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July 24, 2012

Preview: Health a concern at RB

MORE: Washington's rehab a little behind Stephens'

The injury bug hit Texas Tech hard last year but the Angel of Mercy seems to have dropped by Lubbock to give the Red Raiders an almost completely healthy roster entering the 2012 season.

It's amazing to think that less than 10 months ago running back Eric Stephens sustained both a torn ACL and a torn MCL. The rising senior running back was just recently cleared to resume normal team activities as if the injury had never happened. The same goes for DeAndre Washington who sustained a torn ACL a month after Stephens.

Miraculously, Tech's stable of running backs can once again be considered a strength on offense. Combined with a passing offense that contributed more than 4,000 yards last season while dealing with injury issues of its own, the running game should allow the Red Raiders to be more effective overall and help swing some of the close games the team lost last season.

"I'm lucky that I have another opportunity to play again," an upbeat Stephens said. "It was disappointing but I think everything happens for a reason and I have the chance to get to that 1,000 (yard) mark this year. I have another year and that's all that really matters now."

Eric Stephens was on pace for a 1,300 yard season in 2011 before a late hit from Texas A&M's Damontre Moore sidelined him with a severe knee injury. Stephens' backup, DeAndre Washington, also had his season ended due to a knee injury. Both are expected to be available to practice at the beginning of fall camp.
Returning Starters: Eric Stephens (5), DeAndre Washington (1)

Others Returning: Kenny Williams

Newcomers: SaDale Foster, Quinton White

Departures: Aaron Crawford, Ronnie Daniels
Heading into what would become his final game of the season, against Texas A&M, Eric Stephens was the second-leading rusher in the Big 12.

Stephens finished the season with 565 rushing yards in five games. Through eight games in 2009, the Red Raiders had 559 rushing yards as a team.

DeAndre Washington's 366 rushing yards are the most in over a decade by a true freshman running back at Tech. Shaud Williams rushed for 658 yards as a true freshman in 1999.
If Stephens and Washington are healthy and available for the start of camp, SaDale Foster and Kenny Williams will likely be battling for for the No. 3 spot. If Stephens or Washington have a setback, then Foster and Williams will be battling for a higher position on the depth chart.
Stephens rushed for 580 yards in four and a half games last season, and was on pace to become Tech's first 1,000-yard rusher in over a decade before suffering his knee injury. And if Stephens had remained healthy, who knows how the Red Raiders' season would have gone.

If Stephens is truly healthy and truly back in good shape like he says he is, he should have a big year.

But it's not just Stephens.

[ More RRS: Who will run the Wildcat for Tech? ]

Despite the struggles the Tech offense had without Stephens, Washington really was starting to come along at the time of his injury. He had more than 300 rushing yards while splitting most of the load with senior Aaron Crawford. Tech added Riverside Community College transfer SaDale Foster at midterm and signed College Station (Texas) A&M Consolidated High School running back Quinton White in February; both are expected to play this fall.

Rising sophomore running back Kenny Williams also looks like a player with a lot of potential in the running game.

"Kenny Williams has come so far over what he was before the spring," Stephens said. "Kenny was a good player last fall, but after the spring he's a completely different guy. He got a lot of reps this spring with DeAndre and I injured and I told the younger guys, 'The more reps you get the more comfortable you'll feel back there.' He looks comfortable. I think he has learned how to use his body better for blocking and things like that."

NEW FACES: Foster and White give the Red Raiders a lot of depth at running back with five available scholarship running backs in total.

Foster was somewhat of a surprise at running back. He was mostly recruited for his skills as a return man, but was placed at running back because of some previous experience at the position.

Foster, however, made the most out of a lot of reps during spring football and established himself as a player who will at least factor into the running back rotation this season.

[ More RRS: Who is ahead in the battle for the No. 3 spot? ]

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said in February that White might be the sleeper from the class of 2012.

White reminds the offensive coaching staff of Stephens when Stephens was in high school. The true freshman may not redshirt this season.

"Those two guys work really hard," Stephens said. "That's the thing you notice about them right away. The running backs, now more so than ever, are working hard as a whole group. Quinton and SaDale have bought into the culture and want to be great and are doing everything they can."

PRESSURE IS ON: Eric Stephens. Texas Tech's offense was noticeably less potent once Stephens went down with his season-ending knee injury. Quite simply, Stephens was the Red Raiders' best player a year ago and was playing at an all-conference level through four and a half games. If he can get close to that level this year, it could be the difference between a six-win season and an eight-win season. No pressure.

BIGGEST QUESTION: How healthy are Stephens and Washington, and how confident are they in their surgically repaired knees? At this point, the biggest hurdle standing between them and a successful 2012 season is mental, not physical.

If they are healthy -- and they are expected to be available for the start of fall camp -- Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington will absolutely be the Red Raiders No. 1 and No. 2 running backs. SaDale Foster and Kenny Williams will battle for the third spot, while the plan for true freshman Quinton White is to get him prepared to play this fall.
1. Eric Stephens SR-3L Stephens is tied for seventh on Texas Tech's career all-purpose yardage list (3,839) and could move into fifth with a good season.
2. DeAndre Washington SO-1L Washington set career highs in rushing attempts (16) and yards (84) in the Red Raiders' upset of No. 1 Oklahoma in 2011.
3. Kenny Williams SO-1L Williams saw his most extensive action of the 2011 season in the finale against Baylor, rushing for 41 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.
4. SaDale Foster JR-TR Foster transitioned easily to running back after spending most of his junior college career at inside receiver.
5. Quinton White FR-HS With the uncertainty surrounding Stephens and Washington, the plan is to get White prepared to play this season.

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