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March 13, 2012

Spring practice Two-a-Days: Running Backs

The Western Michigan backfield is full of promise, with a stable of four junior running backs that have shown flash and talent but have been unable to put it all together just yet. It's entirely possible that, at least last year, this had more to do with the banged up and sometimes sub-par offensive line, but the bottom line is WMU will be looking for more production out of this group. Much like last season, it appears heading into the spring that no one back will carry the load out of the group, but a few will split the carries.

The running game will be a big focus in the spring, as Coach Bill Cubit and the staff recognize that the Broncos must be better in that area to raise their level of success in 2012.

"It's hard to be a great run team and a great passing team, because of practice time and schemes, and things like that," Cubit said. "We're never going to be able to run the ball consistently for 200-plus yards, we just can't do it. If we get to be a 150 yard team consistently, that'll be pretty good, because of how well we throw the ball."

It all starts with Tevin Drake, a rising junior out of Brooksville, Fla. who led the Broncos last year with 586 yards rushing on 105 carries. There were times last season, including the opener at Michigan where he ran for 65 yards on ten carries, that Drake looked ready to shoulder the load, but results were inconsistent and like much of the running back corps he battled nagging injuries down the stretch. Drake, at 5'11" and 212 pounds, has the best combination of size and athleticism on the team. This spring will be key for him in solidifying his place in the order of backs. The top job is his to lose.

Next in the pecking order at this stage is likely Brian Fields. a 5'9", 203 pound back out of New Castle, Delaware. Fields, who will be a junior, ran for 278 yards on 67 carries, with his 4.1 yards per carry average dropping from 6.5 as a freshman. Fields also showed a propensity to catch and run out of the backfield at times, something Western Michigan could use some more of as a wrinkle in the offense. With an impressive spring, it isn't out of the question for Fields to even himself with or even surpass Drake as the top ball carrying option.

Battling for time in the spring will be 5'5", 160 pound Dareyon Chance, a junior scat back who may be used more as a pass catcher out of the backfield. The Lauderhill, Fla. native doesn't have the size necessary to be used as an every down back, but there may be a different spot on the field for him to use his shiftiness and speed.

"Our punt returners were Jordan White and Robert Arnheim, and they're both gone. I hope Chance can do that for us," Cubit said.

This spring will give Bronco fans an opportunity to watch Chance's progress in that area. Sure-handedness is the main quality Cubit and the staff look for in their punt return men.

Rounding out the likely contributers is Antoin Scriven, a 6'0", 210 pound bruising back out of Inverness, Fla. Scriven, also a junior to be, burst onto the scene as a short yardage back early last season, and ended up with four touchdowns on the season including three from only one yard out. This element of WMU's game was compromised when Scriven got banged up later in the season, but as a key area that the Broncos have struggled with at times in the past, this will get attention at spring practice.

Joining these four juniors in the spring will be big walk-on Calvin Smith, a 6'2", 234 pounder out of Monee, Ill. The sophomore has intriguing size and has played on special teams, recording two tackles.

New signee Jared Joyner, another Florida product, will join the team in the fall.

The juniors in the backfield are well known to Bronco fans by now, but there will still certainly be interest in the fall as they jockey for position. The spring, much like last year, will likely feature more work on the running game than we may actually see in the fall, but having said that, there is a good chance the run game will be featured more because of the experience of the backs. With such a young receiving corps, the running backs will provide experience and stability to this offense.

Later today, we'll take a look at the special teams situation at this point with a premium article, as the unit has experienced a huge amount of turnover.

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