Utah running back Zack Moss’ season-ending knee injury last November gave Armand Shyne a showcase opportunity in some of the Utes’ biggest games of the year.
With Moss returning in 2019 and other backs developing in the program, though, Shyne moved to Texas Tech as a graduate transfer. That made jersey No. 6 available to sophomore Devin Brumfield, who grabbed his old number from Covington (La.) High School in the New Orleans area and hopes to have an impact as a backup to Moss in 2019.
Questions exist about Moss’ status this month, with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham volunteering only the observation after Saturday’s scrimmage that Moss “didn’t take any hits.”
What’s becoming clear in the Utes’ preseason camp is that Shyne’s reasons for transferring went beyond merely having to play behind Moss as a senior. He would have had to battle for the No. 2 job, among Brumfield, Devonta’e Henry-Cole, TJ Green and freshman Jordan Wilmore, who keeps earning praise from Whittingham.
“There's some playmakers, right there,” quarterback Tyler Huntley said. “It's great to have a heavy-loaded backfield.”
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig liked the backs’ “production and their toughness,” citing “physicality” as a key element of the scrimmage.
Shyne’s contribution to Utah’s first Pac-12 South title shouldn’t be minimized. The Utes beat Oregon in their first game without Moss and Huntley, partly due to Shyne’s 174 yards on 26 carries. It’s also true that Shyne netted only 172 yards on 57 attempts in the last four games, barely a 3-yard average, although he ran for two short touchdowns in Utah’s fourth-quarter rally against BYU.
He’s now at Texas Tech, where coach Matt Wells said in July, “I expect Armand to be in competition for the running back job immediately. He’s big. … He’s a one-cut guy, and I think he’s a physical running back.”
Shyne's straight-ahead style also was a limiting factor for him at Utah. The next generation of Ute running backs, behind Moss, is known for better vision and versatility.
Among them, Henry-Cole is the veteran, a junior who redshirted last season after breaking his wrist in August. His speed and experience may give him a temporary edge, but here come Brumfield and Wilmore, both resembling Moss with their thick bodies and pounding styles.
Brumfield has been nicknamed “Mini Moss” by some program observers; Wilmore already is evoking similar comparisons.
The conclusion is the Utes should have adequate relief for Moss, whether out of necessity or just to reduce his workload.
“The competition level's high, so we're all getting our reps, fighting to get on the field this fall,” Brumfield said. “We all made some great plays [Saturday]. I really feel like I had a good day, but there's still a lot of things I need to improve on.”
After the injury to Henry-Cole last summer, Brumfield became Utah's No. 3 or 4 back, behind Moss and Shyne, with Green also in the mix. Coaches intended to redshirt Brumfield, while playing him in four games as a new NCAA rule allowed. But when Moss was sidelined, they activated him for the rest of the season and Brumfield ended up playing in seven games, with 14 carries for 42 yards.
“Just getting on the field, I was able to see what the competition's like and get a feel for the game,” Brumfield said.
The four-game redshirt provision gives the coaching staff some flexibility with Wilmore, but he's not planning a five-year stay on campus. In February, when he announced his commitment to the Utes over Arizona State and UCLA, he said he was coming to Utah “for the next three to four years,” calculating the start of his NFL career.
He’s apparently on pace at the moment. “The acclimation process has been very quick,” Ludwig said. “Very productive. … He’s smart, he’s tough and he cares.”
Those are good traits for a running back, and Ludwig's scheme will rely heavily on those players. He arrived in town in January promising a “premium commitment to running the football, which leads to a lot of good things.”
And that’s what the Utes will do, with more capable backs emerging behind Moss.