'Bell cow' or rotation: UVA running back room runs deep
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- There is not a more crowded room in the McCue Center than the running backs with each looking for a chance a ringing the bell this fall.
"What I know is we're all going in and we're all going to compete," senior running back Mike Hollins said, "Even if coach says there will be a rotation or there will be a bell cow, we're going to compete like no other. We're going to compete like we are the bell cow."
Virginia carries nine running backs on the roster this fall camp, including the team's leading returning rusher in Perris Jones, Hollins, Clemson transfer Kobe Pace, sophomore Xavier Brown, juniors Cody Brown and Amaad Foston, true freshmen Donte Hawthorne and Noah Vaughn along with spring game standout walk-on Jack Griese.
The Cavaliers saw five different running backs receive carries last season and the hope by the time September 2 rolls around is there will be three-to-four left standing out of the nine.
"We're going to find ways to identify three or four guys, who can be playmakers, they give us a chance week in and week out to win football games," running backs coach Keith Gaither said, "I think we've got more than three or four, but we're going to identify the best three or four that gives us a chance and that's who we're going to roll with and you hope you get a bell cow."
Jones emerged as an early favorite of Tony Elliott's coaching staff for his well-rounded game after beginning his career as a walk-on and briefly switching to defensive back. Last season, Jones started eight out of ten games and rushed for 365 yards.
Hollins started the final two games of the regular season and accounted for a couple big plays in a struggling offense. Similarly, Brown gave the Cavaliers a jolt out of the backfield as a true freshman, rushing for 210 yards and a touchdown.
The newcomer to the race is former Clemson running back Kobe Pace. In Tony Elliott's final season as the offensive coordinator for the Tigers, Pace rushed for 641 yards and six touchdowns.
"The competition is good in there, I love the competition," Pace said, "I believe it keeps us grounded, keeps us motivated, keeps us going every day just because there are so many guys in the room, so I feel like every day we come out here we're going to push each other."
While the running backs will continue to sort out the pecking order in fall camp, much of their success will come down to how improved the offensive line is. Jones said in the spring he could begin to see the running lanes opening up thanks to the work of new offensive line coach Terry Heffernan.
If the holes open up, Hollins says a running back will be there to take advantage this fall.
"I just know it's going to be a show coming from the running back room every game," Hollins said.