Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The back pack: Why KU football coach Turner Gill loves the running back

Kansas football coach Turner Gill had made stockpiling running backs a priority. The result? A group that includes, back row from left, Nick Sizemore, James Sims, Brandon Bourbon and Tony Pierson; and front row Deshaun Sands, left, and Rell Lewis.

Kansas football coach Turner Gill had made stockpiling running backs a priority. The result? A group that includes, back row from left, Nick Sizemore, James Sims, Brandon Bourbon and Tony Pierson; and front row Deshaun Sands, left, and Rell Lewis.


Reader poll

Who do you think will be KU's leading rusher in 2011?

  • Brandon Bourbon 14% 54 votes
  • Darrian Miller 22% 82 votes
  • James Sims 59% 219 votes
  • Anthony Pierson 2% 9 votes
  • Other 1% 7 votes

371 total votes.

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Until recently, Kansas University football coach Turner Gill had spent dozens of days recruiting running backs but very little time explaining why.

As it turns out, Gill, a former quarterback, had a good reason for stockpiling arguably the best collection of young backs the program has seen. Sure, the position needed to be upgraded, but there’s more to it than that.

“(There’s a reason) you’ve heard me talk so much about running backs,” Gill said. “Yeah, we gotta have a quarterback, and he’s gotta do his thing, but I think a running back, whenever he makes big plays, he actually raises the level of a football team even more than a quarterback.”

Don’t buy it? Here’s the expanded version.

“When a running back makes a great run, you see the whole bench get excited,” Gill said. “The offense. The defense. Special teams. Everybody gets excited. If a quarterback makes a good throw or a good run, he’ll get excited, but it’s a little bit different level than when a running back makes a big play. (When he does) he usually shows some toughness, he makes somebody miss, and he shows a great burst. The fans, your whole team, your coaching staff, everybody gets up with him. That’s why I think a running back is such an important thing for a football team.”

Gill has four with top-tier ability, and he plans to use them all. From sophomore James Sims, who led the team in rushing yards and TDs as a true freshman, to red-shirt freshman Brandon Bourbon, a former Stanford commitment, and true freshmen Darrian Miller and Tony Pierson — both four-star talents brought to town by super-recruiter Reggie Mitchell — there is no shortage of backs to hand the ball to this season. The tricky part could be finding enough carries for all of them. Then again, each is slightly different from the others, which gives Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long a back for all occasions. Gill has made no secret he prefers to run the football, but while many believe that’s to keep the game close, wind the clock or take the burden off of the quarterback, Gill explained otherwise.

“If you think about all the teams that have been successful or won championships, they’ve had a running back,” Gill said. “He may not have been a great one, but he was someone that raised the level of play of that football team to help them be champions.”

After watching former KU coach Mark Mangino team with Todd Reesing to make passing the vogue thing in Lawrence during recent seasons, Gill’s return to the run represents new territory for Jayhawk fans who may not have been around to watch Gale Sayers, John Riggins or even June Henley make the ground game golden in Lawrence.

There’s another layer involved here that goes beyond just finding a featured back — or four — who can light up a stadium and scoreboard. Fielding a running back who can gain more yards than the line has blocked for can provide a team with a boost even when that back is not ripping off long runs or scoring touchdowns.

“The other thing about it is, your offensive line may go that extra second or that extra two seconds for a good running back,” Gill said. “They know that if they just stay on their guy for a little longer, so and so’s gonna make that run. Coaches always tell them that, but you don’t have to say that anymore because of the running back. They know it. They watch the tape. They may not have even blocked the guy, and the running back made him miss and made the offensive lineman look good. So, psychologically, it helps your football team.”

Although his plan all along was to bring big-time backs to KU, Gill admitted recently he didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. With that in mind, the challenge this season will be finding a way to use each back effectively. Sims sits at the top of the depth chart for now, but is being pushed hard by Miller and Bourbon. Miller, the Missouri high school record holder for career rushing yards, had a fantastic spring and consistently has shown the ability to make something out of nothing. Bourbon, also from Missouri, was charging hard this spring before a broken leg cost him most of spring drills. He has made up ground this summer and, according to Long, had his best practices last week leading up to a two-touchdown performance in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Both backs appear capable of carrying the load should they be asked.

Pierson’s another story. The fastest of the bunch, the East St. Louis, Ill., prospect is significantly smaller than the other three, but he’s also more of a true home-run threat because of his blazing speed and ability to turn the corner.

Although Gill almost assuredly has stayed awake at night trying to figure out the best way to use each of his dynamic backs without calling a running play on every down, those thoughts have, no doubt, morphed seamlessly into bedtime lullabies.

“It’s just great to have athletes like that on the field,” Gill said. “They have good vision, they’re tough, they’re fast, they have quickness, they can make plays. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. How that all works out, I’m smiling because that’s a win-win. Whatever the name of that person is, I’m fine.”

After all, as Long says, the surplus is a luxury.

“I just believe that, at that position, you need as many as you can get,” Long said. “And, right now, we’re working with all of them.”


100 6 years, 10 months ago

Keep bringin' in that Speeeeeeeeed, Coach Gill.....

Jayhawk Nation is behind you guys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

actorman 6 years, 10 months ago

Love the picture, but there's a problem with the caption: only five of the six are named, so it's not clear who is who.

