Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Short or tall running backs?

I was reading USA Today's college football preview, and noticed Mike Lopresti's column about the upcoming season.

One of the more interesting notes he had in the column concerned the nation's leading returning rusher, Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe. You see, Wolfe, who ran for 1,580 yards last season, is just 5-foot-7.

It was the height that triggered a memory for me. At the first Cougar practice this season, Glenn Kasses and I got into a discussion about the height of running backs. Having matured while watching running backs such as O.J. Simpson (6-1) and Eric Dickerson (6-3) and even John Riggins (6-2), I am prejudiced toward big guys who can run over a defensive back as well as run away from a linebacker. Glenn, on the other hand, likes the quicker, stockier, more bowling-ball-like backs the Cougars – and just about every college team these days – prefer.

I've never bought the argument that smaller guys can hide behind the O-line, appearing as if by magic in the defensive secondary.

But that being said, the more I think about it, the more I understand – and begin to agree with – today's philosophy. Why the change? I've come to realize today's defensive players are bigger – lot's bigger – than they were in O.J.'s day. The d-back that John Riggin ran over, you know, 5-9, 165, no longer exists. Even the quick corner guys are a well-sculpted 185 pounds, capable of bench pressing a small refrigerator. And linebackers? They are the size of O-lineman when O.J. was playing – and they run as fast, or faster, than the old-time receivers.

Even though the ability of a running back to deliver a blow is still revered among coaches, they want it to be delivered from a lower plane, allowing the back to get under the pads of the bigger defenders. This makes sense.

Plus, there aren't very many 6-2 guys who run 10-flat 100 meters these days – was there ever? – and the ones who can aren't going to make their way to the Inland Northwest very often. But there are plenty of 5-9, 5-10 guys who are strong as a grizzly with the speed of an antelope to fill out the Cougars' roster.

So where do you fall in this debate? Would you rather see a 6-3 speedster running behind the Vandal or Coug or Eagle offensive line, or a 5-8 tank? Let me know.

SportsLink is your portal into sports news around the Inland Northwest and beyond. You'll find updates, notes and opinions, and plenty of reader feedback.

Looking for a Grip on Sports?

Vince Grippi's daily take on all things regional sports has been moved to our main sports section online. You can find a collection of these columns here.