Each day, I’ll post a blog with all the nuts-and-bolts information about a position and many of the quotes I’ve collected. The next morning, we’ll run a feature story on the position in the newspaper.
Newspaper story here.
27 Jay Ajayi, 6-0, 216, R-Jr.
21 Jack Fields, 5-9, 203, Jr.
26 Devan Demas, 5-8, 174, R-So.
35 Charles Bertoli, 5-11, 200, R-So.
37 Ryan Wolpin, 5-8, 194, R-Fr.
31 Skyler Seibold, 6-1, 185, Fr.
13 Jeremy McNichols, 5-9, 195, Fr.
10 Cory Young, 5-10, 185, Fr.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Jay Ajayi, 6-0, 216, R-Jr.: Ranked 15th in the nation last season with 1,425 rushing yards and eighth with 18 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
Devan Demas, 5-8, 174, R-So.: Provided a spark late last season with his quickness. He rushed for 73 yards against Wyoming and averaged 5.95 yards per carry on the season.
OR Jack Fields, 5-9, 203, Jr.: Prolific high school tailback hasn’t produced a breakout game yet in college. He has rushed for 274 yards at 3.1 yards per carry.
Overview: The Broncos’ offense will run through Ajayi, whose unusual blend of size, speed and power resulted in six 100-yard games and three more in the 90s. The depth behind him is the question mark, with the little-used duo of Jack Fields and Devan Demas sharing the No. 2 role. “We obviously have somebody very proven there in Jay Ajayi,” running backs coach Kent Riddle said. “ That being said, he can’t do everything by himself. Devan Demas, every time he’s had the ball shows us good stuff, so I think he’ll do a good job. Jack Fields is very solid.”
Key to success: The Broncos are expected to emphasize the run game, particularly in the red zone. Coach Bryan Harsin believes in the value of a strong run game — it’s a foundation of championship teams, he says — and coordinator Mike Sanford comes from a Stanford team known for its commitment to power running. All of that means opportunity for Ajayi, who has consistently taken advantage of his chances during the past two seasons. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the person he is and the effort he’s given,” Riddle said. “I think he’s really turned it on, especially lately, and I think he’s gearing up for a big season.”
Reason for concern: Carrying a workload like Ajayi did last year in consecutive years — he carried 249 times in 2013 — is a lot to ask. Coaches used him judiciously through camp, all but holding him out of the open fall scrimmage. But chances are the Broncos will need another playmaker at this position at some point this season. That means either Demas or Fields must step up. “The good thing about all these guys is they really are multi-faceted,” Riddle said. “You say Devan is kind of the speed guy but, shoot, Jack’s just as fast and Jay’s not slow. Maybe you think that and think the power guys are Jay and Jack, but Devan runs just as well between the tackles as they do. I think we’ve got a real deep group and we expect big things from them this year.”
Star player: Ajayi could challenge the 2,000-yard mark in all-purpose production. He gained 1,425 rushing and 222 receiving last year — a total of 1,647. Plus coaches are flirting with using him as a kickoff returner this season and the Broncos could play 14 games.
Breakout performer: The coaching staff has been high on Demas since spring ball. He showed flashes of his potential late last season. With an enhanced role this season, he could provide some explosive plays and provide a change-up to the bruising Ajayi.
Newcomer to watch: McNichols, who originally committed to Utah, used a strong camp to earn himself a spot on the redshirt bubble. It’s not a certainty that he will play, but Riddle says he can get the job done if necessary. “He definitely is a dynamic runner,” Riddle said. “ Who knows if he’ll contribute this year. He’s shown a natural ability to run the football. He makes guys miss. He’s got good power, good speed, good vision. He finds creases. We feel good about him in the future. Now, who knows? That’s going to be dictated by how the season goes. That might be second half (of the season). That might be next year. We’ll figure that out as the season goes. But he’ll be ready to play.”
— Riddle on Ajayi: “The good thing about him is he’s good in all phases. He’s not just good when he has the ball in his hands. He’s good in pass protection, when we throw him the ball — he’s a threat and we’ve got to use him in all those ways.”
— Riddle on No. 2 tailback: “You’ll see Demas and Fields both during the course of a game.”
— Riddle on why Fields hasn’t had success: “Limited opportunities. He’s one of those guys, he just needs a chance to get out there and play. If he carried the ball 15 times in a game and knew that he was going to get those I think you’d see him relax a little bit and do that. He’s really shown that he can do that this fall camp, so we expect big things from him.”
— Riddle on Demas: “He’s shifty between the tackles and he’s got a great burst. When he sees a crease, he can hit it. He’s also not afraid to get the tough yard, break arm tackles, slither off a guy and fall forward.”
— Riddle on using Ajayi as a kickoff returner, which the Broncos showed in the open scrimmage: “Will we see it? Who knows. We don’t want to tell anybody that. It’s football. We’re going to play the best guys for the best situations. If the situation merits it, he’ll be back there.”
— Riddle on what Ajayi brings as a kickoff returner: “They probably don’t want to kick him the ball a whole bunch, I would guess, but you’ve got another big blocker back there, too.”
— If you’ve noticed the orange wrap on the footballs in many of the practice videos, that’s a nylon sleeve that makes the ball slippery. Coach Bryan Harsin has used them at previous stops. “If you’re not carrying the ball right, it’ll squirt out,” Riddle said.
— Linebacker Ben Weaver on the tailbacks: “There’s just a bunch of hard runners. Jay’s a great example to look at every single day. He’s got all those running backs running hard, running downhill and making good cuts.”
— Fields on the fight for No. 2: “The competition is very stiff. We have a very talented group of running backs.”
— Fields on this season: “I just have a different attitude, a lot more focused. I’m dialed in on offense and special teams.”
— Fields on his lack of production in 2012-13: “I feel like I came in as the No. 2 or maybe No. 3 guy so a lot of my carries might have been at the end of the game or with a different group, not the one offensive line. I just didn’t have premier carries, but whenever I can I try to make the best out of the situation.”
— Fields on Demas: “He had a great spring. He’s having a great fall. It’s going to be awesome to see what we do as a group.”
— Harsin on Demas: “I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Demas. I think he brings a little different style back there.”
— Harsin on Ajayi’s workload: “It’s all about what we have to do to get the job done. Some games Jay may carry the ball 30 times. He may carry it 15 times. Bottom line is we’ve got to prepare him to go in there and be able to carry the ball 30 times. It’s a brutal position and it’s about taking care of that guy. Come game day, it’s game day. Everything in between with any one of our players it’s managing their bodies.”
— Riddle on running style: “We want to deliver the blow, not take the blow. That’s always going to be our goal. We’re not going to turn down the chance. There is a little bit of intelligence to it. If you’re hemmed in and there’s nowhere to go, then be smart about that. We’re going to try to set the tone for the whole team by being the most physical guys on the field.”
— Ajayi: “I don’t really try to stress myself too much on the hype. I’m just excited to play another season. Just really working to get our goal of winning a Mountain West championship. That’s really the biggest deal in my mind is just trying to make sure I prepare myself and our team prepares ourselves to have a great season this year.”
— Ajayi on how he can improve: “We’ve been working on a lot of second-level cuts, trying to break those 7-yard gains into 15 to 20 plus. We’ve also been working on pass protection just because that was a thing I needed to work on after last season. I feel like I’ve really improved.”
— Ajayi on the pressure on him as the focal point of the offense: “It looks like it could be a lot of pressure but I like to believe that I’m a level-headed guy and I don’t let it get to me and each time I step on the field it’s just another game where I can have an opportunity to showcase my talents.”
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.