I made the declaration in the spring that the Sooners must have an improved running game from 2010 if they are going to be serious contenders for the coveted crystal ball. I am still adamant about that. We've learned very little about the running back corps since then, but the picture is beginning to take form.
The fullback spot is set. Trey Millard is money and will go into 2011 as one of the better fullbacks in the country. The rest of the backfield is an alphabet soup full of tasty bits. However, having the wrong mixture of the right ingredients will leave a sour taste in the mouths of Sooner Nation. It's an embarrassment of riches that offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell will have to delicately orchestrate.
Sophomore Roy Finch (5-7, 166) has the most experience. He's super quick and exciting, but small. Head coach Bob Stoops seems to recognize the importance of getting the short yards, something the Sooners couldn't do during critical times the past two years. He's got sophomore Brennan Clay (5-11, 194) first on the depth chart, followed by Jonathan Miller (6-0, 199), who's impressed early this summer. Both are bigger than Finch.
Also, it is apparent that Stoops wants a versatile pass-catching back to replace DeMarco Murray. This will be paramount to the success of the Sooner offensive machine. The emphasis, though, is to stay big and instead of Clay, who was a fabulous pass catcher in high school, out in the slot as a first option, Finch appears set to play significantly in the slot. This will be an experiment. The potential of Finch out in open space is sexy, but he only caught 10 passes last season as a freshman. His learning curve will be high considering Murray caught 71 passes last year.
Junior Dominique Whaley (5-10, 197) and freshman Brandon Williams (6-0, 192) are also potential impact players. Both have the size to be I-formation running backs and both have had good summers thus far. Can they be mainstays in the backfield, or will they just be plug-ins, a la Mossis Madu?
How about junior Jermie Calhoun (6-0, 214)? Will this finally be the breakout year for the top-ranked high school running back in 2008? Calhoun has been hit with the injury bug and has yet to make a impact. He's got the girth to take it up the middle, but he has been fumble-prone in past seasons. Freshman Danzel Williams (5-8, 186) has also been getting some looks. Like the other Williams, he looks good on paper, but learning the offense is another hurdle to making a serious contribution this year. One of these guys will need to step up if Finch doesn't work out in the slot and Clay takes his place.
The Sooners have proven that just a dominant passing attack is good enough to win the Big 12, but this year is different. If the Promised Land is to be had, the running back puzzle must be sorted out. Only trial and error and careful arrangement of all these like pieces will make the picture complete and clear – like crystal.