Chris Warren III has the size to replace D’Onta Foreman as the No. 1 back in the Texas offense. But we’re a few months away from finding out if he’s big enough.
Foreman had one of the greatest seasons in Longhorns history. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound running back gained 2,028 yards in 11 games and was named consensus first-team All-American plus was named the winner of the Doak Walker Award. In a desultory season, Foreman was a consistent bright spot. He declared for the NFL Draft; his absence is the biggest hole on Texas’ offensive roster.
Foreman’s success was coupled with the fact that 6-2, 250-pound Warren suffered an injury to his right knee in the fourth game. Through the first third of the season, the two backs shared the load. Foreman became the leading man when Warren was sidelined.
The main question mark regarding Warren’s ability to carry the load this season is his injury history. In 2013 as a high school junior he suffered a serious knee injury, and in addition to last year’s season-ending injury, Warren has dealt with minor leg injuries during his two seasons in Austin. He missed the last three weeks of spring practice with a hamstring injury.
For new coach Tom Herman, the mystery of Warren won’t be solved until preseason practice. For his “smash-mouth spread” offense to be successful, a powerful and productive running back is crucial. While Warren has the size of an inside linebacker, he’s not as shifty as Foreman. Warren’s specialty is running through, not around, tacklers.
“I kind of pulled him aside during one of the workouts,” Herman said, “and I told him, ‘You have been a very pleasant surprise. You’re going to make a lot of money someday playing this position if you put your pads down and run through somebody.'”
In Herman’s 10 seasons as an offensive coordinator or head coach (at Rice, Iowa State, Ohio State and Houston), his top running back has averaged 987 yards per season. He had two 1,000-yard rushers with the Buckeyes and one with the Cyclones.
While in Columbus, Herman’s running backs coach was Stan Drayton, who is now on the Texas staff. At Ohio State, Carlos Hyde (1,521 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 yards) each had excellent seasons.
Warren, the son of former NFL running back Chris Warren, is a new frontier for Drayton.
“I’ve never had a guy that big,” he said. “There’s some things we have to do to really make him the caliber of back that I believe he is capable of becoming. He’s got to become more elusive. He has to be quicker in tighter spaces. So he has a long way to go in that respect. But his body is capable of doing it.”
Before his breakout season in 2016, Foreman had totaled 753 yards in his first two seasons. Warren has 836 career yards – 407 of those coming after contact – and an average of 6.2 yards per carry. In 2015, Warren torched Texas Tech (doesn’t everybody torch the Red Raiders) for 276 yards.
With Warren’s injury history, there’s attention on UT’s backfield depth. And there’s reason for Herman to be concerned.
Kyle Porter, a 5-11, 215-pound sophomore, appears set as Warren’s backup, although it’s possible he can challenge for the starting role. Porter played in 11 games last season and gained 205 yards on 46 carries. While he missed the spring game with an injury, he impressed Herman during spring practice.
“He never complains, never asks for a play off, always goes full speed, always diving,” Herman said. “He makes yards as he’s getting tackled, he never gets driven backward so he’s been a joy to be around so far.”
Freshman Toneil Carter, who was the only healthy scholarship running back available for the spring game, had some impressive moments but irritated Herman with his tendency to fumble. Roderick Bernard, Tristian Houston and Kirk Johnson are the other scholarship running backs and all figure to be in the mix to nail down a third-string spot.
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