Can Henry Come Out and Play?

The slimmed down Melton (Will Gallagher/IT)

Is sophomore RB Henry Melton an every-down back? Or, does he still have something to prove to Longhorn coaches?

The H-Train was frequently mentioned as one of the pleasant surprises of Texas spring football, and much of the rhetoric was that Henry Melton could be counted on as an every-down back rather than just as a short-yardage specialist. Melton was so effective carrying the football last March that his stint at DE was short-lived. Given the fact that RB Ramonce Taylor is no longer in the picture, and mindful that both Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles were hit with ankle injuries throughout the 2005 season, all indications were that Melton was solidly the No. 3 back, regardless of down or distance.

However, on Friday, coach Mack Brown said Melton remains the RB in short-yardage and goal-line situations "until Henry shows us the ability that he can be an every-down back."

On Saturday, I asked Melton if he thought he has shown coaches that he is, indeed, capable of being an every-down ball-carrier.

"I'm still working short-yardage," he said. "I'm working first-down, second-down, third-down, but I'm still trying to prove to them that I can be a real running back, instead of, 'Oh, Henry Melton's in the game, so it must be short-yardage.' I'm just trying to work my way to being a running back."

I asked Selvin Young the same question about Melton.

"If he was given the opportunity to be an every-down back, I'm pretty sure he would be able to handle that role. I feel like he would be able to do that, given that role."

It was a diplomatic comment supportive of a teammate who developed somewhat of a cult following during his freshman campaign. Fans knew that it takes a village to tackle Melton, and he rumbled for 432 yards and 10 TDs on 87 carries. His 10 scores ranks No.3 on the UT freshman TD list. He posted a career-high 75 yards on 14 carries against Rice. Since then, he's dropped 10-to-15 pounds and now weighs-in at 6-3, 260.

"Every day this summer, I was out here running during the noon-day heat, trying to get better," he said. "

Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis confirmed Friday what most of us already knew: senior Selvin Young is the starting RB, but sophomore Jamaal Charles will get plenty of snaps. Young started the home-opener in 2005 as well as the Rose Bowl. Nagging ankle injuries also limited Young throughout the 2005 campaign. A broken ankle sidelined Young for all but one complete game of the 2004 season.

This time last year, Young estimates that he weighed 220 pounds with eight percent body fat. Now, he checks-in at 198 pounds, six percent body fat. He added the extra girth last season because "a small guy like me can't take that many direct hits. I had to put on a little weight. It was mainly muscle."

Young started five games his junior year, rushing for 461 yards and eight TDs on 96 carries. Now, Young believes the injuries are finally (finally!) behind him.

"I'm having fun again. Real fun. When you can perform like you know you can perform and go home every night since Camp started and feel good, have no problems with no injuries and nothing nagging, it's a wonderful feeling that I haven't felt in a long time. I really can't wait."

Texas' tailback-by-committee rated second in the nation last year in rushing yards (274.9 ypg), but QB Vince Young accounted for 1,050 of the school record 2,284 net yards on the ground. Jamaal Charles led all RBs with 878 yards and 11 TDs on the way to Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2005.

"Coach always says that Jamaal can make people miss in a phone booth," Young said. "I believe that. Henry is a big, powerful back. He's learning to run with his pads down. His pads are a lot lower than they used to be. He's moving a lot of people around."

All three RBs are convinced that the toughest defense they will face all season is the one they meet every day in practice.

"This is the most talented defense we're going to go against. There's some Saturdays where there's going to be a real drop-off in the level of talent. To be able to compete against a defense, two- and three-deep like we have, is a real advantage for us."

The first of three, actual two-a-days is slated for Sunday at 7:15 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Said Young, "You've always got to look forward to two-a-days. If you don't come into Camp thinking about those days, and looking forward to those days, they're going to beat you up. After all this is said and down, you've got to feel like you're ready. It's part of something you have to go through and something you have to look forward to."

Said Melton: "It hurts my head just thinking about it."

The triple-digit Texas heat, hitting 102 degrees Saturday, is almost like a twelth-man for Texas as it looks toward the September 9 showdown against top-ranked Ohio State.

"It's 40-degrees, maybe 75 (in Columbus)," Young quipped. "It's like California. Down here, it's real heat."

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