DENVER -- For a majority of the past three college football seasons, the Colorado running game has been a solo act -- Rodney Stewart's talent show if you will.
Stewart's career in Boulder came to end in November and it's unlikely one guy will get the bulk of the action again next year after coaches signed three talented tailbacks and two fullbacks in the 2012 recruiting class.
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy came to the annual Buff Club recruiting luncheon at a downtown Denver hotel one day after national signing day Thursday wearing a smile, eager to talk about his restocked depth chart.
Bieniemy said the Buffs landed three very capable tailbacks who all bring something different to the table in Donta Abron, Terrence Crowder and Davien Payne. He said it's going to be fun adding them to the mix in the summer with veterans Tony Jones (78 carries, 297 yards), Josh Ford (22 for 128) and Malcolm Creer, if he is recovered from major knee surgery.
"The thing we got better at is first of all, we're building depth, second of all, we've gotten bigger," Bieniemy said. "On top of that we've gotten more physical. If you want to run the ball like I envision, we've got to have those types of players. We've got to be bigger. We've got to be stronger."
Stewart led the Buffs in both rushing and receiving as a senior. He was a workhorse despite his size at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds. Stewart finished the year with 189 attempts and 45 receptions for a total of 1,425 yards from scrimmage.
But Bieniemy said carrying the ball and catching passes is easy. What separated Stewart and earned him so much playing time was his understanding of the offense in total. He said the player who demonstrates a similar ability to do more than just tote the rock will have an inside track to getting on the field.
"Getting them a complete understanding of what we want, how we do things, how we call it and learning the language," Bieniemy said. "That's going to be the challenge. One thing I always tell kids is it's not about what you can do when you have the ball in your hands, it's what you can do when the ball is not in your hands. That's the fastest way to get you on the field. All these kids can run the ball, but can they understand our protections? Do they have the attitude and the mindset to block on a consistent level? Those are the things that I look for."
Bieniemy said Payne is probably the most ready for the college game from a physical standpoint, but he believes all three tailbacks can play next season if needed. He said Crowder, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the beginning of his senior season in high school last fall, is nearly recovered and plans to run track this spring at his high school.
Perhaps the more important development on signing day when it comes to the offensive backfield was the addition of two fullbacks to the roster, whom coaches identified specifically for their ability to man that spot.
Fullback had been phased out of the program under Dan Hawkins and in this coaching staff's first season last fall, they relied on two converted linebackers to serve as lead blockers and pass catchers out of the backfield. Bieniemy credits Evan Harrington and Tyler Ahles for a job well done, but it would be an understatement to say he is excited about teaching Christian Powell and Clay Norgard.
"It's very significant, especially in our offense with what we want to do," Bieniemy said. "We'd love to be a two-back offense, but we want to do a number of things. We want to be a two-back offense, three wides. We want to be diverse in our attack.
"Now you're going to have kids come in and they will have four years under their belts as a fullback before they leave here. Just to see the growth they're going to make and the mental maturation, that is what I'm excited about."
Before he can begin working with his new tools, Bieniemy will have to get through a tough spring with only Jones and Ford available as ball carriers. That along with limited numbers on both the offensive and defensive lines will cut into the amount of scrimmaging the team does this spring.
Bieniemy said it isn't necessarily a bad thing because the Buffs have plenty to work on without worrying about beating themselves up.
"We'll do a great job of teaching," he said. "We'll slow everything down. We probably won't be able to do much competition wise against each other because of our limited numbers, but the thing I'm looking forward to is getting out there and just teaching fundamentally sound football."