Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In good hands: Pierson, Jackson help ease worries over KU’s running-back position

Marquis Jackson (28) had 10 carries for 76 yards, while Tony Pierson (3) had seven carries for 141 yards in Saturday’s spring game.

Marquis Jackson (28) had 10 carries for 76 yards, while Tony Pierson (3) had seven carries for 141 yards in Saturday’s spring game.


When news broke that two-year starter and leading rusher James Sims had been suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season after an arrest for OUI, people inside and outside of the Kansas University football program began to wonder what that would do to KU’s ability to run the ball.

Now, just a couple of days after a 45-0 victory in the annual spring game by the Blue squad — made up mostly of first-stringers — the answer to that question seems a little more clear and the concerns a little less severe.

Running behind the majority of KU’s likely starting offensive line, sophomores running backs Tony Pierson and Marquis Jackson rumbled for 217 yards on 17 carries.

Pierson’s day was not much of a surprise. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound speed demon from East St. Louis, Ill., showed flashes during his freshman season while sharing touches with three other Jayhawks and, according to KU coach Charlie Weis, Pierson appears to be poised for a breakout year.

During Saturday’s end-of-the-spring showcase, he ripped off four runs of 10 or more yards, including an electric, 88-yard TD run, and also caught one pass for 17 yards.

Weis said throughout the spring that Pierson will be a guy who has to touch the ball this fall. Saturday, Weis elaborated.

“I’d say that you want to, on a weekly basis, try to limit his touches to mid-to-high teens,” Weis said. “Everyone wants him to touch the ball 20 times, but that’s not good coaching. If he carries the ball seven times for 141 yards, I’ll take that. If I come in and you call me dumb after a game, I’ll say, ‘OK, I’m dumb then.’ I’ll take those numbers. There is going to be a game or two where you have to give it to him, but you want him to be there for the next game. We have enough running backs to spread the wealth a little bit. You don’t have to wear him out.”

Friday, Weis might not have been as comfortable making that statement. But after watching Jackson, who played wide receiver in 2011, run with good vision and power, Weis emerged from the spring game with a much better feeling about his backfield.

“That was one of the reasons I wanted to get the ball to him a bunch of times today,” Weis said of Jackson, who ran 10 times for 76 yards and three touchdowns. “When I moved him there, everybody thought, ‘Well, he’s just moving him there because of the Sims incident.’ But actually, Marquis has big size and is cutting weight to be 215-218 (pounds), and was a high school running back until he was a junior when he was converted to wide receiver.”

After playing sparingly at receiver during 2011, Jackson entered the spring fighting for a spot. Weis refused to keep Jackson low on the depth chart.

“I’m looking at this big, good-looking, physical kid saying, ‘He looks like a running back. He doesn’t look like a wide receiver,’” Weis recalled. “I sat down and talked to him. I said, ‘You played running back.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I was a running back.’ I said, ‘Good, because you’re a running back again.’”

He was a pretty good one Saturday. Jackson, who received the carries when Pierson sat, ran with patience, confidence and good vision throughout the afternoon. He also scored three touchdowns, which gave Weis even more to think about.

“He seemed to make a fairly smooth transition,” Weis said. “The only thing I’m going to have to decide is what weight I want him. He is a tweener halfback, but he also could be a fullback. He could very easily be 230 with a couple of cheeseburgers. You could see he’s got some natural running instincts. He’s a physical presence. I thought he ran the ball hard downhill.”

While Pierson and Jackson highlighted KU’s rushing attack last Saturday, Sims also played. He finished with an admirable 4.1 yards-per-carry average (14 carries, 58 yards) while running behind the second-string offensive line. Still, with sophomore Brandon Bourbon, who sat out Saturday while still recovering from last season’s leg injury, and newcomers Taylor Cox and Tevin Shaw in the mix, the KU backfield is crowded with quality options, and Weis knows it.

“I think we will be fine at running back,” he said.


JJHawq 10 years ago

Can any of these RB's tackle? Just curious... ;)

baldwinjhawk 10 years ago

Anyone notice how much weight Weis has lost. I would guess about 50 to 60lbs. Maybe Holsopple got ahold of him. Don't get me wrong he's still huge, but at least he was able to waddle up and down the field saturday. Good job coach! Keep up the good work. Speaking of huge. We stayed around after the game to meet the players. Crist is every bit of his 6'4 235. I would say maybe 245. Have we ever had a QB that big at KU? Maybe Bobby Douglas? I met Kerry Meier and Dayne is bigger.

number1jayhawker 10 years ago

We had a qb under Mangino named Brian Luke. He was 6'5" and around 230.

baldwinjhawk 10 years ago

Yeah, i remember him. But Dayne is so much older than his teammates. He's built like a man, thick from top to bottom if that makes sense. He doesn't move that well, but his release is so quick thats all he needs is a couple of seconds.

