AUSTIN, Texas -- It’s spring break week at Texas. How is Chris Warren III spending his time off? He’s not relaxing on a beach, that’s for sure. He stayed behind in Austin, preferring to focus on getting in extra workouts and getting in better shape.
The last time he stepped on a scale, the 6-foot-2 running back said he checked in at 258 pounds. That was after shedding about 10 pounds. What’s he trying to get to? Warren shrugged after practice last week and replied: "Um, lighter than what I am now. That’s all I know."
A season-ending PCL injury in his right knee forced Warren to sit out Texas' final eight games of 2016. He had to sit back on crutches and watch the season fall apart, mad that he couldn’t make a difference.
"It was aggravating, because I knew I could’ve helped in some way shape or form," Warren said. "I just feel like, if I was out there, I could’ve done something. It really sucks watching your team going out there to play and you not being able to do anything for a win or a loss."
The injury occurred while Warren was getting dragged down at the end of a 46-yard breakaway run against Oklahoma State. He was sharing carries with D'Onta Foreman back then in what could’ve been a terrifying tag-team. The duo ended up playing three games together in 2016. In those games, they combined for 707 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Then Warren went down and Foreman went on to become a 2,000-yard rusher and Doak Walker Award winner. Now Foreman is off to the NFL, and it’s time for a healthy Warren to take over where he left off.
"He had a real good season and I’m proud of him," Warren said. "He’s going on to do things in the league, and I’m gonna be watching him and supporting him every step of the way."
After months of rehab, Warren is back on the practice field and ready to prove the flashes of brilliance he showed in limited playing time -- like 276 rushing yards against Texas Tech in 2015 -- were indeed a sign of bigger things to come.
Texas coach Tom Herman said he’s never seen a 255-pound player move and bend the way Warren can. He made a strong first impression on Texas' new head coach early on in winter conditioning.
"I kind of pulled him aside during one of the workouts," Herman recalled, "and I said, 'You have been a very pleasant surprise. You're going to make a lot of money someday playing this position if you put your pads down and run through somebody.'"
Herman says he still hasn’t watched any film of his Texas players. If he did, he’d notice Warren has picked up 407 of his 836 career rushing yards after first contact. He’s not afraid to bowl over defenders. But Herman wants to see more of that toughness and durability in 2017.
The man in charge of getting Warren to his full potential in Stan Drayton, one of the best running back coaches in the game. His past three pupils during his stints at Ohio State and with the Chicago Bears: Carlos Hyde, Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard. Drayton says he’s never coached a back quite like Warren, and has even compared him to Jerome Bettis. He seems as fascinated as anybody by the capabilities of the big man.
"I've never had a guy that big," Drayton said. "There's some things we have to do to really make him the caliber of back that I believe he is capable of becoming. He's got to become more elusive. He has to be quicker in tighter spaces. So he has a long way to go in that respect. But his body is capable of doing it."
Warren is dedicated to putting in the work to get there, hence his vacation-free spring break. He likes Drayton’s emphasis on pass protection to make him a more complete back. He likes the energy Herman has brought to the program and his commitment to pounding the rock. He likes where all this is heading.
The grand plan Drayton has for utilizing Warren this fall? It’s simple, really. Drayton shared it last month, offering it up quickly and enthusiastically: "Hand him the football."