Buford High School running back Derrian Brown (L) celebrates with his teammates after a touchdown against Tucker High School during the 2018 MetroPCS Corky Kell Classic at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta GA Friday, August 17, 2018. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: With signee Brown questionable, Herman still high on Texas’ running backs

Posted February 8th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Texas running back signee Derrian Brown is battling an unknown illness in Georgia.
  • Running back Jordan Whittington from Cuero is expected to step in and contribute as a freshman.
  • Whittington rushed for 334 yards in the Class 4A Division II title game.
  • Texas lost backs Tre Watson, Kyle Porter, and Toneil Carter from the 2018 roster.
  • Keaontay Ingram returns along with Daniel Young and Kirk Johnson.
  • Tom Herman doesn't rule out a grad transfer at the position.

Life is bigger than football. And Tom Herman had the perfect tone Wednesday when he addressed the media on what was left of national signing day.

Running back Derrian Brown, a four-star signee from Georgia, underwent surgery last week back home to remove a blood clot in his brain. Herman said the hope is that he will return to the field one day, which would really bolster a running backs room that has lost graduate transfer Tre Watson and transfers Toneil Carter and Kyle Porter.

Herman declined to discuss the specifics of Brown’s condition out of privacy for his family, but thanked fans for the love and support shown toward the young man.

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“He still has a battery of tests to figure out exactly what his ailment is,” Herman said. “It would probably be premature to assume anything. The family does want everyone to know that he is getting better every day.”

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Brown’s high school teammates won the day on Twitter when they all flashed their Horns Up while posing with a UT football T-shirt. While their friend focuses on a return to health, his college coaches Herman and Stan Drayton march into the spring with a big question to answer regarding this offense: Is there enough juice at running back to build upon the statement season that was 2018?

The position yielded 1,649 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but with Watson preparing for pro timing day, much of the pressure will be on sophomore-to-be Keaontay Ingram, who ran for 708 yards in his first season. Ingram has game-breaking ability but injuries conspired against him and he didn’t show the type of burst we witnessed from past freshman phenoms like Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles.

Junior-to-be Daniel Young and Kirk Johnson — the oft-injured older brother of star wideout Collin Johnson and son of Texas legend Johnnie Johnson — will provide experience but aren’t considered big-play guys. That’s why it is incumbent on freshman Jordan Whittington — the biggest star to come out of Cuero since Robert Strait took the state by storm 30 years ago — to come in and contribute right away, not just at wide receiver.

Herman also could mine that omnipresent transfer portal in hopes of striking gold again like he did with Watson, who was a great mentor to Ingram in addition to being a plug-and-play option on an offense that needed an experienced playmaker to complement emerging quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

“Obviously the success that (Watson) had last season, I hope makes us an attractive spot for those kind of guys,” Herman said. “But we have a lot of confidence in that room, as far as (Ingram, Johnson, and Young) and then (Whittington) is going to get a lot of work at that position as well. It’s going to have to be the right guy to take a grad transfer, because we feel good about the experience level of that room.”

Whittington was recruited as an athlete after totaling 1,796 yards of offense with 27 touchdowns for the Class 4A Division II champs. Days after signing with the Longhorns in December, he rushed for 334 yards and scored six touchdowns in the state title game. I would be shocked if he doesn’t give this offense 700 yards of offense as a freshman.

Here’s the good thing about this offense moving forward. The perception of this attack being dependent on running backs was pretty much obliterated in 2018 because of Ehlinger, who was arguably the most improved quarterback in the country. He will continue to take pressure off the backs with his legs — he ran for 691 yards and 16 touchdowns, and led the team in rushing as a freshman — giving Herman and play-caller Tim Beck more options with the running backs.

There’s talent at the position and Herman has shown an ability to extract just enough production from young players to keep things interesting in the backfield.

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