Competition heats up for UMass running backs



Last modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013

AMHERST — Rookie running back Lorenzo Woodley is well aware that University of Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar isn’t afraid to play true freshman. The Minuteman coach played 21 of them last year at just about every position.

Woodley is hoping to continue that trend.

“I’m looking at camp like it’s a job. I want to be on that field August 31 (at Wisconsin). I’m going to work as hard as I can to be that guy on the field,” said Woodley, who was a three-star recruit out of Miami. “These are the steps to game day. I’m trying to do to what I’ve got to do so coach can say ‘Without a doubt, I want that guy on the field.’”

He’ll have plenty of competition to play at Camp Randall Stadium for the season opener. With last year’s leading rusher Michael Cox (198 carries for 715 yards, five touchdowns) in New York Giants camp, the Minutemen opened camp with five different players competing for touches.

Junior Jordan Broadnax enters camp atop the depth chart, followed by redshirt freshman Stacey Bedell, who was slated to play last year before a season ending shoulder injury.

Woodley and true freshman Daquan Mack are trying to earn their way onto that list, while sophomore Jamal Wilson (18 carries for 53 yards last year) is attempting to convert from a special teams player to an offensive regular.

Broadnax, who backed up Jonathan Hernandez in 2011 and Cox last year, is hoping to beat the younger players out for playing time, while at the same time serving as a leader for the unit.

“Jordan Broadnax is clearly the best in practice today. But so much of that is the combination of talent and experience. It’s hard to put the freshmen in the same category. These guys might be highly talented players, but they don’t have the same experience,” Molnar said. “Jordan really combined both. I felt very good when he was in there. Picking up the blitz, his footwork was on the money. It’s just what you’d expect from a guy like him.”

Broadnax had high expectations.

“It’s a challenge. I have a high standard I have to uphold. Everyday, every rep you have to get better. You have to show improvement, lead the young guys,” said the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Virginia Beach, Va., product. “I feel really prepared. I worked really hard in the offseason. I feel as good as I’ve ever felt or better. ... I like what’s come in for our group, a lot of big backs. I’m not that big myself and Stacey’s not that big, But we have a some freshmen that will be able to do work. I’m excited for that.”

Bedell is a bit bigger than Broadnax at 5-10, 180 pounds, but more likely to run past or around defenders than over or through them. His injury is fully healed and with a year of film study behind him, he felt like he was better than when he arrived.

“As a freshman it was hard for me to learn the offense, now I feel more comfortable with the plays, the coaching staff and my teammates so I feel able to compete,” Bedell said. “I was healthy all spring. It was a long offseason working hard. Now all the hard work is going to pay off right here.”

As Broadnax alluded, the rookies have more beef. Woodley is 6-1, 210 pounds, while Mack’s 247-pound, 6-1 frame stands out, making him a candidate to be a short-yardage back right away.

“I’ve got to get in shape,” said Mack, who arrived in Amherst later than some freshmen. “We’ve got a lot of good backs, so we’re deep at the position. Everybody is playing for a spot. It’s going to make us better. Everybody is hungry and ready to go.”

Molnar said as camp progressed, the offensive coaching staff would have a better idea how each player might contribute.

“All five could play if they fit into a role,” he said. “We think that different guys will bring different skill sets to the table, but until they prove that they’re the best at doing certain things, each guy is going to be expected to do each thing well,” Molnar said. “When a guy differentiates himself as running different plays clearly better than the other guys, we’ll try to find different ways to get that guy in there to do those things. At running back position, each guy has their own unique strengths, it’s who can be the most consistent and who can be an all-purpose back that can command the most playing time.”

Woodley thinks it could be him.

“I feel like if I can show that I’m on the same level as these guys and I can handle the transition well, I feel like coach will have 100 percent faith in me the way he did in those guys last year,” Woodley said. “If I can prove myself that I’m able to play, there’s no doubt in my mind I can be a guy to help this team win games.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.


 

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