Dennis Mahorney 10 years ago

Wish he had done more in the NFL. Only one pass as a Bengal...I think.

youowethehawks 10 years ago

Brian Luke was one hell of an athlete, I remember getting dunked on at the rec by him several times. He was closer to 6'3"-4". He wasn't the best quarterback by any measure, but he was built like a brick-isht-house. Crist has the same body type, looks like.

Aaron Carpenter 10 years ago

I remember Luke, and his awful appearence v. Oklahoma in Arrowhead. I"m over it now, but man that was bad. I belive 4-5 int's. Shouldn't complain, I would have been thrown 20 int's, if I made it long enough.

Dirk Medema 10 years ago

Brian Luke, 6-6 / 225 (More lanky than big)

As a junior, led the team to a 31-14 win over Missouri in the season finale in his only start of the year. Completed 24-of-36 passes for a career-high 239 yards against the Tigers.

Marcia Parsons 10 years ago

Could be that Weis has found it easier to lose weight since his surgery. When he first got here he could barely walk because of his hip. He still has to use his golf cart some, but not like he did at first. It's nearly impossible to keep from gaining weight when you can't even walk.

Dirk Medema 10 years ago

There was a follow-up article after his surgery about how he is putting in a bunch of time on the treadmill(?). Pretty sure it's not in his basement.

Andy Tweedy 10 years ago

I like this Jackson experiment, but I hope he can pass protect. The offense appears to be coming along really well!!!

KGphoto 10 years ago

The guy squats like 600 pounds, at least he wont be getting run over.

KGphoto 10 years ago

Remember when we landed Jackson? He was a 205lb speed merchant offered by Nebraska, Arkansas, K-State and others at WR. Now he's 220lb between-the-tackles RB with patience and vision. Next (Probably depending on Bourbon's health) he might be a 230lb FB, and likely goal line option.

Unbelievable versatility! Love this kid.

Does anybody know exactly when he put on the extra 10 pounds? Was it over the whole year or did Holsopple get most of that done over the spring? If it only takes a couple cheeseburgers to hit 230 maybe it DID happen on Holsopple's watch.

It would be interesting to know.

Cameron Cederlind 10 years ago

I would say it was over the past year if he's cutting now to get to 215-218.

NebraskaJayhawk 10 years ago

I have no reason for this comment, but I'm taking a complete shot in the dark that Weis will use Opurum in the backfield on goaline situations. The dude looked huge out there on Saturday and he can obviously run the rock.

KGphoto 10 years ago

That would get a HUGE rise out of the fans.

Dirk Medema 10 years ago

I'm looking for a Pierson/Jackson backfield lineup. How do you defend that? Traditional LB alignments, and Crist audibles to a play where one or both of them split out? Extra DB's and we truck between the OT's?

KUFAN02 10 years ago

I think 225-230 is appropriate. Especially with how he played. Taylor Cox is the only other rb that we can count on to run in between the tackles until Sims returns.

Dillon Davis 10 years ago

I kinda feel bad for Bourbon. Kid picked us last minute because Gill and Reggie put in work to get him here, then he comes and gets hurt and now we have all this talent at the RB position, I don't know how he's going to get the touches he wants. First three games it's probably going to be 1) Pierson 2) Jackson 3) Cox 4) Bourbon. Then you throw Sims back in there and he's down to 4th or 5th. We have a logjam right now and I guess that's a good thing to have, but a couple of guys are gona get left out. If they're okay with having less than 10 carries a game then great! But I doubt that's the mindset of some of these guys who know they can play and be an every down player.

Randy Bombardier 10 years ago

I think Bourban's speed with size is too good to keep him off the field. If a guy can play running back, it usually means he could play in at least one more position. Linebacker? Not to say I did not like his touches. I did. I think who we see will depend on what defenses give us. They way they stack will determine who we play. So, we may need them all. That said, in my opinion this is probably the best overall backfield ever at KU, at least in my memory. Good thing to have.

KGphoto 10 years ago

If Bourbon can stay healthy, he'll be battling for #1. Weis has already said he plans on giving Pierson 15 or so touches a game to keep him fresh. Jackson did well in his pseudo debut, but has zero college RB experience. Sims is out the first three games and Cox won't be here until fall.

Even if I didn't think Bourbon was better than all four, he still has an advantage to start the year. This goes with the ever-lasting "if healthy" tag.

Weis hasn't even seen him full speed in person yet. I have a feeling he's gonna like what he sees when he unleashes BB for the first time. If you remember, last year before he was injured he was murdering defenders two and three per run.

John Randall 10 years ago

An every-down running back is something you don't see anymore.

danmoore 10 years ago

Maybe they can use him as a FB. Our running game was most affective when we had a good fullback (McAnderson) to soften the middle and then let Sharp pick his holes. Granted Bourbon is a good 10 pounds lighter than McAnderson but he’s no creampuff.

Jim Jackson 10 years ago

Bourbon will be competing for the # 1 spot, no doubt.

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