Memphis Football Preview: Running Backs & Special Teams

This is the second piece of a five part series previewing the 2018 Memphis Tigers Football Team. Today we will focus on the Memphis Running Back group as well as the Special Teams unit. 

Returning Running Backs

Darrell Henderson

Henderson was named to the 2017 All-American Athletic Conference 2nd-Team after leading the Tigers in rushing last season with 1,154 yards on 130 carries. Henderson’s yardage total was good for 6th best in Memphis Football history, and he became just the 8th Tiger to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in a single season. The rising junior speedster put together a string of 5-straight 100-yard games last season and finished with 7 games of 100 or more rushing yards. Henderson also sprinkled in 2 runs of 80+ yards and enters 2018 at 14th on the Tigers All-Time Rushing List.

Henderson scored 9 touchdowns on the ground, but is also a big threat in the passing game, as his speed and shiftiness make him ever so elusive. Darrell has accumulated 2,462 all-purpose yards throughout the first 2 years of his career (16th all-time), including 226 yards through the air last season and another 250 on kick returns.

Coming into 2018, it has been noted that Henderson has put on some added muscle weighing in at 205 pounds compared to the 175 he was listed at prior to last season, as outlined by Tigers Beat Writer, Evan Barnes, of The Commercial Appeal in this article. Henderson says that the added weight won’t slow him down, but allow him to handle a larger workload this season, with new and unproven starting QB Brady White replacing 1st Team All-AAC QB Riley Ferguson.

Henderson has gone through most of fall camp in a green non-contact uniform, basically because the coaching staff already knows what he can do on the field and there is no sense in risking a preseason injury. Henderson is going to be leaned upon heavily this year, and as being on the Watch Lists for the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards might suggest, the Tigers are expecting him to continue to produce at a high level. Another 1,000 yard season is definitely not out of the question for Henderson and will be needed if the Tigers want to get back to the AAC Championship Game.

Patrick Taylor Jr.

While he may not get the attention Henderson does, make no mistake about it, Patrick Taylor Jr. is just as vital to the success of the Tigers Football Program. Taylor, a 6’3 225-pound junior, has played in 25 of 26 games in his college career and finished 2nd to Henderson in rushing yards last year with 866 yards on a team-high 157 carries. Taylor finished the season with 13 touchdowns on the ground, good for a tie in 5th place in the Memphis record books, and tied a program-high when he rushed for 4 TD’s at Houston last year.

Being the workhorse back has given Taylor the moniker of “Thunder” to Henderson’s lighting, as Taylor has racked up 250 carries in his first two seasons and 1,412 career rushing yards. Taylor finished the season with 3 straight games of 100 or more rushing yards.

He can also make plays as a receiver, below is his career long reception that came at home against UCLA in early 2017. Taylor will probably be leaned on even more heavily than he was last season, like Henderson, and he too will need to be a big part of the offense if the Tigers are going to be successful.

Tony Pollard

THE MOST ELECTRIFYING MAN IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL… is set to see an increased role in Mike Norvell’s offense, which is predicated on getting the ball to playmakers in space with an opportunity to…make plays. To say that I am excited about Tony Pollard’s potential on the offensive side of the ball this year would be a BIG ASS UNDERSTATEMENT.

Pollard is nationally known for his ability in the kickoff return game, coming into the 2018 season on several preseason All-American Lists after amassing 881 return yards and 4 touchdowns on 22 returns in 2017. The 6 foot, 208 pound junior has 6 total career return scores and is just shy of 2,000 career return yards. Pollard, who was named AAC Special Teams Player of the Year last season, has already scampered for 3,183 all-purpose yards in his career putting him 3rd on the program’s all-time list.

MORE: Memphis Football Preview: Quarterbacks

It may surprise some that Pollard was the team’s second leading receiver last year behind Anthony Miller, hauling in 36 receptions for 536 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns out of the backfield and slot positions. Pollard is approaching 1,000 career receiving yards, and is expected to be used in a multitude of ways once again this season.

If there is ever a time to watch a highlight video, it is right now. Tony Pollard has great vision to go along with his strength and speed. He could be in for a very special season. (Background Music has NSFW language)

Rounding out the triple-threat, Pollard was also the team’s 3rd leading rusher last season, carrying the football 30 times for 230 yards and 2 scores. Pollard will continue to be counted on in both the ground game and the passing attack, and I expect him to be the go-to-guy for Brady White this season. Pollard will be expected to take the next step and produce even more offensively than he has the previous two years, while continuing to be a threat to opposing team’s kickoff units. The sky is the limit.

Tim Taylor

Taylor is a redshirt freshman from East High School in Memphis, who led East to a Class 4A State Championship in 2016 and was named the 43rd best player in the state by ESPN. At 5’10 215 pounds Taylor could be in play for some carries this season, as he has showed promise in fall camp, with all 3 of the returning backs wearing the non-contact jerseys throughout the duration of preseason, there were plenty of opportunities for Taylor and the other young guys.

Kenny Gainwell

Gainwell is a true freshman from Yazoo County, Mississippi where he accumulated 4,903 all-purpose yards throughout his high school career and 75 rushing touchdowns. Gainwell has spent the majority of camp shadowing Tony Pollard, so we could see him in the backfield and lined up at receiver. He seems to have big play ability and is someone we are going to want to keep an eye on.

Marquavius Weaver is a redshirt freshman from Bartlett who could soak up some carries, and Cameron Fleming is another true freshman who has shown flashes of being able to contribute. Gregory “Butta” Williams from White Station is also on the roster, and  was electric in the return game in high school and showed his big play ability time and time again.

MORE: The Chief’s Wish List For Memphis Madness

Quick Look At Special Teams

We already talked about the returning AAC Special Teams Player of the year, Tony Pollard, and by now you should know that he is awesome. You should also expect teams to try to avoid kicking to him, however last year Special Teams Coach, Joe Lorig, moved Pollard around in the return formation to confuse the opposing kicker, and by damned if it didn’t work a couple of times. Hopefully, teams are dumb and kick the ball to Pollard.

Kicker

Sophomore Riley Patterson tied Jake Elliot’s school record for Extra Points Made and set a new record for Extra Points Attempted when he finished 63-64 last season as a true freshman. Heading into the 2018 season, Patterson has connected on 59 straight Extra Point Attempts.

Ranked as the #4 kicker in the nation out of high school, Patterson eventually won the full-time job due to his successful start to the season. However, he finished the season just 11-16 on Field Goal Attempts and missed 2 in the AAC Championship game and 1 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

The Tigers desperately need Patterson to get into a rhythm early in the season and be someone the can count on in clutch situations. I think he has a bounce back year in him.

Punter

Redshirt freshman Adam Williams, from Lebanon, Tennessee is listed at 6’5 and 230 pounds and is set to be the starting punter this year. In this profile by Evan Barnes of The CA, Mike Norvell is quoted as saying “I think he may be one of the most talented punters I’ve ever been around.” Hey, it works for me.

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Feature Image: USA Today/David D. Stacy

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