Anyone performing a postmortem on last season's University of Akron football team would have discovered one of the root causes of the team’s ailments was its inability to run the football.
Averaging fewer than 100 yards a game with the team’s leading rusher gaining under 500 yards for the season, the Zips run game hamstrung the offense directly and the defense indirectly.
That is something first-year coach Tom Arth understands needs to be remedied, although the competition to lug the ball for UA remains wide open.
After Tuesday’s late afternoon practice, Arth said there was no leader in the clubhouse for the starting job and, if there were, he is not likely giving away that fact.
He mentioned veteran Deltron Sands and walk-ons Brandon Lee and Michiah Burton, who is “showing up all over the field,” Arth said. Burton has impressed on offense and special teams.
“Deltron and B-Lee have done well," Arth said. "Devanier [Floyd] is really coming on strong here of late. Michiah’s a young guy, but he’s productive every time he gets in, he does well."
Floyd, who was selected as a Beacon Journal All-Star after rushing for 1,465 yards and 21 touchdowns on 170 carries as a senior at East High School, could be an intriguing option.
“Devanier Floyd has gotten better every day,” Arth said of the 5-foot-9, 215-pound redshirt freshman. “He’s had a few good practices in a row, which is exciting.”
Here’s the thing, however: Arth isn’t married to the concept of giving one back the lion’s share of carries.
“Whatever is best for the team. Every situation is different," he said. "If you have a number of guys capable of helping the team and each brings something different to the table, I think it’s important to give them all an opportunity.
“We’ve certainly done that in the past where we’ve rotated three backs pretty evenly, and we’ve had some years where we had one back get 25 carries a game.”
And surprisingly, that fact doesn’t matter to two of the running backs named by Arth. The 2018 season left a bad taste in the mouths of both Sands, a redshirt senior who appeared to be on an upward trajectory in 2017 before suffering a season-ending injury, and Floyd.
They share a belief on what the upcoming season should be, and neither hesitated to state they’re motivated for the upcoming season.
“That's what makes me and my entire group go really hard,” Sands said. “We don't worry about what everybody says. The running game was weak last year, but we know that.”
Floyd echoed that sentiment.
“These coaches brought a spark to us that we needed. ... It's a different kind of push,” he said after Tuesday’s practice at InfoCision Stadium. “Our running backs coach, he's really caring. He wants us to be great on and off the field. He just pushes us to our furthest [limit].”
Whatever Arth and his coaching staff are selling, the players appear to be buying. They’ve apparently quashed their respective egos. Personal goals? Non-existent. Team goals? They’re personal.
“I'm a big team player. I don't really worry about starting,” Floyd said. “I just try to do my role the best as I can. As long as the team wins, it's a win in my heart and I'm good.”
Starting also remains a secondary thought for Sands.
“I really don't care about starting,” the 5-foot-8 and 195-pounder said. “I just know that when I get out there I'll do my job and when anyone in my group gets out there, they'll do their job as well.”
UA wide receiver Jonah Morris underwent season-ending surgery for an undisclosed issue this week. ... Julian Hicks, a wide receiver who’s been having a heck of a camp, left the field Tuesday and appeared to be holding his shoulder.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.