Cats have crowded backfield

By Joshua Kinder

Nobody rushed for more yards in the Big 12 the past two seasons than Daniel Thomas. And yet, Kansas State might be even stronger in the backfield this season.

At the very least, the Wildcats’ offense could look quite different in 2011.

“It will be very different than last year because we have more versatility as far as what these backs bring to the table,” K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “Though Daniel was fantastic, he brought a certain thing to the table and everyone knew what it was. Now, these guys all have a strength they bring. We want to try to utilize all their strengths.”

The Wildcats have an arsenal of running backs competing this fall to replace the All-Big 12 performer, including former Wichita East standout Bryce Brown, who transferred to K-State from Tennessee a year ago.

Also in the mix is 5-foot-4 dynamo Robert Rose, sophomore John Hubert, junior college transfer Angelo Pease and redshirt-freshman DeMarcus Robinson.

It’s a crowded backfield for sure, but Dimel said it’s a good problem to have when trying to replace Thomas, who now plays for the Miami Dolphins.

“That’s what you do, in an offense, you take all the weapons you have and try to play to their strengths,” he said. “We used Daniel every way we could last year and now this year, we’re going to try to use all these guys.”

And though Brown is the biggest name in the group after being the nation’s top-ranked player in high school in 2008, Dimel said the competition for the starting job remains tight.

“I think it’s going to be an interesting competition because there’s some talent there,” he said. “They all bring some different things to the table, as for what they do well. You have Robert Rose, who is a quick-footed back that can make people miss, to Angelo Pease, who is a power back with very good breakaway speed, to John Hubert, who is a slasher, to Bryce Brown, who is a strong, powerful kid with some very good breakaway speed.

“You got four kids right there, and then we have DeMarcus Robinson who has some good speed and good lower body strength. He looks really good too and showing us that we have some great competition at that position.”

Thomas rushed for 2,850 yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons for K-State. Getting that kind of production from one player won’t be easy, even with a marquee player like Brown on this roster and numerous others who are in the thick of competition for playing time.

Snyder insists the competition is truly that, and nobody β€” even Brown, who rushed for 460 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman at Tennessee β€” is guaranteed anything yet.

“Normally at media day, you guys have a depth chart,” Snyder said. “If you have one now, it’s incorrect. We haven’t posted anything yet. We have a genuine sense of competitive spirit at a number of different positions, and we want them to earn their spot.

“We have some good guys at running back. The competition will be good, there’s no doubt about that. Robert Rose is going to be a good young player. John Hubert, you’ve seen play a little bit. Of course there’s Bryce that’s come in and has done a good job so far. So there’s a lot to choose from there.”

Brown, who took some heat this summer for skipping out on voluntary workouts in the heat, said the goal early on is to do just that β€” make everyone better.

“Right now, it’s all competition,” he said. “We got five guys competing. We’re all good. We all bring something different to the table. It’s all about competing, making us all better. At some point we’re all going to play in the game and contribute.”

So what’s it going to take for someone to create separation from the rest of the pack, as K-State gets ready for its season opener at home against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 3?

“The guy who separates himself has to persevere and show that they can do it all,” said Rose, a walk-on from Miami. “With our pro style offense, you have to be able to block and catch out of the backfield. It’s not just running. We’re all talented runners, but the person who can catch and block too is the one who is going to have the starting role this season.”

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