Calling Ralph David Abernathy IV a running back never comes so simply. An adjective of some sort always precedes the title.
Small back. Short back. Scat back. Change-of-pace back.
Even his own teammate, George Winn, reminds him he's not a true running back because he doesn't block or perform any of the heavy lifting entrenched in Winn's daily routine.
Go ahead and use whatever adjective necessary to describe the Bearcats back officially listed at 5-foot-7, 161 pounds. Just don't call him afraid of contact.
"I've been playing running back my entire life," he said. "I may be little, but that is part of the position. That's part of the position I love. I love the contact. I love being able to get in there with the big guys and kind of hit them a little bit."
The final five weeks of the season, he'll be given more opportunity to do so, according to Butch Jones. The staff plans on finding ways to involve RDAIV more in the offense and have him mastering nearly every position on the field. He's taking lessons at the outside X receiver, the inside Z, running back and even learning concepts of the tight end. Don't expect him to be holding the edge off tackle for Winn, of course, but don't expect him not to know the play, either.
The latest crash course comes at the clear need to give more touches to the Bearcats most electric weapon. He's averaging 8.0 yards per touch on offense and leads the team with six touchdowns. Yet, he's averaging just nine touches per game.
He's caught 15 passes for 214 yards at 14.3 yards per reception. He's rushed 47 times for 284 yards at 6.0 yards per carry. He also ranks 21st in the country at 27.2 yards per each of his 19 kickoff returns.
The philosophy on the IV Plan was to limit pounding on the little guy over the course of the season.
With only five games remaining and plays like the remarkable 14-yard sweep against Louisville continuing to dominate highlight reels, it became evident the time was now to increase his workload. That means not only more plays on the perimeter, but more time splitting carries with Winn.
"Everyone talks about a small running back or a short running back and he is a short running back," Jones said. "He is very strong and has a great body makeup, body composition and has worked extremely hard and can lower his pads and lower his center of gravity so he doesn't take a lot of unnecessary shots and that is what has helped him and given us the confidence to increase his work load as well."
Leaving Abernathy in at running back means asking him to protect Munchie Legaux against charging linebackers, as well. Much of his time in practice is spent perfecting technique and pop in blocking. When a 235-pound linebacker comes charging through the hole, Abernathy better have a plan.
"The first thing that goes through my mind is hit him before he hits you," RDAIV said. "That's all I think. Because if he hits me, it could be a trainwreck."
This sets the stage for Abernathy to handle duty as more of a feature back next season, a pounding Jones believes he'll be able to handle after an offseason of adding muscle. For now, however, the focus will stay on finding ways to place the football in his hands. If that means more plays between the tackles, don't expect this short, small, scat back to shy away from contact. That is, if the defense can get their hands on him.
"I love the position of being a running back regardless of how little I am that is really what I want to do and I pride myself on being a running back," he said. "I am not a big guy, it's just kind of who I am. You got to kind of work with what you got. God blessed me with being fast so that's all I really got to work with."
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