Maryland’s running backs have become a fraternity in recent years, starting in 2002 when then-running backs coach Mike Locksley dubbed them ‘The Roughriders.’ Back then, Bruce Perry and Chris Downs were the veterans, and Josh Allen and J.P. Humber were the wide-eyed newcomers. Well, time flies: Allen and Humber are fifth-year seniors who feel obligated to ensure the familial unity – as well as the nickname -- is handed down to the next generation of UMD backs.
Despite competition between Allen and junior Lance Ball for the starting job and between Humber and junior Keon Lattimore for playing time, Allen said the group remains a tight circle. Freshmen Morgan Green and Da’Rel Scott, accomplished high school players in their own right, are the newest members.
“We just take pride in being a unit, being a family within that group and taking care of each other, bringing the freshmen along so they’re ready to play,” said Allen, who appears to be progressing nicely from the ACL tear that cost him all of last season.
As a true freshman in 2002, Allen earned the No. 2 job behind Bruce Perry and thrived, rushing for 405 yards on a whopping 6.8 yards-per-carry and scoring eight touchdowns. He couldn’t have enjoyed such immediate success without the respect and support of his veteran teammates, and he hasn’t forgotten it.
“Bruce, Chris Downs, all of those guys took care of me when I came in and I was a freshman, and that’s what we do. We welcome them in and make sure they know what’s going on. So, if they have a situation like I was when I was a freshman and they get thrown into the fire, they’re ready to play and they represent our group,” he said.
Ball, the 5-foot-9, 216-pound fireplug, is the leading candidate for the job after a breakout year in 2005, during which he rushed for 903 yards despite starting only four games. He’s the ACC’s top returning rusher. Allen, nonetheless, made no effort Monday to hide that his goal is to beat out Ball for the spot.
But Ball isn’t taking it personal.
“When we step out on the field, we’ll have to compete. You know, me and Josh are real good friends. We both tweak each other’s game when we see something,” he said. “It feels great, you know. Having a one-two punch isn’t bad, especially in this conference. Having Josh back is great.”
Lattimore, a former star recruit out of Mt. St. Joseph’s and brother of Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis, has at times seemed like a player in danger of being lost in the shuffle. The physically imposing 5-foot-11, 221-pounder had an up-and-down 2005 and has had to deal with a nagging right shoulder injury. There has been some speculation he could be moved to another position in order to get his talent onto the field.
That talk all but ceased Monday. Lattimore was one of the first players Friedgen mentioned after the Terrapins’ first practice session. Friedgen said Lattimore showed great burst and looked healthy.
“I’m not thinking that way,” Friedgen said about the possibility of a Lattimore position change. “To me, you can never have enough running backs. I’m planning on using all four of them. We’ve got to see where it shakes out, how Josh is and everything else.”
Allen, always an intrepid worker in the weightroom and the classroom and a personal favorite of Friedgen’s, is in great shape. His upper body is chiseled and he has trimmed his 40-yard dash time from 4.7 seconds in the spring to 4.56 seconds at the start of fall. He was a sub-4.5 runner before the ACL injury.
“He started dragging his leg a little bit toward the end [of practice],” Friedgen said, “but I did see some burst in him today and that was a good sign.”
But the coach was most impressed by a school-related phone call Allen made at 10:30 p.m. on the eve of camp.
“Josh called me last night … this kid is just a wonderful kid … he calls me up and says coach, am I supposed to be going to my [bio-mechanics] tutor tomorrow at 8:30?”
As of right now, it appears the most likely scenario has Ball starting and getting somewhere in the range of half the carries, with Allen also getting a good share of carries and Lattimore fighting for some time as well. Green is a likely redshirt candidate, while Scott, the fastest of the bunch, should at least see the field on special teams and perhaps occasionally on offense as a home run threat.
Of course, things can change in the remaining three weeks of camp, and we’ll keep you up-to-date with the fluctuations at running back as well as every other position.