PROVO — No doubt it’s difficult replacing an accomplished running back like Jamaal Williams.
But that’s what BYU is trying to do as it prepares for its season-opener at UConn on Aug. 29.
Williams, who rushed for 1,233 yards a year ago, will be out for that game due to a suspension, and running backs coach Mark Atuaia has been busy devising a plan to compensate for Williams’ absence by giving a lot of reps in practices to senior Paul Lasike, junior Adam Hine and sophomore Algernon Brown.
“We’ve known about (Williams’ suspension) for a long time,” Atuaia said. “For us, Paul, Adam and Algie are going to take a huge role in taking care of that part that Jamaal would. You feel bad for (Jamaal), but you have to close ranks and go. That’s what we’re preparing to do.”
Atuaia sees Lasike, Hine and Brown equally sharing the workload for an offense that was No. 10 in the country in rushing last season.
“To do what we need to do, everybody’s going to need to be fresh,” Atuaia said. “I’m preparing them to be able to do those things. I’m making sure they’re properly prepared to do what we need to do.”
Brown missed the first few days of fall camp as he had to deal with academic issues. He’s since returned to practice.
“I was super-anxious, just watching. I’m just glad to finally be in a jersey,” said the 6-foot-1, 219-pound Brown, who rushed 48 times for 234 yards and two touchdowns last year as a freshman. “I’m just really glad to be back with the guys.”
Atuaia said he’s not worried about Brown being sidelined the first few days of fall camp.
“He’s going to be there. He’s our steady guy. He’s looking good,” he said. “He’s the jack of all trades. We can leave him in any situation, in any formation and he’s able to produce for us the way we want him to. He’s a throwback to the kind of running backs we had back in the day, being able to do it all. He reminds me of what I used to do when I played for BYU, only a lot taller and a lot bigger.”
There were lessons learned for Brown after sitting out.
“Mainly, I want to focus more on what’s important and make the right decisions and how it affects the team,” he said.
Asked about his role against UConn, Brown said, “Hopefully, I can contribute as much as I can. I’m not sure how things look as far as the depth chart goes, but hopefully I’ll get a good amount of playing time at UConn and we can come out with a win. We have the same backfield. We all have experience and knowledge of the plays. We know what to do. I’m really excited to see how things play out.”
Lasike ran 59 times for 350 yards and two touchdowns last season.
“As a team we’re going to miss (Williams) out there for the first game,” said Lasike, "but I think we'll be all right with the boys that we have. We have good depth at running back. I'm just excited to be in it."
Lasike is confident that the Cougar running backs will be able to effectively run the ball in the season-opener.
"All of us are kind of different," said Lasike. "I'm a bigger back, so for those dives and those straight-up-the-middle runs I guess I'll kind of take that load, and then as for the longer running and the routes and stuff, Adam Hine will most likely take those."
Hine rushed for a career-high 141 yards on 10 carries against Idaho State last season. He finished No. 12 in the country in kick returns, averaging 27.2 yards per return.
During Saturday’s scrimmage, Hine rushed 11 times for 69 yards and one touchdown.
“He did well,” Atuaia said of Hine’s performance. “For Adam, it’s coming to practice ready to work and getting that mindset correct. I’m proud of the progression, but not satisfied. He came with the right mindset today. I challenged him after practice and I’m proud of him that he was ready to work.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company