Look up the definition of workhorse back, and you are likely to find a photo of Connecticut's Lyle McCombs.
In two seasons, McCombs has carried the ball a whopping 518 times for the Huskies -- one of seven players with at least 500 carries in the past two seasons. According to ESPN Stats & Information, McCombs is the last man standing of the group. In other words, there are no other returning backs with as many carries as he had the past two seasons.
Depth has been a big reason why UConn has relied so heavily on him, but McCombs also has proven he can shoulder the load. I asked new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist if he wants McCombs to be a workhorse back again, or whether he wants to try and even up the carries more this season.
"I’m not going to force it," Weist said. "And it all comes down to, if he’s out of the game, who’s in the game? I could be a workhorse guy, but I’m not going to force it based on if we have another back or two. It’s hard to keep some guys off the field. Lyle has done a good job, Joe Williams has done a good job. Joe’s really unproven from that standpoint but he’s very talented. Max DeLorenzo has been a good player for us but Lyle, I’m excited about his playmaking ability."
The Huskies hoped to rely on Martin Hyppolite this season, but his status remains unclear after he was seriously injured in a car accident in February. So for the spring, UConn was left to rely primarily on McCombs, Williams and DeLorenzo as it works to rebound following a miserable year running the football.
McCombs took a step back after a 1,000-yard season as a freshman, rushing for 860 yards on 243 carries. DeLorenzo had the next highest total among the running backs, with 36 carries for 119 yards. For his part, McCombs says he is using not only his performance last season but the team results from 2011 and 2012 as extra motivation.
"I’m very motivated," McCombs said in a phone interview. I have still yet to play in a bowl game, still have yet to get a Big East title, so I'm motivated to work hard, and I know my teammate are motivated to work hard this year."
McCombs says he likes what Weist has brought to the offense so far, noting he feels his group is much more aggressive. "Just the receivers blocking, the offensive line blocking, the running backs blocking -- it’s a more aggressive approach to offense. I think it will hep us tremendously."
Despite all the carries, McCombs is not the biggest back in the world. In fact he is relatively small, comparatively speaking. Last season, McCombs played at 169 pounds. He says he has gained 10 in the offseason, and wants to put on five to 10 pounds more to improve his strength so he can break more tackles.
"If anything I feel faster and quicker than I was last year," he said. "The offseason program has put some weight on me and made me get stronger. I haven’t lost speed. I’ve gained speed, and I hope to keep on going as the season comes."
And if that means another workhorse back type of season, so be it.