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Mike Whitelock: Utes should be loaded at running back

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 9 2011 11:26 a.m. MST

In this Aug. 16, 2010 file photo, Utah running backs Matt Asiata, left, and Tauni Vakapuna share a laugh during Utah Utes football practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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When the 2011 college football season kicks off the Utes should have plenty of quality depth at the running back position. Kyle Whittingham has stated he wants to develop more of a downhill running game. With a bigger emphasis on the running game and a stable of talented backs, the Utes should possess a solid running attack.

Here's a breakdown of the depth expected at running back in the fall:

John White, 5-foot-9, 190-pound, junior

Whittingham has compared White to Oregon State star running back Jacquizz Rodgers because of his running style and size. White ran for 1,491 yards last season behind what was considered a mediocre offensive line. Bruce Feldman of ESPN also considers White in his top eight JC transfers who could make a Cam Newton-type impact. A coach who tried to recruit White said, "He's an SEC-type talent." Click here to listen to 1280 The Zone's interview with White.

Harvey Langi, 6-foot-1 215-pound, freshman

Coach Whittingham said Langi is looking, running, moving and lifting like a fifth-year senior in off-season conditioning. "He's a very talented, very physical kid," Whittingham noted. "When you give him a little bit of a crease or seam, he can hit it. And when he gets in the open field, he can run away from people," added Bingham High School head coach Dave Peck, who coached Langi in high school. "I think he's got as good of speed as anybody you're going to see, especially for a back of his size."

Jarrell Oliver, 5-foot-8, 212-pound, freshman

Oliver is working out six days a week and is preparing to compete for the starting position. Oliver is a decisive downhill runner with good momentum, coupled with his strong lower-running base and center of gravity allows him to break through first contact much of the time. Click here to listen to the interview with Oliver on "1280 The Zone."

Beau Burton, 5-foot-9, 201-pound, sophomore

Burton has the potential to be the dark horse for the starting position due to him having more experience at Utah than some of the incoming backs. Burton had nine carries for 59 yards last season.

Tauni Vakapuna, 5-foot-10, 229-pound, senior

Vakapuna could also be in the mix. He showed flashes of great running ability. He had a 24-yard run in the 2010 New Mexico game and finished the year with 79 yards on 19 carries. But Liz Able, the university's associate athletics director of communication, said Vakapuna has "quit" the team. Able said the status for his return next season is uncertain.

Shawn Asiata, 6-foot-1, 240-pound, senior

Although used more at fullback, Asiata should play a larger role in a downhill running game. Asiata with his size, thrives in smash mouth football. But Asiata, like his teammate Vakapuna, has also quit the team, Able told the Deseret News, and Asiata's status for returning is also uncertain.

Others who could get a shot at running back include wide receiver Luke Mathews, according to a "1280 The Zone" interview with offensive coordinator Chow, and Lucky Radley.

Mike Whitelock is an author and sports writer.

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