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July 24, 2012
It's amazing to think that less than 10 months ago running back Eric Stephens sustained both a torn ACL and a torn MCL. The rising senior running back was just recently cleared to resume normal team activities as if the injury had never happened. The same goes for DeAndre Washington who sustained a torn ACL a month after Stephens.
Miraculously, Tech's stable of running backs can once again be considered a strength on offense. Combined with a passing offense that contributed more than 4,000 yards last season while dealing with injury issues of its own, the running game should allow the Red Raiders to be more effective overall and help swing some of the close games the team lost last season.
"I'm lucky that I have another opportunity to play again," an upbeat Stephens said. "It was disappointing but I think everything happens for a reason and I have the chance to get to that 1,000 (yard) mark this year. I have another year and that's all that really matters now."
If Stephens is truly healthy and truly back in good shape like he says he is, he should have a big year.
But it's not just Stephens.
[ More RRS: Who will run the Wildcat for Tech? ]
Despite the struggles the Tech offense had without Stephens, Washington really was starting to come along at the time of his injury. He had more than 300 rushing yards while splitting most of the load with senior Aaron Crawford. Tech added Riverside Community College transfer SaDale Foster at midterm and signed College Station (Texas) A&M Consolidated High School running back Quinton White in February; both are expected to play this fall.
Rising sophomore running back Kenny Williams also looks like a player with a lot of potential in the running game.
"Kenny Williams has come so far over what he was before the spring," Stephens said. "Kenny was a good player last fall, but after the spring he's a completely different guy. He got a lot of reps this spring with DeAndre and I injured and I told the younger guys, 'The more reps you get the more comfortable you'll feel back there.' He looks comfortable. I think he has learned how to use his body better for blocking and things like that."
NEW FACES: Foster and White give the Red Raiders a lot of depth at running back with five available scholarship running backs in total.
Foster was somewhat of a surprise at running back. He was mostly recruited for his skills as a return man, but was placed at running back because of some previous experience at the position.
Foster, however, made the most out of a lot of reps during spring football and established himself as a player who will at least factor into the running back rotation this season.
[ More RRS: Who is ahead in the battle for the No. 3 spot? ]
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said in February that White might be the sleeper from the class of 2012.
White reminds the offensive coaching staff of Stephens when Stephens was in high school. The true freshman may not redshirt this season.
"Those two guys work really hard," Stephens said. "That's the thing you notice about them right away. The running backs, now more so than ever, are working hard as a whole group. Quinton and SaDale have bought into the culture and want to be great and are doing everything they can."
PRESSURE IS ON: Eric Stephens. Texas Tech's offense was noticeably less potent once Stephens went down with his season-ending knee injury. Quite simply, Stephens was the Red Raiders' best player a year ago and was playing at an all-conference level through four and a half games. If he can get close to that level this year, it could be the difference between a six-win season and an eight-win season. No pressure.
BIGGEST QUESTION: How healthy are Stephens and Washington, and how confident are they in their surgically repaired knees? At this point, the biggest hurdle standing between them and a successful 2012 season is mental, not physical.
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