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August 23, 2012Tweet Follow @GoMiddle Follow @Derrick_Griggs
Last season, Benny Cunningham was only able to play in eight games due to an injury, but is now back at full speed and ready to breakout out of the Blue Raider backfield this season. Even though he has been limited in practice, mostly to give the younger backs more reps to get acclimated to the offense, Cunningham has looked very impressive in the times he has gotten snaps.
Cunningham has that rare combination of great speed - his fastest 40-time is a 4.39 - and the ability to run downhill and bowl over defenders. Middle Tennessee fans will be happy to see more I-formation looks this year in short yardage situations, which will give Cunningham more carries and more chances to hit the homerun.
In terms of the depth chart, Cunningham is a lock to be the starting RB when the season begins, but he will have to split carries throughout the campaign with multiple playmakers that MT has at the position. Even with splitting carries, Cunningham should still have a very productive season, but only if he can stay on the field.
Projected 2012 stats - 850 rushing yards with seven TD's while hauling in 25-30 receptions out of the backfield for an additional 300 yards and three more TD's.
When it comes to who will be splitting carries with Cunningham, most of those will be going to the speedster Calhoun. The great thing about the combo is when either one is in the game, the running attack will not suffer as both are a big play threats. Calhoun shined throughout spring camp, garnering the most improved RB award, and has been making defenders miss badly in fall camp.
I do not particularly see Calhoun as the second string back; I see it more as the Blue Raiders have two starters. I would not be surprised to see the two backs split carries rather evenly during the season. These two RB's certainly have the talent to lead Middle Tennessee to a surprising season.
Projected 2012 stats - 700 rushing yards with seven TD's.
Pratcher filled in for D.D. Kyles and Cunningham last season after they both went down with injuries and ended up leading the team in rushing.
Even with what Pratcher was able to do last season, it seems as though he has been forgotten due to the talent at the position. Due to this, he will still be entering the 2012 season, once again, third on the depth chart.
To top it off, he will be battling Jeremiah Bryson for that spot. I expect Pratcher to see the field this year, though. However, he will have a significant drop in carries unless the injury bug strikes again and he is asked to fill in just as last season.
The one benefit to that, though, is that Pratcher has been there and done that. There are not many programs in the nation that have the luxury of knowing that if their top two backs go down, they have a third option with proven production history.
Projected 2012 stats - 250 rushing yards with two TD's.
Bryson was one of the top recruits coming out of local Smyrna High School, where he shined on the gridiron, but will likely be playing the waiting game for a bit before Blue Raider fans see his prowess inside of Floyd Stadium on a regular basis.
Bryson started spring practice by moving to the WR position and transitioned back to RB after the spring drills ended in order to help out with depth, but is now getting reps at both positions. His reps have been limited, but like Cunningham, Bryson has that rare combination of speed and strength - he is just not as comfortable in the offense yet as he will be.
Bryson could be the future of the Blue Raider backfield, but that will take time as he battles Pratcher for third on the depth chart. He may also strictly become a WR but only time will tell.
Projected 2012 stats - 175 rushing yards with one TD while hauling in 20-30 receptions for an additional 250 yards.
In Parker's senior year in high school, he was able to rush for 1,700 yards while reaching paydirt an astounding 21 times. Parker has seen an increase of touches in fall camp, but this has mostly been to let him get a better grasp of the offense.
He has looked very impressive with his runs and is making a serious case for some playing time this year. However, I expect him to be redshirted this season, unless the Blue Raiders use Bryson as solely a WR. If that happens, Parker will battle with Pratcher for the third spot on the depth chart.
With the likes of Bryson and Parker the future of Middle Tennessee's running game is very bright.
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