Normally, when a team is forced to sit its leading rusher during each of the past two seasons for a three game stretch, it’s a painful blow to production - perhaps even crippling.
But for the 2012 Kansas Jayhawks, the loss of James Sims until Game Four shouldn’t be, thanks to what appears to be a very talented stable of running backs on Mount Oread.
The safe bet to step in and fill the void as the starting tailback is Tony Pierson. In an abysmal 2011 campaign, Pierson was a definite bright spot thanks to the elite speed and quickness he flashed on numerous occasions.
His slight build - he’s 5-foot-10.5 inches tall and weighs just 170 pounds - means he’s not well-suited as an every down back, however. Head Coach Charlie Weis has said previously he’d like to see the ball in the St. Louis native’s hands somewhere between 10-15 times a game - meaning he’s going to need some help.
Currently sitting number two on the depth chart is JUCO transfer Taylor Cox. Cox is an interesting talent, because on film he shows signs of the same vision and toughness that has made Sims a success early in his career. But Cox is of a body type closer to that of a power back, at 5-foot-11 and a rock-solid 210 pounds. He’s impressive in person, and fans should be excited to get a look at him on Sept. 1.
After battling injuries during the 2011 season and throughout the spring, Brandon Bourbon is finally healthy again and running close behind Cox as the third man on the depth chart. He’s had to shake off some rust, but he possesses a unique skillset as well. The biggest of the running backs in the hunt for significant snaps this season, Bourbon is a shade shy of 6-foot-2 and almost 220 pounds. Last season, he showed signs of being able to run through tackles and then turn on the jets, as he also owns excellent straight line speed.
And where does Sims fit into all of this, once he returns from his suspension? No staff member has outlined it specifically, but fans should absolutely expect him to have a role - potentially a big one. In fact, Weis went so far as to say that Sims is the team’s most complete running back.
Physically, he looks as if he’s benefited from Scott Holsopple’s strength and conditioning program as much as anyone on offense. He’s trimmed down to approximately 193 pounds, after arriving at Kansas a little more than two years ago in the 220-pound range, and is both quicker and faster than ever. It’s easy to see that he put in the work during the off-season, and he has clearly caught the eye of the coaching staff with his play during camp.
Seeing how the rotation shakes out as the season progresses - how many snaps are available in the running game and where they’re distributed - should be one of the more interesting elements of this offense to watch.