STILLWATER — Replacing two-time All-American running back Kendall Hunter in the Oklahoma State backfield won't be easy.
Yet, sophomore running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith want to become one of the best 1-2 punches in the nation.
“We talk about it all the time,” Smith said. “When it happens, you'll see. And it will happen.”
Make no mistake, both players are competing to be “the guy” at running back, but they complement each other well. Smith and Randle could get plenty of touches — 10-plus per game each — this season.
Both players have already shown they can be productive in specific roles: Smith as a short-yardage specialist and Randle as a pass catching specialist. This spring, both players impressed while showing their skills go beyond their specialist roles of 2010.
Smith is a physical, decisive runner with good vision. After an injury forced a redshirt season in 2009, Smith carved a role for himself in OSU's offense last season after climbing the depth chart. The former Oklahoman All-State running back from Tulsa Union finished the season with 57 carries for 261 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Jeremy Smith scored touchdowns against good teams. He didn't just run it in when we were ahead 50 points,” coach Mike Gundy said. “He's come a long ways, he has a good future.”
Smith scored short-yardage touchdowns against Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Arizona and Texas Tech in 2010. He is aiming to become more than a short yardage runner this fall. He wants to prove he can be an every-down back.
“That was last year,” Smith said of his short-yardage exploits in 2010. “And last year is last year.”
With his strong spring, the redshirt sophomore has already changed the initial impression of new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
“Jeremy has shown more elusiveness than I thought he had,” Monken said. “He's a nice complement to Joseph, who is an athletic, perimeter guy right now.”
Randle wants to show he's more than just a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. The Wichita, Kan., native filled that role in 2010, with 37 receptions for 427 yards and one touchdown.
“Joseph is a freak,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “You could split him out wide and just tell him to go deep... he's a good athlete.”
Randle wants to carry the load as a runner. He showed flashes of toughness during his freshman season, rushing 81 times for 453 yards and two touchdowns.
If Smith and Randle continue to perform like they did during OSU's spring drills, their goal of becoming one of the Big 12's top duos becomes attainable.
Monken, Weeden and Gundy named Smith and Randle when asked who had impressed during spring football.
“Those guys are different than Kendall,” Weeden said. “You can't really replace Kendall, but the guys we have, I'm very comfortable with. As hard as it is, I think they fit the mold as good as anyone else.”
Said Monken: “They complement each other well. You can win a lot of games with those two guys.”