Training camp has taken a toll on Towson’s stable of tailbacks.
All seven running backs were held out of Wednesday’s practice at Johnny Unitas Stadium because of a variety of injuries.
Perhaps the most distressing scene involved sophomore Darius Victor -- the Colonial Athletic Association’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and the anticipated starter this fall -- applying ice to his left foot and then wearing a walking boot on the same foot.
But coach Rob Ambrose called the ailment plaguing Victor minor, saying, “He’s not going today. I fully expect him to play in the first game.”
Several other tailbacks are dealing with minor injuries. Redshirt freshman Dontea Ayres had his right leg wrapped, senior Brian Dowling had an ice pack on his right knee, and freshman Marquel Dickerson had his right arm in a sling.
“A lot of guys say, ‘These guys get to a point and they hit the wall,’” Ambrose said. “But they didn’t hit the wall. The wall hit them. But they’re bouncing back. It is a hazard of the job. To carry the ball, you better have some depth, and it’s a good thing we’ve got depth.”
But the position did suffer a significant loss. Junior Navassa Brown tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when his foot got stuck in the turf during practice Saturday. Brown, a Reisterstown native and Franklin graduate who played in eight games last season and gained 72 yards on 14 rushes, had impressed the coaching staff with his play in training camp.
“It affects the depth, but it doesn’t affect what we do overall,” Ambrose said. “The standard of our offense is a downhill offense with Darius and Ayres and some of these big guys. But these guys are our change of pace and give us the ability to spread it out. Navassa was doing a great job. So I’m sad that he got the ACL, but other guys are stepping in.”
* With the tailbacks on the sideline, fullbacks Brandon Berney and Grayson Boyce took the brunt of the carries Wednesday. Berney, a junior, and Boyce, a freshman, weren’t exactly fleet, but their solid frames and strength sometimes made it difficult for the defense to bring them down.
“[Junior] Emmanuel Holder is a fullback,” Ambrose said. “[Junior] Dreon Johnson is a fullback. Brandon Berney plays both. He’s a fullback and a short-yardage tailback. We brought in Grayson Boyce for the exact same reason. The injuries at this point, you couldn’t have planned it any better. It gives them the reps that we normally wouldn’t have scheduled.”
* Senior cornerback Tye Smith and senior defensive ends Ryan Delaire and Drew Cheripko highlight the defense, but junior defensive tackle Tungie Coker has begun to draw some attention. On Wednesday, he had his way with several offensive linemen in one-on-one pass-rush drills, and he collapsed the pocket enough to force junior quarterback Connor Frazier to scramble during a full-team exercise. Coker is beginning to look like more than a capable replacement for Arnold Farmer, who graduated.
“He’s a veteran who has seen it all, done it all and not all good,” Ambrose said. “He’s over the hump. He’s seen the light and has been really focused. More to the point, he’s being a leader, which is a long way from where he was.”
* Another defensive player who played well Wednesday was redshirt freshman outside linebacker James Simms, who is running with the first unit. The Laurel native and Reservoir graduate would have made two sacks during full-team drills if the quarterbacks weren’t wearing red, no-contact jerseys. Ambrose said Simms looks faster and stronger than his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame suggests.
“He’s put some weight, has probably gained 15 pounds of muscle, and he’s had a really good camp,” Ambrose said. “The only thing that would concern me at all is his ability to keep weight on. It’s still too early to tell because we haven’t gone that hard in full pads, but for what we’re asking him to do, he’s kept the weight on and is playing really well.”
* Tuesday’s practice was canceled because of torrential rain that left more than six inches at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and more than 10 inches in other parts of the region, and the time off was a blessing for the team. Ambrose said the players looked tired during Monday’s morning and afternoon sessions, but they had more energy Wednesday.
“With fatigue and youth comes stupidity. When your legs get tired, your brain goes,” Ambrose said. “Our guys are learning about mental toughness and how to fight through. The last practice, the second of the two-a-day, they grinded it out a bit, and I was proud of them. But they needed the break, got it, and I liked what we saw out of them afterward.”