How The Utah RB Position Is Performing Through Spring Football

Mar 29, 2021, 9:48 AM | Updated: 11:06 am
TJ Pledger - Utah Utes...
Utah Utes running back TJ Pledger. (Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah football program is helping two new running backs get adjusted to the program, with only one scholarship player from 2020 returning.

Utah will rely on three running backs during spring ball, including Oklahoma transfer T.J. Pledger, former LSU RB Chris Curry and returner Micah Bernard to carry the load into the 2021 season. The Utes will also get true freshman Ricky Parks enrolled and rolling with the team during the summer.

Going into the 2020 season, Utah had a position battle with five guys in fall camp with Jordan Wilmore, Devin Brumfield, T.J. Green, Ty Jordan and Micah Bernard. Ty Jordan quickly emerged as the lead back during the season, leading to Green (during camp), Brumfield and Wilmore (before last game) to enter the transfer portal. Then Jordan tragically passed away on Christmas night, leaving Bernard as the only running back on scholarship.

The Utah coaching staff hit the transfer portal and picked up Pledger and Curry. Both are enrolled at Utah and participating in spring football. Head coach Kyle Whittingham thinks that it will be a four-man race heading into fall camp.

“As of now very similar situation as last year going into fall camp with three guys we got at the top of the chart now and then Ricky Parks in the summer but that could change,” Whittingham said. “We still have nine practices left this spring and things can happen. People can work their way up or down the depth chart but as it sits right now, that’s the best bet is that it will be a four-guy competition between the four guys we’re talking about with TJ Pledger, Chris Curry, Micah Bernard, who are here with us now and then Ricky Parks being added in the summer.”

Here is the assessment of the three running backs two weeks into spring football.

Micah Bernard Only Returner Among Utah Running Backs

In 2020, Bernard ran the ball 15 times for 76 yards, along with four receptions for 25 yards. He has worked on his game and is trying to become a more physical back.

“I’m just focusing on being more physical,” Bernard said. “When I got here, I was smaller than everybody else and stuff like that. So I learned that it’s college now, it’s not high school. I can’t just run around everybody, I got to actually run through somebody. So, I’ve been doing that lately. I think that’s the biggest thing I had to focus on and that’s what I am doing now.”

The Utes held their first live work of spring football on Saturday. Bernard had a great practice and Kyle Whittingham has noticed his progress since entering the program.

“He’s come a long way since he came to the program,” Whittingham stated. “He’s got himself bigger and stronger, is close to 200 pounds now. Smart kid and probably, if you had to look at just the live work on Saturday, he probably graded the best of the three. When you talk about just that one isolated portion of practice, which we put a lot of weight on the live work and what we consider the best parameter of where the players are and where they are in pecking order and Micah really had a good Saturday for us.”

TJ Pledger

Pledger spent three seasons and played 23 games for the Sooners from 2018-20. He racked up 179 rushing yards on 30 carries as a freshman in 2018. As a sophomore in 2019, Pledger had 65 yards on 10 attempts and one touchdown. During the 2020 season, he had 451 yards on 95 carries and 5 touchdowns.

Through his career in Norman, Oklahoma, Pledger had 135 carries for 695 yards and 6 touchdowns. He caught 11 passes for 89 yards. He spoke to the media on Monday about why he chose Utah football.

“Really just the tradition Utah holds at the running back position, and just building a great relationship with coach McDonald, and just being able to look at the opportunity and understand what the position I’m walking into,” Pledger said. “I am aiming to take advantage of that.”

Whittingham gave Pledger a nice comparison to one of the great Utah running backs in program history.

“TJ more of a scatback,” Whittingham mentioned. “I guess you could maybe compare him to John White that was here several years ago, terrific running back for us and more that type of runner.”

Chris Curry

Curry spent three seasons with LSU from 2018-20 where he was a member of the 2019 National Championship team. As a freshman in 2019, Curry played in four games, with 8 carries for 2 yards. He was able to utilize his redshirt that season.

As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Curry had 38 carries for 189 yards, along with 3 catches for 23 yards in 7 games. This past season, he recorded 45 carries for 145 yards. Through three years in Baton Rouge, Curry 91 rush attempts for 336 yards, along with 4 receptions for 33 yards.

When Curry was at LSU during the national championship season, starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire was injured for the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma. Quarterback Joe Burrow recommended to the coaches that Curry should start in his place.

“First and foremost, Joe Burrow is an amazing guy, a great character, great human being,” Curry said. “It’s an honor just to play with a Heisman Trophy winner and for him to speak up for me just speaks volumes.”

Kyle Whittingham looks at Curry as a different running back compared to Pledger and Bernard.

“Chris Curry is a bigger kid and more tackle-to-tackle oriented, although he does have good speed and quickness to get outside but he’s much bigger kid, 20 to 25 pounds heavier than TJ (Pledger),” Whittingham said.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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How The Utah RB Position Is Performing Through Spring Football