bodies at the running back position, I would expect Bourbon to get some pretty solid playing time this season. The guy looks the part, and the staff loves his speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if by season’s end, Bourbon was heavily involved in the offense, possibly competing for starter’s minutes.
Darrian Miller – 5’10, 181 – Freshman (3)
It will be interesting to see if Miller is able to crack the rotation and get some playing time. A lot of talk around Kansas City is that Gill and Reggie Miller told Darrian he would have the opportunity to compete for the starting job and playing time from day one. He certainly has the physical tools to do so, and a good spring could help Miller find a spot in the rotation.
Ryan Burton – 5-9, 187 – Sophomore (37)
Burton has pretty much been a special teams player since arriving at KU, but a pretty good one at that. He was named special teams player of the week against North Dakota State, and also picked up an Offensive Scout Team Player of the Week award.
With so many talented players at RB, Burton isn’t going to crack the rotation in his tenure with the Jayhawks.
Whew, I’m out of breath. Like I said earlier, this is the position with the most talent on the roster, and some fierce competition for minutes should lead to the juiciest position battle we will see all offseason. Sims had a very good freshman season, but KU has added three four-star recruits to the mix, a talented three star recruit and returned several guys who saw playing time last year. The staff has emphasized speed, speed, and more speed, and this collection of players would make Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock blush. I’d expect Sims to be the favorite to start, but expect to see a lot of guys carry the ball next year.