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April 18, 2011Sign-up for InsideHilltopperSports.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
There's a few running jokes about junior running back Bobby Rainey's numbers he put up last season.
"If Bobby gets any more carries, he's gonna need a heck of a lot more ice."
Or, "Bobby, your back has gotta be sore from carrying the Toppers so much."
Rainey got more than his share of the workload last season. He rushed 340 times for 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rainey's carries led the nation, while his 137.42 yards per game average ranked third.
Rainey will again get the lion's share of carries this fall, but the hope is he won't need to do as much for WKU to be successful. Behind him, WKU has a group of running backs that made more progress this spring in an effort to alleviate that mountainous workload. That group includes redshirt freshman Keshawn Simpson, freshman Antonio Andrews, freshman Tevin Bryant and even freshman fullback Kadeem Jones.
"Keshawn, he always steps up in the spring game," Rainey said. "The practices might not go that well, but he knows when to step up. As far as Kadeem, he's a fullback that I've never seen before, as far as the things he can do. He's basically like a skill guy. With Tevin, he's on the money with protection. He can take on the block. As a whole, we just continue to know the offense. Antonio, he's good too and he did good in the spring game. With him just staying focused and studying the playbook, he'll be good too."
The added running back benefits might have been most evident in Saturday's Red/White game. Rainey was limited in the amount of carries he was allowed to take, sitting out the entire second half. But he still struggled, with just seven carries for 20 yards. He did have 146 return yards.
Simpson meanwhile, got a big 23 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown. Jones rushed for and also caught a touchdown on a dump pass in the flat.
"Overall, I think we all worked hard, all the running backs," Simpson said. "Together we should help take some pressure off Bobby so he won't get as much hits, I guess next year."
Not that Rainey can't pound the ball inside, but Jones could be the added muscle the Toppers need. In his five-yard touchdown run up the middle, he pounded through and shook off a couple of tacklers before falling over the goal line.
"When I was getting recruited, Coach Taggart told me that was the type of back he wanted me to be and a fullback too," Jones said. "Goal line, that's pretty much my thing. I feel good at scoring on the goal line."
It won't all come down to the other running backs for Rainey and WKU to be successful. Rainey pointed out that WKU's wide receivers will have to come up big as well. That might be difficult to do without redshirt freshman Willie McNeal, who's likely to miss all next season with a knee injury.
Freshman Rico Brown has shown some playmaking ability, including a 41-yard reception in the spring game. Freshman Joel German could also be a viable option, with his three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown.
Despite a few shortcomings, like McNeal's injury and the losses of running back Braxston Miller and wide receiver Marcus Vasquez for the whole spring, coach Willie Taggart said he had plenty to be pleased about overall.
"I think we are ten times better than we were last spring," Taggart said. "I thought that throughout the whole spring, not just this game. Going throughout spring ball, our guys practiced this entire spring with a purpose. I don't think we ever had a practice like that in the year that I've been here. This spring, we practiced with a purpose and that's how you're supposed to practice."
The hope is Rainey can endure the punishment of the carries he gets. But if his offensive crew can come alive, he won't need to worry about running himself ragged. True to character though, Rainey is fine with whatever is he's called upon to do.
"I shouldn't, but if it comes down to it, I don't have a problem with it," Rainey said. "I shouldn't though, because the wide receivers know that they're huge in this offense. They're very important and in order for things to open up for me, they have to be able to make plays, not just to open up for me, but to open up things for them. In order for us to win games, we have to be balanced as far as passing and running. The wide receivers play an important role in this offense and they have to step up."