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A look at the running back position

Three of top four rushers return in 2007

March 26, 2007 · MT Media Relations
The Blue Raider running game showed vast improvement in 2006 and despite the loss of all-conference back Eugene Gross, the 2007 group of ball carriers possess tremendous potential, talent, and athleticism. Leading the way this season for first year coach Willie Simmons will be senior DeMarco McNair and sophomores Desmond Gee and Phillip Tanner.

"The group has done a decent job but not great by any stretch this spring," said head coach Rick Stockstill. "DeMarco McNair has to miss practice each Monday because of class, Phillip Tanner is still adjusting to coming back to the offensive side of the football, and Desmond Gee is out this spring because of offseason surgery. We just have not had the consistency but when we get all three back I think you have some pretty solid players at the position."

McNair has been patiently waiting for his opportunity and 2007 will be his time to shine. Known for his tough running, McNair rushed for a career-best 586 yards last year to go with seven touchdowns and 16 receptions. The Thomson, Ga., native turned in a personal-best 98 yards rushing on only nine attempts in the win over Arkansas State on the road.

"McNair is a tough runner who goes north and south," added Stockstill. "Where he needs to improve the most is in his route running and catching the football with consistency."

Sharing time with McNair will be Tanner, who spent 2006 as a safety on defense to help shore up depth problems. Tanner, who played in all 13 games last year, rushed for over 4,200 yards and 76 touchdowns at Justin Kimball High School in Texas.

"After a year on defense I have been real impressed with Tanner's recall," said Stockstill. "He looks stronger and more physical but needs to work on his patience and understand our blocking schemes."

The electrifying Gee will also play a big role for the Blue Raiders in the running game. Gee, a first team all-conference selection as an all-purpose player, was the Blue Raiders' best playmaker a year ago. A running back and wide receiver, Gee accounted for 27 receptions and three touchdowns while adding 277 yards on the ground and five scores. Gee led the team with a 4.5-yard per carry average.

"Dez is our wiggle guy, the one who will make you miss," said Stockstill. "He has the best hands of all our backs and is coming off a solid freshman year. Unfortunately, we don't have him out there right now but he should be ready to go when fall camp opens."

The fullback position will be a battle between Hunter Birtsch and walk-on Brodey Mann.

"I am a little disappointed with the fullback position," added Stockstill. "They are competing good and giving great effort but we simply have to get better at that position."

Birtsch, a senior from Knoxville, competed in 10 games and started a career-best four contests in 2006. Prior to his injury, Birtsch hauled in a personal-high four receptions for 27 yards. Birtsch will not compete in spring drills but hopes to be ready when fall camp opens in August.

Mann, a junior from Heath, Ohio, will also compete for playing time.

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