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2021 Houston Preseason Position Previews: Running Back

This is one part of the Houston offense that needs to get better, but there’s talent on the roster for that to happen.

NCAA Football: Houston at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Running the ball isn’t exactly a priority in the Air Raid offense, and that couldn’t have been more true last year for the Houston Cougars. Their leading rusher, the now departed Kyle Porter, only rushed for 424 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Clayton Tune was the second leading rusher. Will that change in 2021? It would be surprising if it did, but there are some good pieces that should get utilized more this year.

OTHER POSITIONS: QB

Mulbah Car

Car’s been with Houston since 2016, and has produced 1,486 yards with 12 touchdowns in his career, but has never broken the 400-yard mark. Will that happen this year? He’s a bruiser of a runner who’s not fun to tackle in the open field, and could be the physical force this group needs as their starter. At times in the last two years, he was the reason the running game had any life, and he also added some pass catching to his game, which will help get the ball in his hands more often.

Chandler Smith

Smith has the quickness to break off big runs. He’s just never gotten enough touches to truly show what he can do. In another crowded backfield, it might be tough to see that changing, but at a minimum he provides great depth. If anything, you can just enjoy his Tik Toks with nearly 600,000 other of his followers.

Kelan Walker

Kelan finally gave himself a chance to be a competent back by ditching the number 40 and moving to 29. Now that we can focus to his play on the field, it’s time to wonder if he can be the go-to player for the Coogs. He’s another back with good size that can handle the play in the trenches, but will he fit Holgorsen’s system? Like the rest of these backs, we don’t have a big enough sample size to know, so we’ll wait and see in the meantime.

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at West Virginia
Henry fits the system, but can he separate himself?
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Ta’Zhawn Henry

Last time Houston fans saw Henry, he was running for 111 yards and four touchdowns against the Coogs in 2018. Henry comes from one Air Raid to join another, so the transition should be a smooth one. Is he a step above the competition? His skillset fits better than some of these other backs, but the question remains if he’ll be the starter or part of a rotation.

The rest

Stacy Sneed, Terrell Brown, Alton McCaskill and James Fullbright III fill out the rest of the unit. Brown and Fullbright have experience running the ball with varying degrees of success, and there aren’t many that think they can be the starter. Unlike most of the guys listed above, however, they’re guys Holgorsen brought in, so they have something that the staff liked and recruited to come to campus. McCaskill was arguably the biggest signing in the 2021 class, and should compete for the starting job as soon as he figures out the playbook.

Outlook

Henry provided the most excitement when he announced he’d transfer to Houston. He fits the system the best, but can he be the reliable back that Houston needs? With the passing game lacking a verified explosive threat, the running game might need to step up to balance the attack. McCaskill still might be a year away from contributing since he hasn’t practiced with the team yet, but he should still get looks based off talent alone. Car, Smith, and Walker all should join Henry in the rotation, but the staff hopes that one of them can step up to be the go-to guy. For now, it’s wait and see for the rushing attack to be a legitimate threat for this offense.