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Utah Utes football team deep at running back position

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 9:20 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes running back Kelvin York runs during the first spring football practice in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 20, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For the most part, John White IV was a lone wolf in Utah's backfield last year. The junior carried the ball an astonishing 316 times en route to breaking the school record for single-season rushing yards with 1,519.

"That was probably a little bit too much of a workload for him last year, although he handled it great," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "But we're pushing our luck giving a back the ball that many times."

Enter Kelvin York. The junior college standout, who originally committed to USC, has been enlisted to carry some of the load as the Utes prepare for their second season in the Pac-12.

All involved insist there's room for both running backs.

"Absolutely. We'll find ways to be creative, get them the ball and play them at the same time," said offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. "We'll do some stuff as we develop in spring and find ways to put those guys in position to be successful."

Although the backs vary in size — White is 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds, while York is 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds — they do share some common ground. York noted that both have breakaway speed.

Even so, there are some distinct skill-set differences.

"He has the quickness and I have the power," York said. "So it's more of a lightning and thunder duo."

And that's a good thing, a real good thing, according to Johnson.

"I really like the dynamics that they bring to the table," he said. "It makes us more versatile and able to cause some match-up problems for defenses."

Whittingham acknowledged additional benefits as well. Competition, he explained, is a healthy thing.

White agrees, noting that he isn't upset about York's arrival.

"He's here to push me. That's all I want is for somebody to push me," White said. "It's going to make me work even harder."

Pushing each other, the "Wolfman" continued, is just how it works. As such, no one is shying away from it in spring camp. White and York are competing with sophomore Harvey Langi and redshirt freshman Jarrell Oliver.

"The position is deep right now," said quarterback Jordan Wynn. "... There's a lot of talent back there."

York is a high-profile newcomer to the mix. He rushed for 1,858 yards and 21 touchdowns in 16 games over two seasons at Fullerton (Calif.) College. A knee injury that required surgery limited him to five games last year.

It wasn't enough, however, to scare Utah away once York and USC parted ways.

"We did our homework. We talked to trainers, we talked to doctors and we knew that it was something that was not going to be anything more than a minor setback and that down the road he was going to have a full recovery," Whittingham said. "He's back to full strength right now and he's looking very good."

The addition of York, he continued, is just going to make Utah that much better.

"He's a punishing runner," Whittingham said while noting that York has excellent inside-the-tackle running ability as well as speed to get to the edge. "He's a complete back that we think has a lot of upside."

Whittingham had praise for White as well — calling him a team guy and a proven commodity.

"We know he's going to be a huge part of the offense," Whittingham said.

The 2011 second-team all-conference honoree is determined to maintain his spot on top of the depth chart.

"I'm going to stay at the head of the pack. I'm doing my thing," said White, who added he's also helping the other guys out when needed and offering congratulations after big plays. "I get excited when they break somebody's ankle. So, I mean, it's all love."

All is well with York, too. He said he's adjusting well and is excited to be at Utah.

"I'm just here to compete and work for a spot," York noted. "I'll play behind John White. I'm just blessed to be here, playing behind a great running back."

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said Tuesday's practice was "another good work day." He graded last week's three sessions as an A-plus, noting that the Utes accomplished a lot and made very few mistakes. ... Utah's quarterbacks continued to progress, Whittingham noted, particularly freshmen Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen. ... The Utes practice again Thursday (3-5 p.m.) and Friday (4-6 p.m.) at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

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