Can The Freshman RBs Come Out And Play?

Jamaal Charles (Photo: Will Gallagher)

Did freshmen RBs Jamaal Charles and Henry Melton stake their claim for more playing time against Ohio State after combining for 200 yards in the home opener? Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis spoke this week about the dynamic duo's immediate future on the eve of college football's game of the year.

"It's real clear that Jamaal Charles is talented and played very well in the opener," Davis said, "but there are several more steps in his development. And it's real clear that Henry Melton is big. He's got really good feet and balance for a guy his size (6-3, 270). But it's going to be a while before all of that will shake out to find the rotation that will work for the year."

Head coach Mack Brown has been so reticent in the past to give freshmen significant snaps on offense that it took a loss to Oklahoma before the likes of Vince Young, Cedric Benson, Roy Williams and B.J. Johnson logged their first starts. Obviously, Charles and Melton are not as developed as they're going to be but will they even break a sweat in Columbus?

Charles was the leading rusher in Saturday's 60-3 trouncing of UL-Lafayette, including a game-best 45-yarder in the fourth quarter. His 135 yards on 14 carries broke Ramonce Taylor's freshman debut rushing record (96 yards) set just last season against North Texas. Charles scored his first collegiate TD on a 14-yard run over left end on Texas' third possession of the first quarter. He was responsible for 32 of the 65 yards of the seven-play drive that produced a 13-3 lead.

Melton was the first true freshman to lose his 'shirt and it came during Texas' second possession of the ballgame. That's when the Grapevine product rumbled over right guard for five yards to move the chains on 3rd-and-2 at the UL-Lafayette 16. That set up Selvin Young's TD run over right tackle two plays later. Both of his TD runs were joys to behold. His first collegiate scoring run saw Melton churn his way through a pile of defenders, orchestrate a complete 360, drag a defender a couple of yards before breaking free and into the end zone from 19 yards out. Then, on Texas' next possession, Melton broke at least six tackles to rumble in from the 22. He finished the night with 65 yards on six carries, including two TDs.

It's unclear whether Melton will see significant playing time against Ohio State, but it is evident that his debut impressed coaches enough to where they now consider him more than just a short-yardage back.

"We want to continue to bring Henry along in the field offense and not just in short-yardage," Davis said. "But you only have so much practice time. I know this sounds silly but there's only so many snaps. (Ramonce Taylor) has to get some snaps back there because we'll continue to flow him back there. If you're not careful, you won't get them prepared properly."

One wonders that a game featuring two teams that historically feature a power running game, and one in which yards will be at a premium, might not be tailor-made for a bulldozer like Melton.

"I do trust him," Davis said, "but when you look at Ohio State I don't think you want to play them in a phone booth. They are very stout up front. Their secondary supports well. We will always work out of a two-back, normal stuff. We always want to keep that mentality. When we're playing with a fullback, we're taking a speed-guy out of the game. There's a juggling act there."

As mentioned, Melton's stint at RB was considered an audition -- and one in which he apparently has passed. Davis does not anticipate moving Melton to FB in the foreseeable future, something that offensive coaches considered doing when Melton was signed last February.

"Not right now," Davis said of any sort of move to FB. "Not right now at all."

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