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Spring Primer: A look at KU's still-deep RB corps

Believe it or not, the early stages of another Kansas University football season are right around the corner as spring practices start next week.

We'll have plenty of time to dive deeper into each position group when spring ball arrives and throughout the spring and summer, but, for now, let's look briefly at a few of the most intriguing positions heading into Year 3 of the Charlie Weis era.

We'll start with running back, where the Jayhawks, despite losing stud James Sims, remain stacked with depth, talent and options.

It's far too early to tell how the carries will be divvied up this fall, but know this: the two newest KU running backs — juco transfer De'Andre Mann and incoming freshman Traevohn Wrench — are both legitimate candidates for playing time.

Here's a quick player-by-player breakdown of the guys who make up what has been KU's most productive and consistent position in the post-Mark Mangino era.

• Corey Avery, Fr., 5-foot-10, 170 pounds •

Skinny: Avery comes to Kansas as one of the most highly touted prospects in the Dallas area and one of the top “athletes” in Texas, a bona fide weapon who can be used all over the field and on both sides of the ball. He played running back, receiver and safety in high school, where he ran for 1,600 yards in limited time last season, and seems to be from the Tony Pierson mold.

Top Asset: Natural playmaking ability. The speedy, athletic offensive weapon makes everything he does look easy and has all the tools you'd want in a home run hitter — speed, quickness, vision and toughness.

Early Prediction: I think Avery will play as a true freshman, but, with KU's backfield loaded, I think we'll see the man high school teammates called “Superman” spend most of his time as a slot receiver and possibly even as the Jayhawks' Wildcat QB.

• Brandon Bourbon, Sr., 6-foot-1, 225 pounds •

Skinny: Weis said briefly on signing day that Bourbon would enter the spring as the top running back on the depth chart. Staying there will be his challenge. Gifted with good size, power and speed, Bourbon is coming off of his most productive (and healthy) season and is looking to close his career with a bang. He's always had the right attitude and work ethic to be a featured back, but staying healthy has been a problem.

Top asset: Bourbon became one of KU's better pass catchers last season, so seeing him carve out a role in the passing game this season is not out of the question.

Early Prediction: Enjoys a season similar to last year, when he received 61 touches (41 carries and 20 receptions) and tallied 300-plus yards while scored three touchdowns as a relevant but not vital part of KU's offense.

• Taylor Cox, Sr., 5-foot-11, 212 pounds •

Skinny: Cox had the opportunity to red-shirt heading into the 2013 season but chose to compete for playing time instead. As it turned out, the red-shirt was meant to be because just a couple of games into the season he tweaked a hamstring and could never recover to the point where it was worth burning his final season of eligibility. Rehabbed and hungry, Cox is a definite candidate for

Top asset: Cox runs with good vision and keeps his legs churning at all times. His extra burst makes him more dangerous in the open field than you might expect for a guy his size.

Early Prediction: As he was during the one year he played with Sims and company, Cox figures to be sound insurance and a reliable option KU's offense can turn to when in need of a spark or as part of a rotation to keep fresh legs in the backfield.

• De'Andre Mann, Jr., 5-foot-9, 195 pounds •

Skinny: The powerful back who earned first-team juco All-American honors after rushing for 1,706 yards and 30 touchdowns for Hartnell College during 2013, said the opportunity to be tutored by coaches with NFL ties and test himself in a power conference played big roles in his decision to come to Kansas.

Top asset: Mann considers himself to be a complete running back and his ability to run inside and out, catch the ball out of the backfield and both gain tough yards and run away from people makes him an every down type of back.

Early Prediction: Mann will be a big-time surprise for casual fans and will quickly show why Weis and company could not pass on signing him even though they had no intention of adding a juco running back in the class.

• Darrian Miller, Jr., 5-foot-10, 185 pounds •

Skinny: Miller is one of the biggest wildcards in this year's bunch. Blessed with all the talent in the world and a good chunk of experience, it's not his skills that are a question mark but his ability to stay on the field. He missed most of the second half of 2013 because of personal issues and, although Weis said earlier this month that he expected Miller to be part of the equation, the Blue Springs, Mo., back has been hot and cold since his promising freshman season.

Top asset: Ability to make defenders miss with exceptional balance and good vision. Miller flashed those skills often during his freshman season, when he finished just behind Sims with 559 yards and 4 touchdowns on 136 carries.

Early Prediction: Miller is back in town and still on the roster but what kind of role he'll have is unknown. His recent personal issues make him a hard player to rely on and he'll likely have to prove a lot to the coaching staff before he is handed any kind of featured role in KU's backfield. Still, with Weis, the best players play, so if Miller is healthy and happy and can find that freshman magic again, he could make a huge contribution.

• Traevohn Wrench, Fr., 6-foot, 190 pounds •

Skinny: One of the top-rated players in KU's incoming recruiting class, Wrench, a four-star back out of Gardner-Edgerton High is the kind of player that any program would have gladly added to its roster. Already blessed with good size and the ability to add weight and muscle, the guy was a work horse in high school and showed consistently that he could handle a heavy work load. He has the power to run through guys and the speed to run away from them. Whether he plays right away or not, he'll be a cornerstone of the KU offense for years to come.

Top asset: Excellent vision, which allows him to hit holes quickly and get to top-end speed in a hurry. Because of his quick-cut running style, Wrench rarely had carries go for negative yardage, which is all the more impressive when you take into account what a high-volume running back he was.

Early Prediction: The best thing for both the program and the player here would be for Wrench to red-shirt and spend the 2014 season getting bigger, stronger, faster and absorbing the playbook. If it plays out that way, he's got the potential to be KU's next four-year starter, a la Sims.

Note of interest: It should be pointed out that both Tony Pierson and Colin Spencer have been moved to WR on KU's official roster. Pierson was a RB at KU during his first two seasons and a hybrid WR/RB last season. Although he still could get a few carries out of the backfield in 2014, it appears that his primary role will be as a receiver, which will allow the KU offense to better utilize him in space.

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Comments

Dirk Medema 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Matt - How many are available for Spring Ball? Would that be why Brandon is top of the heap?

As much as it is nice to have a solid RB returning, it would be kind of fun to have one year, 1,000 yard wonders each year. Probably not enough touches to get multiple 1k's. {Dreaming}

Good to see Tony moved FT. Would nice to see Avery dedicated out there as well, and build some reputation for KU at the position.

Never saw Mann play, but hearing lots of positives about him while watching BB games at the local pub. Could be a real sleeper.

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Matt Tait 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Bourbon, Cox and Miller will be here for spring ball and Weis said earlier this month that Bourbon would start at No. 1 because he was the only one of the three who finished the 2013 season healthy.

It's a good deal, though. The guy deserves a shot to be the guy. If he gets beat out, so be it. I've always wondered what his career would've been like if he could've just stayed healthy.

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Doug Cramer 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks for the article Matt. Too bad we don't have this kind of talent and depth on our D-Line or O-line.

I was surprised that Miller wasn't more effective last year. He looked better than Sims his freshman year IMO. Last year...Sims looked faster, stronger, and more durable.

Have always been a big fan of Bourbon. Would love to see this guy take the starting position and run with it.

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Arnie Bunkers 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Bourbs needs to keep hold of the ball. Puts it on the ground too much. If Wrench is in the mix, he wont take a 'shirt. Doesnt make sense this day and age. If he isnt good enough or needs to get bigger, well, thats another issue.

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