(First in a series of position-by-position previews of the 2014 Buffs to be posted on CUBuffs.com during preseason camp. Today: Running backs)

BOULDER – Like many freshmen football players stepping onto any college campus, Michael Adkins II arrived at the University of Colorado last summer a little starry eyed but grounded enough to believe he could create a place for himself on the field.

It took a couple of games before his coaches recognized the need and got him up to speed, but once that happened Adkins’ niche was pretty much discovered. And he didn’t disappoint.

He returns for the 2014 season a year older, undoubtedly a season wiser and hopeful of establishing himself as one of CU’s featured running backs as well as an up-and-comer at his position in the Pac-12 Conference.

“I came in with the thought I’d have a chance to play for sure just from talking with the coaches in the recruiting process,” Adkins said. “My first play, first carry (at Oregon State), I just went out and ran the ball and it was kind of crazy, like a shock. After that it just felt like football again. Everything slowed down once I started getting the concepts down and started to pick up my backers and read my linemen. Everything slowed down. But first off, it was fast – kind of a blur really.”

But when the picture cleared, Adkins had done quite well in his college debut. Although CU lost its 2013 Pac-12 opener 44-17 in Corvallis, Adkins offered a glimpse of his abilities by rushing for 98 yards on 14 carries.

“I was excited to play and make a contribution to the team,” Adkins said. “It was a different environment, especially playing in the Pac-12.”

Adkins said his coaches at San Diego’s Helix High School “prepared me for this level, as far as film study and stuff like that. But the main thing I took away from last season was what it takes to be a great back in the Pac-12 and in college football as far as the work ethic. You have to work to be what you want to be.”

Adkins, a sophomore, joins junior Christian Powell and senior Tony Jones to give the Buffaloes’ offense three experienced and capable running backs. That threesome led CU in rushing last season, with Adkins’ 59.4 yard average in nine games the best among the trio and the best on the team.

“We’ve got a pretty good stable of experience and a nice mixture of guys who haven’t been on the field as much,” said running backs/fullbacks coach Klayton Adams. “With those three you’ve got pretty good experience and a nice mix of talent . . . (Adkins) brings kind of an explosive element with him. He’s a year older and more ready now. He was redshirting last season’s first couple of games, but for him now it’s just a matter of cleaning up some details.”

Size-wise, Jones and Adkins are the water bugs to Powell’s water buffalo. Powell is a muscular 230-pounder, Adkins 195 and Jones 185. “‘CP’ has played a lot of football here,” Adams said of Powell. “I’m excited to see what his development brings. He’s worked hard over the summer on speed and strength, and he’s also a guy who can be put in a lot of different spots to help the football team.”

Another player who will draw more than a cursory look in August camp is redshirt freshman Phillip Lindsay, a 5-8, 175-pounder.  “Everybody – including myself – is excited to see him on the field,” Adams said. “I think he brings a different element. He’s not as big as a Christian Powell or Michael Adkins but he tries to run like he’s 250 pounds. He’s got good feet and explosiveness. I think he’s gotten to a level where he’s pretty comfortable with what we’re doing offensively as well.”

Also returning at running back are sophomore Terrence Crowder and senior Malcolm Creer – and Adams speaks highly of both. Crowder, he said, “will look like a different guy when people see him in his pads.” That’s because Crowder has slimmed down from nearly 230 pounds to a lean 210. He’s matched that weight loss with a gain in his knowledge of CU’s offense. Said Adams: “He’s understanding at a higher level what we’re doing offensively and he’s comfortable with it.”

After battling nearly a career full of injuries, Creer is healthy and will push for a place on the depth chart. “He’s done a great job after some major injuries,” Adams said. “Both of those guys (Crowder, Creer) are finally to the point where their bodies are 100 percent. It’s tough to get them all reps; there’s not a guy there you don’t feel good about.”

Depth at the position precluded CU recruiting any more running backs, but Kyle Evans (San Jose Archbishop Mitty) walked on and scholarship freshman Donovan Lee (West Hill, Calif., Chaminade College Prep) likely will split time in camp between receiver and running back.

Adams is pleased with the entire running back corps. “I feel good about the whole bunch,” he said. “There’s not any knuckleheads in that group.”

CU will frequently utilize a fullback, and Adams gets good vibes from that bunch as well. Powell’s size and versatility make him a sure bet to see duty at two positions. But how much fullback Powell plays will be a week-to-week, defense-by-defense proposition.

“He’s one of our top tailbacks, so we’ve got to find a way to get him on the field in the different personnel groupings,” Adams said. “It’s always going to be a question of how do you put your best eleven out there? There will be times when it’s good to have him in at fullback because you’ve got another player who’s a good tailback as well. There’s also going to be times when we’re in one-back sets when you definitely want ‘CP’ in the game. It’s good to be able to use him in both of those roles.”

But Adams has other personnel options at the fullback spot. Redshirt freshman George Frazier (6-2, 250) is another big guy who’s recovered from a knee injury suffered shortly before spring practice began. Missing spring drills cost Frazier valuable evaluation time by the coaches, but Adams believes “the tools are there. He’s incredibly bright and a real tough guy. I’m excited to see in camp what he’s capable of doing.”

There’s not that much mystery surrounding Jordan Murphy, a 6-0, 235-pound junior who transferred two seasons ago from Colorado State. Murphy, said Adams, made spring strides that should enhance the position’s depth. “At the end of the day you’ve got a guy who’s started games (for CSU) and knows exactly what to do. I think we’re pretty well settled at that position.”

In fact, the offense as a whole should be more settled, more in tune to Mike MacIntyre’s scheme and more experienced. “Last year it was a new coaching staff and new scheme,” Adkins said. “I think fall camp this year is going to be a lot more productive just because we know the plays and can run them faster. We can get into the technicalities of them. That aspect of being experienced is going to help us a lot. Everybody’s older now . . . we should be able to play faster instead of thinking about a lot of stuff.”


Running backs/fullbacks

Coach: Klayton Adams, second season on CU staff

Returning starters: Christian Powell, Jr.; Tony Jones, Sr.; Michael Adkins II, So.

Returnees: Malcolm Creer, Sr.; Terrence Crowder, So.; Jesse Hiss (FB); Phillip Lindsay, RS-Fr.; George Frazier (FB), RS-Fr.; Clay Jones (FB), Jr.; Jordan Murphy (FB), Jr.

Newcomers: Kyle Evans, Fr. (WO); Donovan Lee, Fr. (also will play WR).

Key losses: Alex Wood (FB/TE), Sr.; Donta Abron, So. (transfer to JC).

Stat line: The top three leading rushers (Adkins, Powell, Jones) return to an offense that ran for 120.8 yards a game last season. That’s 10 more per outing than in 2012. That upward trend could continue if O-line newcomers catch on early and show steady improvement. Adkins averaged 59.4 yards in 2013, Powell 46.8, Jones 20.8. The trio accounted for 10 rushing TDs, Adkins getting six of the scores.

Bottom line: At 230 pounds, Powell is the biggest of the experienced backs and will be called on to occasionally play fullback. In contrast, Adkins, Ford and promising redshirt freshman Lindsay supply the speed. A boon to the fullback spot could be the return of Frazier, a 250-pounder who has spent most of his time since spring ball on the injury list. But the knee he injured pre-spring is healed and Adams is eager to see how far Frazier has come. Adams also says Murphy, a transfer from CSU two seasons ago, “brings a lot of experience and consistency” to the fullback spot.

Next: Tight ends

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU