Joe Bergeron: Forgotten force for the Horns

AUSTIN, Texas -- These days, there's lots of hype setting up in Texas' backfield.

Malcolm Brown arrived in Austin a year ago as the nation's No. 2 running back. At 215 pounds, he brought hope the days of power running were back in burnt orange.

There's no parade scheduled (yet?) for Johnathan Gray's arrival this summer, but the nation's No. 1 running back signed on with the Longhorns in February.

With Brown, the two form the most highly recruited duo of backs in the country. Come fall, neither may be the starter.

That job could go to Joe Bergeron.

"He's really good. He's big. He's strong. He can catch," said Longhorns coach Mack Brown.

Don't see Bergeron's name among the nation's elite that flock to Texas every February? No worries. You may see it very often very soon.

The 241-pound power runner was the nation's No. 1 fullback in the same class as Malcolm Brown, but didn't rank in the top 75 prospects in his own state.

He stepped into Texas' crowded backfield as a true freshman and finished second on the team in carries and yardage behind Brown, and competition between the two for the starting job is heating up in the spring.

"His weight has fluctuated between 238 and 241, and he hasn't lost one ounce of speed. And some of his high school teammates came to one of the junior days and saw him and said, 'My gosh, he looks like he's really lost weight.'" Mack Brown said. "I walked over and asked him. And he said, 'I'm 241. I've actually gained weight.' But he's lost body fat. He's in great shape."

Getting in shape and staying there was Brown's chief concern for both of his young backs this spring, and not just in trimming body fat.

Both struggled with injuries throughout their first seasons on the field, and those strains continued in offseason conditioning workout, reigniting concerns.

But during the spring, both have proved they can take the punishment required as running backs in Texas' offense and stay on the field.

"To play and be a great player, you've got to stay healthy. It's a harsh thing to say, but if you're a guy who stays hurt and can't be on the field consistently, then you'll never be a great player," Brown said. "One of the things that Malcolm and Joe needed to accomplish this spring, and they've done it so far, is make sure that they took care of their bodies and they stretch properly and they eat properly and they get well and can stay well, because it's such a bruising position that we're going to have enough guys next year we can rotate guys and we can keep them out there just a limited amount of time and keep them fresh."

Brown noted that past stars like Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles and Heisman winner Ricky Williams were constantly healthy.

Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Gray will get their touches come fall, but Bergeron carried the ball 100 fewer times than Brown did last season.

Those numbers could even out if Bergeron keeps at his current pace and if, like Benson, Charles and Williams, he stays healthy.

"Cedric Benson against Michigan, the first play of the game, hyperextended his knee and the doctor said I'm not sure I would play if I was you because you're a first-round draft choice. He said: Tape it up, I'm going to play. He went back in and played every play," Mack Brown said. "That's the attitude we want to get on this football team. We've had too many guys in my estimation hurt. Not talking about those two. But in general. We've had too many guys that will miss a game or miss a practice. So we're putting a tremendous amount of emphasis on who is out there every day, who is consistent every day, who gets ready to practice every day and who is excited about playing every day."