Pead makes strides

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He had been hurt during that week of practice, and by his own account, he wasn't prepared to absorb the gameplan. Thus, though UC's offense had little problems dispatching Illinois' defense, his absence was noticeable as he gained minus-five yards on four carries.


"I didn't get a good feeling for him today," Brian Kelly said afterward. "I'm on the sideline bringing guys in and out. I just didn't get that connection today. It wasn't his kind of game. It didn't materialize that way."


And it seemed like Isaiah Pead - even though he finished with a team-high 806 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 121 carries last season as a sophomore - still had to mature before he could become the kind of running back he knows he can be.


"I didn't practice that much that week because of a hamstring problem," Pead said. "The install that week, I wasn't all the way locked in because I wasn't taking reps at practice. I could only take so many mental reps because I was taking therapy. It was like sitting out for a week basically."


Not playing that week - and perhaps some of Kelly's comments afterward - made an impact on Pead, though.


"It really hit me," Pead said. "There are no superstars out here. You can't just sit out for a week and expect to play in a game."


Last year, Pead, Darrin Williams and John Goebel had Jacob Ramsey on which they could rely. Ramsey was the senior leader, and the trio of underclassmen could share the running back responsibilities with him. No more, though. Now it's up to Pead - who likely will enter fall camp at the top of the depth chart.


As a result, Pead - as he's set to enter his junior year despite the knee injury he suffered during the spring game - said he's changed his mentality.


"It's been the last six months," Pead said. "Now it's time to be a leader - after sitting in the shadows and coming out here and there, scoring a few touchdowns and getting my feet wet behind Ramsey and John Goebel and taking mental reps. It's the determination of the person who's sitting on the bench and watching. It's transferring from taking the mental reps and to actually doing it now."


In order to be that top running back, though, Pead still has to work on becoming a complete running back. Which means, obviously, running the ball, but it also means Pead has had to work on other aspects of his game.


"We're going to expect him to pass protect," coach Butch Jones said. "He's not going to be extended out in the formation. We always talk to our running backs about being complete running backs. It's easy to find a runner or pass-catcher. But a running back has to do all the fine details - they have to pass-protect and they have to run-block, they have to have great run-fakes, they have to understand the run system and the tempo of the run plays and be able to catch the ball. That's what we've been stressing."


It's no surprise to Pead the biggest improvement he has to make is in his blocking.


"I'm an undersized back who has yet to touch 200 pounds," Pead said. "If you want to cut and be quick with it and stay up, you have to be physical. You have to be relentless, and you have to have heart. You're a smaller back and (opposing defensive ends) are making it tough on you. They're trying to bull-rush the quarterback, like you're not even there.


"There's no Jacob Ramsey. He was great at it, and he weighed 220 pounds. There's me, who's 195, and Goebel - who has size but needs to get his technique down - and Darrin, who's 5-6."


Jones believes Pead will get it, though. It's because Jones says he can see Pead's hunger. The hunger to be the first UC running back since Richard Hall in 2004 to gain 1,000 yards in a season. The hunger to be the best running back on the team.


"I like Isaiah's mentality," Jones said. "He's an extremely competitive young man. There isn't anybody who wants to do better than Isaiah Pead."

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