Devontae Booker showed up at the University of Utah in 2014 and quickly established himself as its No. 1 running back, rushing 1,512 yards that fall, followed by 1,261 more yards in 2015 in only 10 games.
With Booker gone to the NFL, his backup, Joe Williams, stepped into a primary role, rushing for 1,407 yards in just nine games in 2016. Williams left, so in came Zack Moss. After backing up Williams as a true freshman, Moss blossomed into Utah’s best running back ever, ripping off three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to finish in 2019 with the school’s all-time career rushing mark of 4,067 yards.
This all leads to an obvious point, followed by an obvious question. There is a certain standard being maintained in the Utes backfield as each of the last six seasons and 11 of the last 15 have featured a 1,000-yard running back.
So, who’s next?
That question is not easily answered, which is a good thing because, on paper, running backs coach Kiel McDonald has four of even five legitimate options capable of doing damage out of the backfield. As fall camp rolls on and the Nov. 7 opener against Arizona looms, it is a matter of figuring out which piece or even pieces fit best with what Utah is trying to do on offense.
“Some guys might have packages, some guys might get three or four plays, some guys might get 20 carries, some guys might get seven catches,” McDonald said on a Zoom call with reporters last week. “Whatever your role is, you need to be able to attack and understand your role.”
The running back competition in fall camp is expected to boil down to junior Devin Brumfield and sophomore Jordan Wilmore. Both played behind Moss last season, Brumfield finishing with 273 yards on 59 carries, Wilmore with 209 yards on 49 carries.
Brumfield has also proven capable as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, hauling in nine passes for 41 yards last season, while also showing to be adept in pass protection.
“For me, it’s just making sure I do what I have to do to show the coaches I can be that guy. I know the competition is strong in the room, so I can take a step back any day, so I have to come out and give my best every day.”
Including Brumfield and Wilmore, the depth in the running backs room is promising, but unproven. McDonald has been high on speedy, multifaceted true freshman Ty Jordan, but he has obviously yet to take a snap, nor has redshirt freshman Micah Bernard. Redshirt junior TJ Green has played in 25 games, but only carried the ball 59 times.
Not long after Utah conducted its first of two fall camp scrimmages on Saturday afternoon, Whittingham told reporters that the running back depth was coming into focus. Specifically, at this point, Brumfield, Wilmore, Bernard and Jordan will make up the depth chart, with Green as the odd-man out.
Green entered the transfer portal on Tuesday.
It now becomes a question of where those four fall on the two-deep. Whittingham has indicated a number of times since camp began that Jordan has impressed and is expected to see the field right away. Although, it is unlikely Jordan would be an every-down option like Brumfield or Wilmore would be.
“I would like to have things solidified over the next two weeks, who’s going to be one, two and three at least,” McDonald said. "We’re going to narrow that list down after the scrimmage, and then it will be solidified the following week.
Added Brumfield: “It’s a real challenge for us, but if we just come out and do our jobs, we can get that done. We know we’ve had a great back for the last several years, so the competition is high. I think we’re just going out there and putting our best on the field every day.”