MINNEAPOLIS The Gophers football team has seemingly found two reliable running backs who both appear ready to share the carries in Minnesota's backfield in 2013.
With Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams establishing themselves last year, that presumably leaves little room for junior David Cobb. After all, Cobb had just one carry in 2012 and carried the ball only 10 times as a freshman in 2011.
But the Killeen, Texas, native has emerged this spring as a candidate for more carries in 2013.
"Everybody's apple turns red at a different time," Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said. "I think injuries have held him back. He's had a hamstring or something's always happening. But his concentration and focus has been good. It's a growing-up process. Some kids come in and they're not ready to mature as quick as others. Plus, he's had injury problems since he's been here with his legs. He's trained. He's worked hard. He wants to play."
It's tough to read too much into a player's performance in spring. Look no further than last season, when James Gillum was touted as perhaps the next answer at running back. He finished the year with just 27 carries for 73 yards.
But Cobb's attitude entering his junior season seems to be different. He knows his opportunities might be limited, but he's hoping to make the most of them.
"I guess this year, growing up a little bit, I realize that, hey, two years down you did a lot of learning but now it's time to step up and help your team out any way you can," Cobb said. "Last year, I played a big role on special teams, so if I don't start at running back, I want to start on special teams. Coach emphasized being a starter, so I'm out here trying to go hard every day."
The amount of carries Cobb gets next season depends quite a bit on how successful Minnesota's offense can be. If the Gophers are able to run 70 plays as they did in their bowl game against Texas Tech, there's a chance a guy like Cobb can get a few more carries. If the offense sputters and only runs 50 plays a game, Cobb's chances will diminish.
Cobb was a three-star recruit while at Ellison High School in football-rich Texas. During his freshman season at Minnesota, he was buried on the depth chart behind Duane Bennett and Kirkwood, who combined for 229 carries. One year later, he was again the No. 3 back in the Gophers' offense and barely saw the field.
"You come to college and you want to play," Cobb said. "You don't want to waste any years sitting on the bench. But at the same time it kind of humbles you and lets you know that this is not high school. You have to compete and you have to come with it every day. It's not so much about who's the fastest and who can run and who can run the ball. It's frustrating, but it kind of humbles you and makes you even hungrier so you come out here every day with a purpose."
Cobb has proven to his coaches that he is indeed hungry and has a renewed sense of purpose. As he enters his junior year, he's showing them he has the physical tools to succeed at running back. Now it's all about being consistent in order to see the field more often in 2013.
"I think one of the great things is I would say, David, when he gets the ball in his hands, as far as his vision, he very well may have the best vision of any of our running backs," Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "Now just the consistency of taking the proper footwork to make sure he's getting the ball where he needs to. The other things we talk about all the time is pass protection and making sure he's going the right way and when he doesn't have the ball, how he's playing. Those are the things that will be the challenge."
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