If there has been one constant for UNT over the last several seasons, it has been the play of its running backs. First there was Kevin Galbreath, then Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas, who eventually handed the baton to Lance Dunbar.
All Dunbar did was become UNT’s all-time leading rusher before landing with the Cowboys.
UNT is left with memories — and one big glaring hole in its offense. Consider what UNT lost between Dunbar and often overlooked and underappreciated backup James Hamilton:
– Dunbar 269 carries for 1,115 yards and 10 touchdowns, 29 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
– Hamilton 92 carries for 406 yards and four touchdowns, five catches for 59 yards
As UNT heads into the 2012 season, there might not be a bigger question than who will pick up where Dunbar (and to a certain degree Hamilton) left off.
Dunbar and Hamilton combined to account for 47.1 percent of UNT’s total offensive output on the season.
There are plenty of suspects, starting with Brandin Byrd and Jeremy Brown, the two players UNT has with some experience returning. Byrd rushed for 83 yards last season and has built a reputation as a power back who is good in short-yardage situations. Brown, who rushed for 23 yards on five carries last year, is one of the more interesting stories on the team. He played at Whitewright, spent some time at Abilene Christian, decided the school wasn’t for him and showed up at UNT. Brown rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown in UNT’s spring game. I would be shocked if he doesn’t play at least a little this season.
UNT also has two redshirt freshmen the coaching staff likes a lot in Antoinne Jimmerson and Zac Whitfield. Jimmerson rushed for 92 yards and a couple of touchdowns in the spring game.
The interesting aspect of the way UNT’s running back situation has worked over the last several years is that there has always been one player who has really stood out. Hamilton racked up most of his yards last year when Dunbar was hurt and in a season-ending blowout of Middle Tennessee.
UNT seemed to have an opportunity to rotate backs when Cobbs and Thomas were both healthy and coming off national rushing titles in 2005. That didn’t work out very well, either.
UNT will go down that same path of rotating players again, but this time seems like as good an opportunity as the Mean Green will ever have for the concept to work. There isn’t any one dominant player returning and each of the candidates UNT has the talent to contribute.
Head coach Dan McCarney talked about rotating backs after spring practice. With the way the roster shapes up, there is no reason not to take that approach. UNT should have a very good offensive line and a whole host of players to pound away at opposing defenses.
Derek Thompson has shown the ability to be great in the play-action game and UNT is not exactly overstocked with proven wide receivers. Thompson will become a lot more effective with a solid running game.
The only problem is that UNT’s backs lack experience. Fortunately, playing running back isn’t the equivalent of being a quarterback or a center, where a lot hinges on a player’s ability to evaluate what he sees both before and after the snap. It’s all about instincts, speed and power.
UNT has some players who have shown that raw talent at times.
How those talents translate into production will go a long way toward determining if UNT can be productive offensively in the post-Dunbar era.