In less than a week, the UCLA Bruins will be heading to Nippert Stadium to mark the start of the 2019 football season for the Cincinnati Bearcats. After looking over every position group on both sides of the ball, we’ll be rounding up the series by previewing the running backs.
The Bearcats are fortunate to be in the place they’re in with depth at the running back position. With four guys that have proven they can play at a high level, running backs coach Doug Phillips has plenty of tools to work with in different situations. While Tavion Thomas, Michael Warren II, and Gerrid Doaks bring power and strength, Charles McClelland brings speed and elusiveness to the table. Each back has a unique set of attributes, and while all four of them have the ability to electrify an audience, there’s only one of them that the country can’t seem to get enough of: Michael Warren II.
As a third string running back his freshman year, Warren made the most out of his time as both Mike Boone and Gerrid Doaks dealt with injuries that sidelined them for a large part of the season. While he only rushed for 324 yards and a touchdown in 2017, Warren set himself up for a breakout season his sophomore year. With Doaks sidelined yet again with a season ending injury in 2018, the Bearcats went with Warren to start the season at UCLA. In front of a nationally televised audience, Warren carried Cincinnati to a 26-17 win as he rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Warren would go on to rush for over 1,300 yards and record 20 total touchdowns during the 2018 season while also leading the Bearcats to a 35-31 win over Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl. Warren’s production didn’t go unnoticed, however, as he was nominated to three preseason award watch lists and has gained national recognition as one of the top running backs in the country. In a run heavy offense, Luke Fickell will have no problem in giving a majority of the carries to Warren, but when fatigue hits, Fickell has plenty of options to choose from off the bench.
Gerrid Doaks, a player who has been riddled with injuries during his first two years with the Bearcats, is finally healthy to begin the season. A 3-star product out of Indianapolis, Indiana, Doaks redshirted his first year in 2016 and was named Co-Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year by the Bearcats, an award dedicated to Doaks for his hard work and dedication, two traits that he would need to persevere throughout his next two seasons.
Before Michael Warren II took over the running back scene for Cincinnati, Doaks was seen as the “next big name” for Bearcat fans. As a freshman, he ran for over 500 yards and 2 touchdowns while only playing in nine games for the Bearcats. Even though he dealt with a groin injury that sidelined him for the entire 2018 season, Doaks is set for another breakout year in 2019 as he’ll be the featured number two back behind Warren for a scary one-two combo.
In recent news, the Bearcats have suffered a major blow to their running back depth for this season. Sophomore Charles McClelland has suffered a torn ACL and will be out for the rest of the year. This is a huge dent to the offense as McClelland brought big-play ability to the table while using his speed to break into the secondary of the defense. Last year, as a true freshman, he recorded 595 total yards and averaged 7.7 yards per carry. While this isn’t the end of the world for the Bearcats, his growth from a season ago was a storyline to follow going into this season, especially with the talent he showed last year.
Unfortunately, on any team, there’s always going to ups and downs. With Tavion Thomas, that seemed to be the case during a practice in camp this year. During a pitch play, Thomas fumbled the ball, and when coaches confronted him about the issue, he had some words to say about it to the staff. Coach Fickell decided to make Thomas an example in front of the team as he didn’t practice for three weeks and wasn’t even listed on the depth chart. Thomas does have a lot of upside as the former 4-star product out of Dayton, Ohio, rushed for 499 yards his freshman year, but he does have issues holding on to the ball and seems to have an attitude problem. While Thomas will eventually be back on the field and the issue will eventually be fixed, it is concerning for Thomas’ future if he can’t control his temper.
The running back room is loaded, even with McClelland out for the season. Michael Warren II will once again lead the Bearcats in the backfield, but with Doaks, Thomas, and even redshirt freshman Ryan Montgomery, the amount of talent never seems to stop at the position. In a run-heavy offense, look for this group to get the most exposure, and don’t be surprised if there are multiple backs with over 1,000 rushing yards to end the year.