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Texas Southern builds offense around workhorse running backs
Charles Coe had no time to waste when Texas Southern interim football coach Kevin Ramsey hired him as offensive coordinator in early May.
Coe had to devise an offensive plan without the benefit of being able to implement it during spring practice. He and Ramsey had to put their heads together to fill out the remainder of the offensive coaching staff.
On top of that, he had roughly three months to get it all done.
Fortunately for Coe, his other marching orders were simple.
“From day one, (Ramsey) instructed me that we want to run the football,” said Coe, who has more than 30 years of coaching experience at the high school, college and professional levels. “We’ve got some horses, and we want to run them.”
But the Tigers don’t have just any horses; they probably have the best running back stable in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
TSU features the SWAC’s No. 1 returning rusher in senior Marcus Wright (1,212 yards, eight TDS in 2010). And his backup, Martin Gilbert, finished among the SWAC’s top 10 in rushing yards with 482.
The defending SWAC champions also have Deshon Daniels, who is expected to receive an increased share of the carries after rushing for 153 yards in nine games as a junior.
Those three seniors are poised to help TSU strengthen its power rushing attack, which ranked 12th last season in the Football Championship Subdivision with an average of 213.7 yards per game.
SWAC coaches and media seemed to concur with the notion the Tigers had the league’s best running backs, voting Wright and Gilbert onto the league’s preseason all-conference first team.
Senior fullback Randall Newsome, who will likely help pave the way for the trio, shares that sentiment.
“I think we have the most talented backs in the SWAC,” Newsome said. “And I’m not being boastful about that.”
Each running back brings a unique skill to the table. Wright (5-10, 210) utilizes his speed and exceptional vision to find running lanes.
Gilbert, a 5-10, 205-pound bruiser, makes his hay mostly between the tackles and by barreling through defenders.
Daniels (6-0, 225) is a shifty back who can catch the ball out of the slot.
But most of the action begins and ends with Wright. Since Wright sprang into the lineup as a freshman in 2008, the Tigers are 8-1 when he rushes for 100 or more yards and at least one touchdown. He finished the 2010 season with seven consecutive 100 plus-yard performances, with TSU winning each game en route to a 9-3 finish.
School record in sight
With 1,758 career yards, Wright needs 1,177 to break the school’s all-time rushing record held by Thomas Sieh (2,934).
With the Tigers’ plan to maintain a rushing-heavy offense, he’ll likely get a chance at the record.
“It’s a blessing to be able to be that close to the career rushing record,” Wright said. “But you still have to work hard toward (containing) injuries and competing at a higher level. As long as (the coaches) keep on pushing us toward that, the record is well within reach.”
One thing that could hamper TSU’s rushing attack is a lack of depth and experience on the offensive line. The Tigers return just one starter there in center Quinn Criss, so they’ll have to break in some young bodies.
“(We) have maybe 10 or 11 linemen,” Coe said. “When you don’t have 18 or 19 offensive linemen, it’s going to be tough. We have to be smart how we practice once we get into the season, making sure we try to keep people as healthy as possible.”
The Tigers’ offense is adjusting to the changes made on the coaching staff during the offseason. In addition to Coe, Ramsey hired assistant coaches Larry Holton (running backs), Robert Ford (wide receivers) and Quintin Smith (tight ends) to replace the four assistants he fired in April after taking over in the wake of former coach Johnnie Cole’s dismissal.
Offensive line coach Manny Martinez was the only holdover on that side of the ball.
TSU will also have to adjust to a new starting quarterback in Dantavious Parker, who is projected to replace Arvell Nelson.
But the Tigers should be fine no matter who barks the signals as long as Wright, Gilbert and Daniels remain healthy and effective.
“Our offensive philosophy (is based) off of our toolbox,” Ramsey said. “We look for tools that are going to be effective. If it’s a running game within that toolbox, we’re not going to look for a wrench.”
By RONNIE TURNER, Houston Chronicle