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Running backs star in Mobile


MOBILE, Ala. – The Texans have not been shy about their needs at the running back position. General manager Rick Smith said the team is considering carrying three elite rushers on the roster next season.

That means Smith and his crew are on the lookout at the 2008 Senior Bowl for shifty prospects who can change games with breakaway plays.

They probably liked what they saw when East Carolina's Chris Johnson took the field for the North team's second practice.

Johnson (5-11, 198 pounds) has been compared to Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook because of his exceptional speed and strength. The senior found holes, caught balls and returned kicks on special teams.

"My second day of practice went really well," Johnson said. "I hit the holes well and I caught the ball well."

Cal's Justin Forsett and USC's Chauncey Washington also turned in noteworthy performances on the ground. Forsett, who backed up current Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch until last year, found an extra gear when breaking through the line of scrimmage.

"It was just a blessing to learn from those guys, Marshawn Lynch and J.J. Arrington, who are both in the league now," Forsett said. "It was just about being patient and waiting my time.

"I'm going to give it my all every day, show people that I can catch the ball and block."

Meanwhile, Washington did an excellent job of grabbing balls out of the backfield during seven-on-seven and team sessions. The Troy product has been criticized for being careless with the football, but he did not make that mistake on Tuesday.

Perhaps the biggest attraction in the North practice was fullback/running back Owen Schmitt, who walked on to the West Virginia team as a transfer student. Schmitt is not a natural pass catcher, but he made solid grabs as a dump-off option and put up physical blocks.

"I would play water boy if they wanted to draft me," Schmitt said. "I don't care. I'd punt if they really wanted me to punt. I just want to impress some people and show them what I can do."

{QUOTE}During the South's practice, Tulane running back Matt Forte showcased versatility and speed for his size. The 222-pound back proved to be an effective between-the-tackles runner and was tough to bring down.

He even impressed with his receiving skills, making crisp cuts and creating separation from linebackers during one-on-one drills. Forte might be the highest-rated running back behind Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall.

"It will be interesting to see how he does during the week," South coach Mike Nolan, of the San Francisco 49ers, said of Forte. "He caught my eye today and I was asking our scouts about him. But it's too early to say where a player like that will go."

Another South back garnering attention was Rafael Little from Kentucky. Little looked quick breaking through seams up the middle, but he will have to work on his blocking and sideline running.

"You never know where you could go (in the draft)," Little said. "It could go from fourth to first, so you have to go hard the whole time."

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