It took six spring practices, but Thomas Brown finally got to see almost all his new running backs on the field Tuesday.
Brown is South Carolina’s first-year running backs coach, but his first five practices he didn’t have a lot of running backs. Senior Rico Dowdle missed the first five practices with a groin injury, and senior A.J. Turner was working as a cornerback.
Dowdle “got back to some team stuff today so I think he’ll be fine,” Brown said. “From a competition standpoint, they all need work. I want to see those guys come out and compete every day and be consistent.”
Dowdle has the most starting experience of any USC back with 19 starts. Last year, he had 674 yards and four touchdowns on 123 carries. In three years, he has 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns on 322 carries.
“I thought Rico did a really good job of winning sometimes in one-on-one,” Brown said. “I thought he did a really good job of running behind his pads at times, struggled at times in the backfield from a receiving standpoint, but he’s a really good player.”
Brown didn’t seem too concerned about Dowdle’s history of injuries.
“He’s a running back. Running back is a hard spot to play and stay healthy if you play it the right way,” Brown said. “You get folded up so much it kind of just happens.”
Turner returned to his regular tailback position at Tuesday’s practice. He has 1,322 career yards on 260 carries. Until Tuesday, senior Mon Denson, redshirt freshman Deshaun Fenwick and early enrollee Kevin Harris had been the only scholarship tailbacks available at practice.
The only back missing now is redshirt freshman Lavonte Valentine, who is not participating in spring practice because he’s a member of the USC track team. Valentine, a sprinter for the Gamecocks, has had private meetings with Brown this spring.
“I want to see him change his body more, develop into more of an all-around tailback,” Brown said.
Brown wants all his tailbacks to focus on their pad level in spring practice.
“I think they all played too high at times, which obviously affects the way you can make guys miss one-on-one and breaking tackles in the open field or running through contact at the line of scrimmage,” he said.
Brown would like to find two backs to share carries at the top of South Carolina’s rotation and then “maybe a third guy to spell those guys,” but no one so far has separated himself in practice, he said. The Gamecocks were 12th in the SEC last year with 152.7 rushing yards per game.
“This is not park ball where everybody gets a chance to play just because you’re on the team,” Brown said. “It’s about being able to separate yourself and you have to earn your right to play every single day. Whether you are an old guy or a young guy, it doesn’t matter.”