It isn’t easy being Virginia running backs coach Mike Faragalli these days. With three tailbacks who played extensively a year ago returning this season, and a fourth who is challenging that status quo, it can sometimes feel like there aren’t enough footballs to go around at Cavaliers training camp.
But Virginia’s coaching staff will take steps to try and alleviate the situation this season. Though senior Perry Jones and sophomores Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson were occasionally on the field at the same time in 2011 – when they combined for 2,671 all-purpose yards – the Cavaliers plan to feature multiple-back formations more often this season.
“Whether it’s Kevin Parks or [Clifton] Richardson in with Perry Jones and/or Khalek Shephed, we have four guys that can play pretty much interchangeable roles and be in at the same time,” Faragalli said.
The versatility will be a featured part of Virginia’s offensive strategy this season, Coach Mike London confirmed.
“People talk about two tailbacks in the game, which is very possible and very doable for us because of the matchups they present,” he said during a Monday teleconference.
“We can put two tailbacks in the game and they can plug them into any spot on the field. They know the routes that any player on the field has to run. . . . We can flex them out, motion them back in. There’s so many different things because of the knowledge of the offense.”
Thus far, the running back rotation hasn’t resulted in any bruised egos. London and the three running backs have said all the right things when it comes to sharing the workload
As last season wore on, tangible differences emerged among the trio. Despite his slight stature (5 feet 8, 185 pounds), Jones is perhaps the most complete option at this point since he’s one of the more accomplished tailbacks in the country in terms of receiving skills. He has “a little more shake and wiggle, a little more hip flexibility and change direction stuff,” than the others, according to Faragalli.
Parks is a more powerful option, with a strong lower body and field vision that Faragalli described as “incredible” Monday. Parks finished last season with 709 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Richardson, meantime, is the quintessential power back at 6 feet, 215 pounds.
Those three became well known commodities for fans during Virginia’s 8-5 campaign last year. Sophomore Khalek Shepherd, on the other hand, is now forcing his way into the mix.
After a strong spring, Shepherd has again shown well in the first week of training camp. But with three others ahead of him on the depth chart, Faragalli admitted, “it’s hard” to get him the sort of repetitions he would receive on many other teams.
Faragalli expects offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will install a few pass routes and running plays in which Shepherd, who is listed at 5-8, 185 pounds as well, excels so he can contribute this season. He’s also one of the front runners to serve as Virginia’s kickoff and punt returner this year.
“He basically does all the things Perry Jones does in the passing game as far as running routes, being a primary receiver,” Faragalli said of Shepherd. “So if something were to happen to [Jones], he’ll be in there. We’re just trying to find more ways to get him involved offensively because he is, with the special teams, becoming more and more involved in every phase.
“We’re trying to find a way to get him out there and have him contribute.”