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Published: Friday, 10/28/2011

Rockets enjoy depth in offensive backfield

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Coming out of a preseason camp, the University of Toledo's running backs made up one of the deepest positions on the roster.

The Rockets returned two talented seniors in Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams, plus up-and-coming sophomore David Fluellen. The only question was how the carries would be distributed between the trio.

UT went with a three-pronged rushing attack in its first three games before Thomas went down with a broken left forearm at Syracuse on Sept. 24.

For four games, including UT's first three Mid-American Conference games, Williams and Fluellen had to carry the load without Thomas, an All-MAC honoree, and performed admirably.

Thomas returned to the field with a bang last weekend against Miami, rushing for 67 yards on his first carry. UT's other two backs didn't miss a beat either as the Rockets totaled 176 rushing yards in the first quarter with all three backs splitting time.

"It's kind of hard not to play all three of us," Thomas said. "We bring so many different elements to the game. The three-headed monster is still alive."

The plan going forward, UT coach Tim Beckman said yesterday, is to keep splitting carries between the three backs — just as the Rockets have split reps with their two quarterbacks.

"Nobody said the [two] quarterback system would work and we're [ranked] one and two in passing efficiency [in the MAC]," Beckman said. "These kids understand the plan is to win football games and they understand that's why we went out and recruited such good football players."

Although all three backs have shown the ability to make big plays, they each go about it in a different way.

Thomas (5-10, 185) is the shifty speedster, Williams (5-11, 215) is the scrappy gladiator, and Fluellen (6-0, 215) is the perfect mixture of the two.

"I'm more undersized than them," Thomas said.

"David is smooth and can change directions, Morgan is a bruiser with moves and I'm just a scatback that gets in there and makes plays whenever I can."

Because of that, the Rockets "have a lethal rushing attack," according to Thomas, and one that isn't easy to contain.

"It's just three different styles you have to prepare for, and it's kind of hard as a defensive coordinator to teach your defenders to try to tackle three different people that run the ball three different ways," he said. "We have a big advantage."

And when one of them is on the field, the first to congratulate him after a big play are the other two backs.

"It's a tight-knit group," Thomas said.

"We all want to see each other succeed. We think of each other as brothers. You always want your brothers to do good, but you always want to compete with your brothers. We're all competitive and we all want to keep each other's spirits up."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ZachSilka.



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