Backfield Mates Expect To Roll With the Changes

By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Howard's offense let down its defense too often last season. The defense would stifle opponents, but then the offense would fail to produce enough points for a victory. Part of the problem was the offense had become increasingly predictable. It was clearly time for a change.

Howard Coach Rayford Petty began his overhaul by bringing in a new offensive coordinator, Linwood Ferguson, with a new system, a multiple-formation offense. Gone are the days of grounding out two- and three-yard chunks. The Bison plan to use four wide receiver formations and throw the ball much more than they have in the past.

"It's just something I felt the need to do," Petty said. "People kind of figured out what we were doing on offense. The philosophy is not going to change. We're still going to run the football and control the game by holding on to the ball. Time of possession is going to be very important for us. We are just going to go about doing it in a different way this year."

It would seem that in a scheme that eschews the tight end and fullback in favor of two additional wide receivers the importance of the running back would be greatly diminished. But if Howard's two offensive workhorses from last season, senior running backs Keon Coleman and Antoine Rutherford, had any misgivings about their roles in this new scheme, those concerns were quickly allayed. They'll still run the ball, but now they should have bigger holes to get through as the offense spreads the field. And they'll catch the ball, too.

"They're going to utilize us more," Coleman said. "Instead of just running the ball, we're going to be going out for passes and [being] decoys, too."

After years of fighting for tough yards on the ground, Coleman and Rutherford are excited about the new possibilities. Last year, the pair accounted for 40 percent of the Bison's offense. Coleman, a preseason all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference second-team selection, was the team's leading rusher with 770 yards on 141 carries despite a shoulder injury. Rutherford, who was a 1,000-yard rusher his first year at Howard, gained 381 yards on 100 carries. If all goes as planned, their numbers should increase this season.

Coleman, 24, grew up in the Eastgate Gardens public housing complex in Southeast and is a product of H.D. Woodson High. Last year, he rushed for a career-high 162 yards on 28 carries in Howard's 16-0 victory over North Carolina A&T. That performance marked a triumphant return from a broken fibula and several torn ligaments in his ankle that cost him most of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Of the two, he is more of a finesse runner and sees the field better. As a team captain, he also is more vocal.

"Keon is a little more fiery," running backs coach Rupert Grant said. "If the linemen aren't getting it done, he'll let them know about it."

Rutherford, 22, transferred from Virginia Tech after his freshman season. He has struggled to match an impressive debut in 2003 that included two 200-yard rushing games -- 206 yards against Savannah State and 230 yards (and five touchdowns) against Norfolk State. A converted strong safety, he brings a defensive mentality to the position. He runs routes well and is best in short-yardage situations. Although he is the more quiet of the two away from football, he has a controlled rage on the field.

"I can be pretty much physical," he said. "I can pretty much do what I want to do, and I won't get in trouble for what I'm doing. I relieve a lot of stress on the field."

By capitalizing on the strengths of Coleman and Rutherford, Howard should have a powerful rushing component to go along with its new offense.

"If you put them together," Grant said, "that would be the ultimate back."

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