Backfield bonanza: Bulls look toward loaded running back position for success
When UB all-time rushing leader Branden Oliver graduated after the 2013 season, a massive hole was left in the Buffalo backfield.
But what was supposed to be an area of weakness for the team in 2014 ended up being one of its most efficient units.
The Bulls finished third in the Mid-American Conference in rushing yards per game with 178.6 and will return all three rushers from last season in seniors Anthony Taylor and Devin Campbell and junior Jordan Johnson.
Head coach Lance Leipold said the running back position has depth with Taylor, Johnson and Campbell.
Entering last season, the Bulls were expected to have a three-headed backfield of Taylor, Johnson and Campbell. As the season went on, the split in carries began to change, with Taylor becoming a workhorse back, while Johnson and Campbell moving into backup roles.
Taylor had a breakout season in 2014, finishing with 282 carries, 1403 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had the second most rushing yards in the conference.
After a breakout junior season, Taylor said his goal is to continue the success as the team’s No. 1 back.
“Build upon last year,” Taylor said. “We have the talent and the experience to put together a good season. My goal is to simply be the best player I can be and contribute to that success any way I can.”
Taylor rewarded the Bulls with seven performances with over 100 yards rushing, including three games over 200 yards and a 36-carry, 237-yard performance in the season finale against Massachusetts.
Johnson battled through an injury-ridden season, finishing with 361 yards and one touchdown in just eight games. Campbell finished with just 161 yards on 33 rushing attempts last season. Both will look to get more carries next season in an effort to create more balance offensively.
Johnson said the key to a successful 2015 season is working “on and off the field.”
“It starts in the weight room,” Johnson said. “I’m making sure to lift and get good rehab. That allows me to play 100 percent when I get on the field. Working hard in both areas is allowing me to stay on the field, hopefully for the entire season.”
Leipold called the combination of Taylor and Johnson a great “one-two punch,” and said he’ll look to use the running game more to create more balance offensively. Campbell missed time this spring, but Leipold said he’s interested in using him because “he has game snaps and great speed.”
“We want our best players to get the ball, but balance is key on offense,” Leipold said. “Our goal is to create mismatches in the air and on the ground. Having two or three good running backs with different skillsets on the roster allows us to create those mismatches we want.”
Taylor said he’s looking forward to the team’s upcoming season. He said that everyone is excited and working harder in practice, which makes him “ready to go.” He said that the team has a motto for their practices – BBT: “Be better tomorrow.”
The coaching change has come with many different changes on the field for the Bulls – except the running back position. Leipold even retained running backs coach Matt Simon from the previous staff under former head coach Jeff Quinn.
Simon joined the Bulls in 2011 after working as a running backs coach on various teams at the college and professional level. Simon started his career at Washington and was a member of the 1991 National Championship coaching staff, interned at the Denver Broncos in 1998 and coached the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2013 and San Diego Chargers for the 2007-08 season.
Both teams had a player that lead the NFL in rushing under Simon, the Chargers’ Ladanian Tomlinson and Baltimore’s Jamal Lewis.
In all four seasons as running backs coach, the Bulls have had success on the ground. In 2012 and 2013, the Bulls ran for over 2,000 yards on the ground and last season, Taylor’s 1403 yards were the second-highest total in school history.
Simon said that despite the team’s inexperienced offensive line, the running backs will be ready to produce another successful season.
“Expectations are high,” Simon said. “We have a returning group of guys who have experience. Our talent has proven they could be good and playing good football, we want to continue the success.”
The Bulls will play their annual spring game on Saturday, April 18 in UB Stadium. The game will start at 2 p.m.
Quentin Haynes is the sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org