Albany State freshman and ex-Westover star Dalviness Greene is one of several running backs at Albany State who could see significant carries this season. (Staff photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — In his first stint as offensive coordinator at Albany State from 2009-10, Steve Smith led two different quarterbacks to career years and conference Player of the Year honors.
2013, however, might be the year of the running backs.
Smith was reluctant to name a starter before practice Tuesday, but he did say that a group of rushers will get significant carries this season, including freshman Dalviness Greene, a Westover grad and former Herald Dynamite Dozen selection who started during Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage.
Greene, who is fighting for playing time with senior Kareem Hess, junior Adrian Alexander and Valdosta State transfer Phillip Moore, caught the eyes of head coach Mike White with his performance in the scrimmage.
“He had a couple of runs where he looked pretty good,” White said. “I saw a rushing attack (Saturday) that was really physical.”
During ASU’s 2010 HBCU national championship season, Smith alternated the starting running back position between Robert Welton and Ronnie Davis with Hess receiving plenty of carries off the bench.
Smith is expecting a similar three-headed attack this season.
“Yeah, we might have a guy who starts the game, but we are going to have a trio of guys who can continuously get reps,” Smith said. “That way you never have that one guy who gets overly tired. You always have a fresh body able to come in and do the same exact thing the other guy is going to do.”
Nathan Hoyte led the Rams in rushing last season as a senior with 917 yards on 190 carries, but no other rusher had more than 150 yards or 50 attempts. Alexander carried the ball 18 times for 18 yards, and Hess had eight carries for six yards before an injury sidelined him early in the season.
Experience is almost non-existent in the backfield this season, but the potential and depth is overflowing from what might be the most surprising and successful position at ASU this season.
And a lot of that success could run through Greene, who rushed for 1,614 yards and 12 TDs as a senior at Westover.
“He did have a lot of good runs and did a lot of good things (Saturday), but there are some things he has to get better at as well,” said Smith, who added that Greene still needs to fine-tune his blocking and route running. “But as far as running the ball right now, he is doing a good job.”
Greene slashed his way through defenses at Westover, where he averaged 7.54 yards per carry last year, and was one of the Rams’ top signees during the offseason.
Moments before jumping into a running drill at the beginning of Tuesday’s practice, he talked about what he brings to the ASU backfield.
“I feel like I have the vision to see the holes. That’s one of my strong points,” he said. “This year we are going to have a three-headed monster. I don’t know what three it’s going to be, but we have a lot of talent and are deep in the backfield.”
The likely choices to join Greene as part of the “three-headed monster” are Hess and Alexander, who have both played parts in ASU’s backfield even before last season. As a freshman in 2011, Alexander finished with 35 carries for 238 yards and three touchdowns and was named the MVP of the Fountain City Classic against Fort Valley State when he exploded onto the scene with 110 yards and all three of his TDs. Hess has battled injuries throughout his career with the Rams, but was on the field long enough in 2010 to finish with 38 carries for 182 yards and two scores — his best performance since joining ASU in 2008.
Hess sat out of Saturday’s scrimmage with a minor hamstring injury but fully participated in Tuesday’s practice and said he will be ready for the Sept. 7 opener against North Greenville.
“I have been praying to God to have an injury-free season,” said Hess, whose season-ending injuries at ASU have included two ACL injuries, a fractured leg and a broken finger. “People are always picking on me and telling me that I stay hurt. All my accidents have been freak accidents though.”
Hess watched from the sidelines Saturday and said the Rams’ running game, with the help of an experienced offensive line led by Victor Moli and Hakeem Lassiter, powered its way to an impressive performance.
“The offensive line is looking good, and everybody is looking like they can produce in the backfield,” Hess said. “On Saturday everybody looked good running the ball. Every running back that got in Saturday ran hard.”
SMITH QUIET ABOUT STARTING QB: With the season opener less than two weeks away, Smith is still reluctant to name a starting quarterback.
Grambling State transfer Frank Rivers, returning third-string QB Rodney Castlin and redshirt freshman Charod Williams all split reps during Saturday’s scrimmage. And while Rivers started on the opening play, Smith wasn’t ready to name him the starter for the season opener.
In fact, Smith said he doesn’t plan on divulging that information until the team steps on the field in North Greenville.
“When do we play? And what time do we play?” Smith asked during an interview before Tuesday’s practice. “Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. I will name the starter then.
“The guys will know. The team will know, but we will not let it be known until Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. who our starting quarterback is.”
Smith, who directed QBs A.J. McKenna and Stanley Jennings to breakout seasons in 2009-10, said his reasoning for keeping the decision within the team was to be able to focus on North Greenville the next two weeks.
“It’s so we can focus on winning the football game,” Smith said. “Because once (we name a starter) everybody wants to talk about this and that with the starting quarterback. Sometimes you have to keep things in perspective, and I want these guys to compete.”
Rivers, an outsider’s pick to win the competition, said he doesn’t mind the secrecy.
“I’m just ready to play,” Rivers said. “Whether I’m the starter or not, I will be ready to play. We all have to be prepared to play.”
All three of the QBs have had some success during the preseason competition.
“I feel like each one of them has their own characteristics and each one of them does something better than the other,” Smith said. “Each one of them is putting themselves in better situations each time. I think the biggest thing for them is to continue to compete and focus on the work getting done on the field.”