Football

Once fully stocked in the backfield, Texas is running into real problems at running back

Keaontay Ingram, Jordan Whittington are the only two healthy running backs for Louisiana Tech, but they're dinged up, too

Posted August 26th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • “Level of concern is high,” Herman said Monday during his first game-week press conference.
  • “I don’t think the refs will let me put a green jersey on them in the game.”

Anybody seen Kyle Porter?

Where’s Tristian Houston?

Where have you gone, Toneil Carter?

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The Longhorns had seven scholarship running backs last season, but all the aforementioned able bodies left in the offseason. Porter transferred to Houston, the school. Houston, the athlete, went to Southwestern Oklahoma State. Carter is now at Sam Houston State.

Heading into Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana Tech, Texas coach Tom Herman would give them a bear hug.

As it stands now, sophomore Keaontay Ingram and freshman Jordan Whittington are the only quasi-healthy runners in the backfield. Both are battling injuries, too, and both are wearing green non-contact jerseys in practice.

“Level of concern is high,” Herman said Monday during his first game-week press conference.

Things are already so dire, the offensive coaches have instructed third-string quarterback Roschon Johnson, a freshman, to get some practice time at running back. The coach called that an emergency option, but it sounds like it’s time to break that glass.

“I don’t think the refs will let me put a green jersey on them in the game,” Herman said of Ingram and Whittington. “So we need ’em, they gotta go.”

How have the Longhorns already landed at DEFCON 1? They were supposed to have five scholarship running backs this season: Ingram, Whittington, Young, Kirk Johnson and Georgia freshman Derrian Brown.

Brown will not play this season after having emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain during his senior year in high school. He arrived on campus just last week.

Kirk Johnson, a senior with a long injury history, fell awkwardly early in training camp and suffered a sprained shoulder. He’s expected to miss at least six weeks.

Texas running back Jordan Whittington (21) runs through drills during spring practice at the Frank Denius Fields in Austin, Texas, Friday, 15, 2019. RICARDO BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Then Ingram suffered a knee injury during the team’s first full-pad scrimmage on Aug. 11. Trainers took it slow with his rehabilitation. On Aug. 15, quarterback Sam Ehlinger said, “I had to tell Keaontay to stop jogging today. He’s going to be OK.”

Last Friday, Texas announced that Young will be “sidelined for several weeks” with a high ankle sprain.

That leaves only Whittington, and Herman said the Cuero product is “still fighting some residual effects from a sports hernia surgery that he had in high school. So that flares up on him from time to time.”

Earlier in training camp, Herman said he would consider getting freshman receiver Jake Smith some practice time in the backfield. But coaches are keeping him at slot receiver for the moment, likely betting Smith is more productive there than as a third-stringer out of the backfield.

“He certainly would have been, could have been, had the straits been more dire,” Herman said of Smith. “Jake’s head’s spinning just trying to play slot receiver right now. He’s our starting punt returner and all that stuff. We didn’t want to put that also on his plate. Maybe at some point, but right now, it wasn’t necessary.”

Herman said Roschon Johnson is getting practice time at running back mostly because he enrolled in January and knows the offense.

So that leaves a dinged-up Ingram and Whittington along with a healthy Ehlinger as the primary running threats against the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech returns five defensive starters from a unit that ranked 27th nationally in total defense last season.

Herman had a workman-like tone on Monday. Aside from the running backs, the Longhorns didn’t have any major question marks on their two-deep roster.

Texas head coach Tom Herman speaks during a press conference on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Herman said sophomores Jalen Green and Kobe Boyce would be UT’s two starting corners if the season had started Monday. Green “has earned the right to consider him as himself a starter,” Herman said. It’s incredible praise for a player that Herman has already predicted will be at UT just three years.

“Once he continues to develop with his knowledge of the game, his football IQ and getting out there and doing it more, the sky’s the limit for him,” cornerbacks coach Jason Washington said last week.

Along the offensive line, Herman said the Horns will start some five-man combination of Samuel Cosmi, Junior Angilau, Zach Shackelford, Derek Kerstetter, Denzel Okafor and Parker Braun. The coach also said tight end Cade Brewer has been cleared to play after going through the team’s concussion protocol last week.

As for special teams, Herman said, “I love our kicker.” Cameron Dicker returns for his sophomore season, as does punter Ryan Bujcevski. While Smith will return punts, senior Brandon Jones will be called upon in punt return safe formations, when all Herman wants is for someone to catch it. Smith and Devin Duvernay will return kickoffs.

The Longhorns will practice after dusk this week to get ready for Saturday night’s kickoff. It also gets the team acclimated to the temperatures. Early weather reports indicate temperatures could be in the mid-90s by the 7 p.m. kickoff.

Herman wanted to thank fans and noted the program was 13 season tickets away from setting a new school record. The current mark is 62,737.

“Really, really loud, packed, intimidating crowds has an effect on a visiting opponent,” Herman said. “And hopefully we can be as loud and as packed as anybody in the country this year.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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