Friday 25 May 2012

Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the running backs.

Entering the off-season, running back was not something I thought would be an area that the Tiger-Cats would make a change. So when the Cats announced the signing of Martell Mallett and the subsequent release of Avon Cobourne, it came as a pretty big surprise, at least to me. Cobourne was a steady hand and respected leader, and it was surprising to see him let go.

So now the running game falls to Mallett. It would be unfair to expect him to be a leader like Cobourne because few players are; however, if he can provide the type of play that Cobourne did with a slight uptick in the stat department – say 1,700 total yards and 10-12 touchdowns – then it will have been a smart move to make the change. Some may disagree, but I think a running back's most important job is to pick up those three or four yards needed on second down to keep drives going. I love seeing backs break big runs, but I want to know that, when needed, he will put his head down and get those tough yards. Cobourne was able to do that, and Mallett will have to as well.

Aside from Mallett, the Ticats will once again rely on very little. Terry Grant proved last year that he can play, but an injury suffered in Montreal late last season means he will not be ready for the start of the season. That leaves rookie Chevon Walker as the only legitimate running back behind Mallett (Daryl Stephenson is listed as a running back, but is rarely used in that role).

The Tiger-Cats have been able to find talent at running back in the past. Before Cobourne, DeAndra' Cobb went from being the team's fourth-string running back to a two-time 1,000-yard-plus rusher. Hamilton seems to have an eye for running back talent, so should Mallett get hurt, I wouldn't be surprised if Walker stepped up to become the next running back plucked from obscurity to succeed in Hamilton.

The goal is for Mallett to be the team's runner, but he doesn't have to be Cory Boyd for the Ticats to be successful. Hamilton enters the season with one of the most explosive offenses in the entire league, which lessens the load on Mallett and the rest of the running backs. If the Ticats are able to get their running backs between 15-18 touches per game, I think that portends to a successful season.

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