Barry Jackson

UM says it will seek outside help at running back

With shaky depth behind Mark Walton, UM is on the lookout for additional backfield help.
With shaky depth behind Mark Walton, UM is on the lookout for additional backfield help.

With depth shaky at running back behind starter Mark Walton, UM is searching for additional help at the position, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said Wednesday.

“Going from being one of the deepest spots on the team to having two guys leave unexpectedly, it hurts you from a numbers standpoint,” Brown said. “If the guys stay healthy, we will be fine. But that’s a position that takes a lot of pounding and we will look for some graduate transfers and even some high school guys to help fill from a depth standpoint.”

Among the backs being pursued by UM: Clemson graduate transfer Tyshon Dye (click here for details about him). A UM source said it’s not out of the question that Gus Edwards could return after initially being granted permission to explore transferring.

But if Edwards moves on, that would mean backup running backs on UM’s roster will have had a combined 16 carries on any level last season: seven by sophomore-to-be Travis Homer (for 44 yards), none by Trayone Gray (missed the season after knee surgery) and just nine (at Gulliver) by early enrollee Robert Burns, who missed time with an ankle injury last season.

The 5-11 Burns is well-regarded, rated 108th among all players in this class by ESPN.

But asked if UM had any concerns about pursuing him because of of his history of injuries, Brown said: “I’ve seen Robert for a couple years. When I was back in Wisconsin, I remember coming down to see him in person. He’s battled some injuries, which is somewhat of a concern. Still trying to get back to 100 percent healthy. He has all the physical tools. He’s built the right way. Has enough agility. He catches the ball well. I saw it in the summer in the 7 on 7 we had here. It gave us enough confidence that he could be a good tailback here.”

Burns was the only running back UM signed. Miami expected to sign Maryland-based four-star back Anthony McFarland, who he opted for Maryland last Friday after initially telling Terrapins coaches that he would enroll at UM.

Brown expressed confidence in Homer, who appears the front-runner for the No. 2 job behind Walton (pending Edwards changing his mind or UM adding a high-quality grad transfer).

“Travis is a whole lot better than people think he is,” Brown said. “Travis is an all-around tailback. Didn’t play a bunch at running back obviously this past year. Was a big special teams guy for us. Deals well in between the tackles. Very intelligent football player that knows our entire offense. Can play in space. Can make guys miss one on one, can break tackles. Also can help us in the return game.”

Brown said he’s not sure if Gray will be available for spring practice.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “He showed some really good things last spring. Just being able to get back in good shape. He’s put on some really good weight. He’s about 230 pounds. Looks good, running well. He’s a one-cut downhill runner. Didn’t play much [at running back] in high school; was a quarterback and kind of transferred to playing running back here. I like his skill set.”

Gray has run 29 times for 169 yards in his UM career, a 5.8 per carry average.

At least UM has a quality starter in Walton, who was named team offensive MVP after the season. Walton rushed for 1117 yards last season on 5.3 per carry and ran for 14 touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass.

For a look at what Mark Richt said today at his signing day press conference, please click here.

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