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Oklahoma Sooners Look For New Starting RB

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Oklahoma looks to fill the void at running back after losing Brennan Clay and Roy Finch (pictured) to the NFL. Two incoming recruits are poised to take the starting job from three returning sophomores. Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images.
Oklahoma looks to fill the void at running back after losing Brennan Clay and Roy Finch (pictured) to the NFL. Two incoming recruits are poised to take the starting job from three returning sophomores. Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images.

The Oklahoma Sooners are known for running backs like Adrian Peterson, Billy Simms, Steve Owens, Demarco Murray, Greg Pruitt and Billy Vessels. But even when the backs don’t stack up with those all-time greats, it doesn’t mean they aren’t strong in their own right.

Take the Sooners' two backs last year, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. Clay had an outstanding game against Kansas with 200 yards on 31 carries and a season average of 5.5 yards per carry.

Finch didn’t get the number of carries he deserved, but took advantage of the time he was on the field with 59 rushing attempts for 347 yards.

Now both Clay and Finch are gone, and Oklahoma has to find the next back who can step up.

OU has three backs who have been around for spring ball — Keith Ford, Alex Ross and David Smith. At this point Smith is going to have to do some serious climbing to get any playing time.

Ross got only three carries over three games last season. He rushed for 19 yards and no touchdowns. During spring practices he has come through, finding holes, working hard and impressing coaches and teammates alike. He is a strong, fast runner. Had it not been for a personal foul for taking a swing at a Louisiana Tech defender in the first game last season, Ross might have seen more reps.

Ford was thought to be a shoo-in for the starting job before Ross’ strong spring performances. Ford saw playing time early last season but was quickly benched because of fumble troubles. He had three carries for 15 yards in the Sugar Bowl.

Ford has been working on his ballhandling. He is a strong runner who can bounce off a tackle and get those extra yards.

The incoming recruits are poised to make an immediate splash. Joe Mixon ranks sixth in the ESPN rankings among other running backs. He is a powerful runner who can break tackles and make a big play on the ground or through the air. As a senior in high school he ran for 1,704 yards with 23 touchdowns.

Samaje Perine is the sleeper pick. He comes highly ranked from ESPN at 17thbut doesn’t have the hype that Mixon does. Cale Gundy, the running backs coach, was quoted via NewsOK.com as saying: “He’s got great feet and he’s got great hands.” Perine needs to come in this summer and step up if he wants to get playing time over the other backs.

With two strong running backs in Ford and Ross, Mixon and Perine will benefit in a number of ways.

They would be pushed by the strong competition and would learn what they will have to do to get playing time. Second, it will help the older players assimilate them into the system. Lastly, if both Ross and Ford prove themselves as the premier backs and share the majority of the carries, Mixon and Perine will have more time to develop before they are thrown into game play.

As we saw in 2008 with Demarco Murray and Chris Brown, a dual running back system is possible and OU is poised to have just that.