RB Preview: Coach Shankweiler on Development, Rotation
Last season, the CMU ground game was underwhelming, ranking 11th in rushing offense among MAC teams. Struggling with injuries on the O-line and at RB, the squad was also becoming acclimated to a new offense that demanded a different style of running.
With the learning curve mostly under their belts, RB Coach Kort Shankweiler mentions noticeable improvements in performance.
…you can tell that it’s a different group from the fall. The guys are more comfortable and are playing a little faster, which comes naturally after getting more comfortable in an offense…this will be their second spring practice in the system…each guy brings something a little different to the table.
Among the most promising running backs this season are Senior Paris Cotton, Sophomore Tim Phillips and Sophomore Zurlon Tipton. Coach Shankweiler gives us a rundown of each player’s strengths and a few areas for improvement.
Paris, being a senior, has a lot more game experience than the other guys. And we’re trying to focus in on paying attention to details: depth on routes, ball security, making cuts and not dancing so much.
With Tim, he’s more of our shiftier guy. He can make a cut and accelerate very quickly. He’s got a chance to do some things in this offense. He’s that guy that if he gets to the edge…
Zurlon is a biger back, 220 lbs. He has the ability—when comfortable and in the flow of things—he has a great chance to be a really good player here. He helps in the passing game, has very good hands. We’ve got to make sure we’re dialed in and getting better…each guy is pushing one another because each one can do something different.
Following several spring practices, I asked coach if any of the backs looked to be making a strong case to claim the starting role. But the depth chart approach doesn’t currently appear to be a very helpful way of looking at how the running backs will be utilized this fall.
It’s going to be a steady rotation. Everybody’s going to get in there and get a chance to run. And whoever that day [is performing best] will be the guy that gets the majority of the carries; whoever has the hot hand that day will be the one getting the most of the reps.
With a pro-style type offense, I also asked coach Shankweiler to speak to the role that the FB position will continue to play.
We’d like to get the FB involved in certain situations throughout the game. It creates a balanced set for the defense to look at. Tyler Lombardo (seen above) played a lot as a true freshman last year and by the end of the year was playing pretty decent. For him and Landon (Carter), it will be a battle that continues through fall camp. Unfortunately Adam (Fenton) had an injury, but he’ll battle back from that…FB is a spot where we want to develop, be a spot that we can trust enough to put out there on a frequent basis.
Although these backs appear to be the front runners, Kevin King, Davon Muse, Ben Brown and incoming freshman Anthony Garland and Josh Carter will also be working hard to make an impact. Excitingly, the future of the position looks even brighter when UM transfer Austin White is eligible to make an impact beginning in 2012.
Impressions of the 2011 RB Position
The information presented above is consistent with Mike’s interview with Paris, existing information and common sense. There is a natural learning curve that takes place when a new staff and a new scheme are implemented. And I have no reason to believe that the whole team–not just the RBs–will greatly benefit from the experience of last year.
From a personnel standpoint, I also think that we are in a better spot than in 2010. Despite the loss of Volny, who was a key contributor last season, the coaching staff favored Paris throughout the majority of the year based on number of carries, games started and total production. If he’s working as hard on ball security, footwork and route running as it appears he is, we should have an upgraded version of our most utilized 2010 RB for the upcoming season.
It also appears that Phillips and Tipton will see a lot of action. These kids have some talent and should be fresh with every carry, given the foretasted heavy rotation. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one of these players earn the majority of the carries at some point, but it would surprise me if the other two backs still don’t see considerable playing time.
I expect improved production from this position group during the 2011 season.
*Images via CMUChippewas.com