One could make a pretty good argument that it has been more than a decade since UNT had a situation at running back as uncertain as what it faces heading into the 2012 season.
Don’t get me wrong. UNT has some guys with potential. It’s just that in years past, there always seemed to be someone returning who had shown flashes of being the next player in what has been a really strong line of ball carriers.
Ja’Quay Wilburn led UNT in rushing for four straight seasons beginning in 1997 and then handed the job off to JUCO transfer in Kevin Galbreath and some guy named Patrick Cobbs. That might have been the last time UNT was in a situation similar to what it faces this season.
Galbreath led UNT in rushing for two years beginning in 2001, but had a pretty good backup in Cobbs, who took over the lead role in 2003. Jamario Thomas moved in when Cobbs went down with a knee injury in 2004. Cobbs finished up in 2005 and Thomas was still around until graduating after the 2007 season. The next year, UNT had Micah Mosley, who rushed for 461 yards as a freshman, and Cam Montgomery, a four-star JUCO recruit who redshirted in 2007. Montgomery led UNT in rushing with 928 yards in 2008 and returned in 2009, when Lance Dunbar emerged and began his run to UNT’s career rushing record.
All of which brings UNT to 2012, when UNT will have to find a way to replace Dunbar, who was pretty much the basis for UNT’s entire offense. Dunbar rushed for 1,115 yards last year, while backup James Hamilton added 406.
UNT’s leading returning rusher is Brandin Byrd, who finished with just 83 yards and a touchdown last season on 20 carries. Of those yards, 25 came on a single carry.
UNT has some other suspects besides Byrd, including Jeremy Brown, a senior who began his career at Abilene Christian, and Antoinne Jimmerson, a former DeSoto standout who spent last season as a redshirt. Jarmarcus Jarvis and Mark Lewis will be freshmen in the fall and could contribute as well.
The bottom line is none are proven to the level of the running backs UNT has entered the season depending on for better than a decade.
Could one of them emerge and become the next great running back in UNT history?
It’s just never a good bet to depend on players who are unproven to do something they have never done before.
The fact that UNT has a proven offensive line coming back will help. It will help a lot.
There is no denying the fact that UNT needs someone to step forward this season, though.
UNT’s offense was at its best when Dunbar was running the ball effectively last season and Derek Thompson was able to throw the ball off play-action.
Thompson will be better this year, but it would certainly help his cause and open up some windows to throw the ball if Byrd, Brown or Jimmerson can emerge to carry on the tradition of great running backs at UNT or combine to form an effective rotation.
Dan McCarney suggested the rotation concept is the way the staff is leaning following UNT’s spring game.
Either way, UNT will have to find a way to continue the tradition of having an effective running game behind arguably the most unproven batch of running backs the Mean Green has featured in years.