KEITHMILES05 6 years, 10 months ago

Exactly! LOL

Also, is it "Bradnon" or "Brandon"?

Kman_blue 6 years, 10 months ago

I noticed that too. Maybe the caption was the last thing that had to be finished before the deadline, so it was rushed?

The unnamed guy on the far right is Anthony "Tony" Pierson BTW.

Mike Kendall 6 years, 10 months ago

Just a question for anybody-----

With all these running backs at Coach Gill's arsenal, will he rotate a lot of them so he will have fresher legs in the fourth quarter or will he just stick with two or three who will get the most reps?

Thanking you in advance whoever answers.

ahpersecoachingexperience 6 years, 10 months ago

Wow, I'm so excited to watch us go three-n-out on three straight run plays all year long.

Last year against So. Miss there was a series in the second half we we were down that started on our 45 yard line: 1st and 10: false start 1st and 15: run off rt tackle. 2yd loss. 2nd and 17: run up the middle. No gain. 3rd and 17: run off rt tackle. No gain. But offsides on defense 3rd and 12: run off lft tackle. 1 yard game.

Chayse Patrick 6 years, 10 months ago

Like I said Sou Yuck!!!!!! A herpes. Leave the guys alone they don't need you nor do the fans. You Suck... .

Kyle Reed 6 years, 10 months ago

Don't feed the trolls...that loser could find a way to put a negative spin on finding $100 on the ground.

Ben Kliewer 6 years, 10 months ago

Oh great. What am I going to do with this filthy $100 bill...

jaymar74 6 years, 10 months ago

I'm so excited to see us run. Since you, ahperse guy, believe the past is always the present, I remember a game against Indiana at Memorial Stadium, tie game, fourth quarter, deep in our own end, a sweep to Sayers around left end, 76 yards later we were waving the wheat on a winning touchdown. Or how about Riggins over the middle time after time to beat OU or Sands for over 300 to beat MU or Douglass on a bootleg to beat Nebraska in Lincoln....give it time, it's coming back and you are getting worried it just might be. Your clock is ticking, your time is coming to an end.

justinryman 6 years, 10 months ago

I remember a game against MU in Arrowhead, KU is leading, MU punts, buries KU deep, but instead of running the clock down they go 3 n out on 3 bad passes and barely run 15 seconds off the clock. MU takes the punt return, gets into FG position and wins the darn game.

That's a play calling/coaching philosophy issue right there!!!!!

And I know you miss your buffet buddy in Mangino, but you have to remember all the bad calls he had too.

Randy Bombardier 6 years, 10 months ago

I remember a lot of those kinds of situations. Not having a running game really hurt us in 08. To me, it is all about third down and in the right part of the field, fourth down. You have to be able to get three yards on a run play nearly every play. I hope we drill the heck out of third down situations.

Patrick Leiker 6 years, 10 months ago

I remember that as well. Some of the worst play calling I've seen. I loved Mangino, but that showed an absolute distrust in his oline/rbs to not run the ball there. Gave them the game, just gave it to them and it cost us a bowl trip and win vs. our rival.

Not to mention the reason they buried us deep in the first place was he told Mcdougald to not field the punt (again, trust issue), so he lets it drop and it rolls to the 3 yard line.

smar4 6 years, 10 months ago

Ahperse is all about the attention, it's why he likes to be the first comment, etc. The more ppl read it, the more attention/replies... if he doesn't know of something clever to say, he says "Fire T. Gill!" The worst thing about the swarm of replies... i can't avoid reading them! and usually they don't even have anything to do with article, which is all i really care about anyway!

fromthatstandpoint 6 years, 10 months ago

Why bother with what ahper says about the offense. Defense is his specialty. In fact it is too bad he isn't eligible to play, they could use a really big DB.

LSHawk 6 years, 10 months ago

You must be able to run the ball to compete anywhere in football, PERIOD. So this can only be good news for us. I for one am looking forward to this season, coach gill and staff have done a really good job bringing in new talent and I think the team is going to be better than anyone thinks.

vd 6 years, 10 months ago

We had a walkon fullback from Hutch. What happened to him?

number1jayhawker 6 years, 10 months ago

Josh Smith. Back-up at Fullback. He goes 5'10" @ 220 lbs The starter at fullback is Nick Sizemore. He goes 6'2" @ 246 lbs

Chris Bailey 6 years, 10 months ago

I've asked Tait several times about Smith and seems like he may see the field on special teams this year. He is the backup also so he may spell Sizemore some. Smith can run so he could carry the ball if called upon (and did in the scrimage). He could surprise some people. Watched him for 3 years in Hutch he was a stud. Would have had the single season record (Heeney beat it last year) but he split carries with Dinwiddie who was placed at HCC by Kstate so they had two quality backs. So the kid is legit!

SCJayhawker 6 years, 10 months ago

Yeah thats true about Smith. That kid was amazing. He set every record at Hutch splitting carries with the speedster Dinwiddie who will be at KSU next year. He is a winner too. They won the state championship every year he was in HS. He ran over people. He jumped over people and scored something like 90 TDs in HS. I think he was the MVP in the Shrine Bowl too. The kid is legit just needs to get his chance to show what he can do.

Rock_Chalk16 6 years, 10 months ago

Someone should air brush Sands out of the picture

David Hodges 6 years, 10 months ago

If he behaved at practice like he did in class then I see why he's gone.

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