Utah State football held its 13th spring practice Tuesday afternoon on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium, and the running backs are working on fundamentals and being more efficient.
“Every day that I have been here the kids have gotten better and they are trying to incorporate the things that I am asking them to do,” said first-year running backs coach DeAndre Smith. “I like their effort and I like their energy, but it is a continuous process.
“I am trying to get them to be complete running backs and getting them to understand defensive techniques and fronts to help them be more efficient in their run reads. We are working a lot on fundamentals and ball security, and those fundamentals are key with what we are trying to teach as we build and go into the summer.”
In all, Utah State returns five running backs who were members of the program during the 2017 season in senior Eltoro Allen, junior Gerold Bright, sophomores Tre Miller and Morian Walker Jr., who has yet to play at USU, and redshirt freshman Sione Fehoko. Overall, Allen, Bright and Miller have combined to play in 37 games at USU with one career start.
Furthermore, those returning running backs accounted for 45.8 percent of the rushing attempts (222/485), 49.6 percent of the rushing yards (1,105/2,228) and 33.3 percent of the rushing touchdowns (8/24) returning from last season.
Bright spent his first two seasons at Utah State as a wide receiver and did not start seeing steady time at running back until the final three games of the 2017 season. However, in those three games, he carried the ball 28 times for 245 yards (8.8 ypc) with two touchdowns. During that stretch, he gained 95 yards on eight carries, including a 60-yard touchdown run, against Hawai’i, and then rushed for 102 yards on nine carries, including a career-long 75-yard touchdown run at Air Force.
In all, Bright has played in 21 games during his time at USU and has rushed for 336 yards on 40 carries (8.4 ypc) and three touchdowns, while adding 15 receptions for 242 yards (16.1 ypr) and two more touchdowns. Bright has also returned 10 kickoffs during his career for 204 yards (20.4 ypr).
“I think the running backs have been doing a pretty good job this spring, but we still have a lot of strides to make,” said Bright. “My transition from slot receiver to running back has been pretty good, but it’s tough because you have to change your body to handle the wear and tear of the position.”
Allen played in nine games with one start last year in his first season at Utah State and finished the year rushing for 284 yards on 68 carries and one touchdown. His best performance was against Idaho State as he rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries and scored his only touchdown of the year.
Miller appeared in seven games for Utah State last season and gained 116 yards on 30 carries, highlighted by an 11-carry, 48-yard performance at UNLV.
Another player who could see time at running back if needed is senior wide receiver Justen Hervey. Hervey spent his first three seasons in the program at running back before moving over to wide receiver this spring. At the running back position, Hervey appeared in 32 games with one start and rushed for 270 yards on 51 carries and three touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Love will also be an option in the running game in 2018 as he gained 165 yards last season on 46 carries (3.6 ypr) with two touchdowns.
Utah State also added one running back in junior college transfer Darwin Thompson, who was a second-team All-American last season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M after he rushed for 1,391 yards and eight touchdowns on 185 carries (7.5 ypc/115.9 ypg).
Gone at this position are a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in seniors LaJuan Hunt and Kent Myers. Hunt graduated after playing in 51 career games with 24 starts and ranks 11th all-time in school history with 1,846 rushing yards as he carried the ball 428 times (4.3 ypr) and scored 17 touchdowns. Myers, a quarterback, rushed for 1,406 yards on 337 carries (4.2 ypc) during his career with 19 touchdowns, as he ranks 17th all-time in rushing, including second all-time in school history among quarterbacks. Myers also ranks ninth all-time at USU in rushing touchdowns, while Hunt ranks 11th.
Utah State continues its spring schedule this week with its final practice on Thursday from 6-8 a.m., before hosting its annual Blue vs. White Spring Game on Saturday, April 7, on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium at 2 p.m.
Doug Hoffman is the associate athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.