Utah Begins Process Of Replacing RB White IV
By Rhett Wilkinson
The favorite story of the Salt Lake City media about University of Utah football for months has been the “co-offensive coordinator” duties of Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson. Head coach Kyle Whittingham hired Erickson, a former Pac-12 and NFL coach, in February. The emphasis has been on Johnson’s demotion of sorts after he solely guided the Utes’ offense last year.
If that’s indeed the case, it makes sense. A three-year starting quarterback at Utah, Johnson in February 2012 became perhaps the youngest offensive coordinator in Football Bowl Subdivision history just two weeks before his 25th birthday. But the milestone hiring didn’t translate to on-field success: The Utes’ offense ranked just 105th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams last season.
Whether you are 66 (as Erickson is) or 26 (as Johnson now is), the Utes’ offense may not show much promise of ranking any higher if it can't locate effective running backs in place of John White IV, arguably the greatest running back in Utah football history. Last season, White became the first Ute to rush for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and now plays for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League. It’s little wonder the coaching trio was unclear about the team’s depth at running back to start spring ball.
They now consider that problem solved after strong performances from several individuals. That starts with senior Kelvin York, the projected starter once last season’s disappointing 5-7 campaign ended. They also had high hopes for senior Karl Williams; reports are that Williams cleared those bars during camp. And with strong efforts in those weeks from sophomore James “Bubba” Poole and junior Lucky Radley, those lining up behind emerging quarterback Travis Wilson may cause Erickson and Johnson to make the Utes’ offense more ground-oriented than they expected. Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune that all four may see playing time.
Most assumed York would inherit the starting running back job left vacant by the graduated White IV. Despite strong performances from a trio of other backs led by Williams, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound back from Fullerton College should still be the first among them to take a carry this season.
As a smash-mouth player, York is the antithesis of White IV, a scatback. In the five games last season where he got five-plus carries, he averaged a respectable 4.8 yards per carry. He was the lone highlight of an embarrassing September defeat at Arizona State, when he gained 86 yards on 13 carries. Injuries kept him out of the Utes’ first three November contests before he got 10 carries in the season-ending win over Colorado.
In 2010, York rushed for 1,478 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Titans. His MVP-performance in that year's California Community College Athletic Association's Golden Empire Bowl, garnered him offers from Washington, Ole Miss and Oregon.
Injuries have derailed him since his Utah career began. He struggled with turf toe throughout most of spring practices, but proved his worth as a feature back in the April 20 spring game, when he had seven carries for 35 yards.
York has also proven himself in real-time situations. He rushed for 273 yards on 60 carries and three touchdowns in eight games last season.
While York proved reliability in the spring game, Williams probably was better, rushing 10 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns to open up opportunities for Wilson.
The 243-pound native of Utah’s Wasatch Front came to campus in 2010 as a fullback after playing seven games as a true freshman for Southern Utah University. He was given a scholarship in February after losing weight and earning compliments from coaches — including the veteran Erickson — for his ball security and good hands out of the backfield. Whittingham has remarked that he’s never seen Williams lose yards. Coaches label him a “football player."
After being asked last year to gain weight as a fullback, he was asked to do the opposite this year in order to push York for the starting tailback job. Mike Grant of KSL has remarked that coaches smile when they talk about him, expressing satisfaction Williams does whatever they ask of him. While he is reportedly also effective at running between the tackles or on the edges, Williams isn’t as fast as the other three.
Poole might be the most unknown of the four running backs because he’s the youngest in the program. Poole split first-team reps in the spring with Radley and Williams. Poole has displayed a downfield style similar to York, but is much bigger than Radley — whom he will compete with for third-string carries — at 6-foot, 200 pounds.
In order to utilize him more, Erickson and Johnson could use him as a wideout in some of Erickson’s spread formations, giving him a speed advantage over many linebackers.
This season, Lucky Radley should far exceed the 15 career carries he has gained in his first two years in Salt Lake City. Radley got more practice reps than Poole.
If fans want to see an imitation of White, they should call Radley’s name. Like White, he is 5-foot-8, but strong enough to run between tackles against at least the lower half of the Pac-12. In order to be utilized more, he could join Poole in some formations as a wideout. Because of Erickson’s emphasis on the spread, it’s almost a certainty. Poole or Radley could even find themselves practicing as a receiver in August.