Zips have own version of four horseman, battle injuries during camp

“Even though 2007 All-Conference running back Bryan Williams, the University of Akron’s leading rusher last season, will not play on offense this season, the Zips backfield looks more than formidable. With four solid running backs vying for carriers, head coach J.”

Even though 2007 All-Conference running back Bryan Williams, the University of Akron’s leading rusher last season, will not play on offense this season, the Zips backfield looks more than formidable.

With four solid running backs vying for carriers, head coach J.D. Brookhart has a number of different options.

Senior Dennis Kennedy, a 2006 All-Mid-American Conference Second Team honoree, entered summer camp healthy and in the best shape of his career.

Last season, Kennedy lost his starting spot, and the backup spot, to Williams, a Second Team All-MAC performer last season, and Alex Allen, who again is in the mix this season.

Williams and Allen combined for 1,231 rushing yards last season Williams is helping the depleted cornerback unit this season, senior Andrew Johnson will help fill the void.

Johnson is a transfer from the University of Miami (Florida) and is second to Williams as the fastest player on the Zips squad.

Brookhart’s only concern about Johnson as running back is not as a ball carrier but as pass blocker, which the fifth-year coach said Johnson has improved upon in the preseason.

Also back is senior fullback Joe Tuzze.

They are all in the upper tier of the MAC, Brookhart said. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll use all of them to keep everyone fresh.

Kennedy, who is getting the majority of the snaps with the first team in the preseason, along with Johnson, said the Zips deep backfield will be a strength this season.

We have four or five good backs that can come in and play anywhere in this league, Kennedy said. It’s exciting to see. If I come off (the field), another back is going in. If ‘Drew comes off, Alex is going and when Alex comes off, Tuzze’s coming in. It’s very exciting.

CAMP PAIN: The Zips preseason camp has been littered with injuries. The wide receiver unit had a number of players sitting out, Kennedy has missed some practices with injuries and the entire starting defensive line, as well as a backup were out with injuries at the same time.

Junior nose guard Ryan Bain, a transfer from Iowa, who will be the starter this season, has a stress reaction in his right foot he discovered during camp and Brookhart said he expects Bain to be out a while.

Sophomore Almondo Sewell, a Second Team All-Mac selection as a true freshman, also missed time, as did Eric Lively and Hasan Hazime.

Brookhart said without a healthy defensive line in training camp, the effect is also felt on the offensive side of the ball as well.

I don’t think it tests your o-line, Brookhart said. First of all it’s frustrating defensively to not have those guys, but it also gives your offense a false sense of goodness.

Brookhart said at one point during camp, they ran out of red shirts that injured players wear on the sidelines or on the field to warn other players to be cautious.

This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it, Brookhart said of the injuries.

OWEN IMPRESSES: Brookhart said that perhaps the player of the camp this year has been senior wide receiver Alphonso Owen.

Last season, the wide receiver corps totaled only 339 yards without the departed Jabari Arthur in a brand new offensive system.

Owen caught 14 passes for 159 yards last season and is the Zips top returning wide out.

He’s playing as well as anyone right now, Brookhart said. He’s really been consistently good.

GREETINGS FROM BUFFALO: Buffalo Bills rookie cornerback Reggie Corner surprised his former teammates by returning to UA to watch an afternoon practice at Schrank Field.

Corner, who was drafted in the fourth round (114th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft, said the Bills were given two days off following the team’s 24-21 preseason win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Toronto and decided to come to the area to see his family and watch his old teammates.

Corner has the Zips second most interceptions in school history and has three tackles after two preseason games with the Bills. In his first professional game against the Washington Redskins, Corner gained 17 return yards after Ashton Youbouty intercepted a pass and lateraled it to Corner.

As long as I keep doing what I’m doing, I think I’ll make an impact, Corner said.