By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Depth charts are generally black and white. There are starters, and there are backups. There are No. 1’s, and there are No. 2’s.
When it’s come to nailing down Cullman’s offensive backfield the past two years, however, Mark Britton has only seen shades of gray, finding it impossible to pick a No. 1 running back between Garrett Crider and Drew Johnson.
So in most instances, the 12th-year coach has chosen both. In his eyes, one player is 1A, while the other is 1B.
“I think they’re as equal a two kids as I’ve ever had. They’re even built alike,” Britton said of the duo. “Really, Coach Gleaton (offensive coordinator) doesn’t care which guy is in. It doesn’t affect our playcalling, which is extremely rare. I don’t think we’ve ever had that except with these two guys the last two years.”
Crider and Johnson burst onto the scene as a formidable rushing combo last season before Britton broke the pair up at the beginning of the 2012 campaign, experimenting with Johnson on defense and naming Crider the go-to guy at tailback.
The switch worked for awhile but didn’t stick, as Cullman’s coaching staff eventually decided the team would be better off with both boys sharing the same backfield again.
It appears that mid-season decision was definitely the right one considering the huge roles Johnson and Crider played in the Bearcats’ 49-14 first-round thumping of Arab at Oliver Woodard Stadium last Friday.
Johnson finished the beatdown with 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries and added another score by zigzagging 33 yards through traffic on a short screen pass from Zac Crocker.
The senior’s most memorable carry of the night was his last. One play after Trey Moon erased a Knight scoring opportunity by snagging an interception in the end zone and returning it to Cullman’s own 30, Johnson broke to his left, put all the right moves on a few Arab defenders and took off down the left sideline 70 yards for his third and final touchdown.
“Drew is really shifty,” Crider said. “He’s good at making the cuts, and he can break loose when he has the chance.”
Crider wasn’t too shabby in his own right, using his broad frame to move the chains — and the pile — every chance he got. The junior wound up with 104 yards and a touchdown on 16 first-half attempts.
“He’s got such a low center of gravity that he can just truck people,” Johnson said. “He’s stocky, built and runs hard. He gets as many yards as he can and gets a lot of yards after contact.”
Both backs were impressive, but Johnson ultimately shone a bit brighter than his counterpart on the stat sheet. Think that made Crider just a little bit jealous?
Not a chance.
“I was happy for him. He had three touchdowns, had a good game and it was exciting to watch,” Crider said. “We always root for each other, definitely.”
Johnson doesn’t get riled when Crider has better games than him, either. He’s just glad they both have each other to depend on when fatigue starts to set in.
“As soon as we get tired, we know we have a fresh back coming in that could pick up the carries,” the senior said. “We’ve got a good rotation going on. There’s no rivalry or competition really. It’s just about helping out the team.”
By the looks of it, that civil approach has resulted in positive results for the Bearcats, both under the Friday night lights, as well as in the locker room. Britton said the duo constantly communicates during practice and displays zero signs of jealousy.
“They’re the ones that make it work for our team,” the coach said. “It’s not like they’re in competition as far as who has the most carries and most yards. They’re really very, very unselfish, and that’s a great thing for us. They’re focused on getting the first downs and moving the chains.”
With the score already out of hand by the third quarter this past Friday, Britton used the opportunity to present backups Corey Parrish and Will Crenshaw with some valuable playoff experience.
Parrish, a senior, picked up 27 yards on six attempts, while Crenshaw, a sophomore, had five carries for 25 yards, 21 of which came on a flashy touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Johnson and Parrish will graduate this coming May, but Britton and Crider are confident Cullman’s ground game won’t take too much of a hit in 2013 with Crenshaw as a likely replacement in the team’s two-back rotation.
“He’s real fast, and he’s a gamebreaker,” Crider said of Crenshaw. “I think next year, he could definitely help out.”
Crider felt the Bearcats were “kind of predictable” in a 35-19 loss to top-ranked Muscle Shoals, where Cullman passed 54 times and abandoned the run with he and Johnson splitting a mere seven carries.
The junior couldn’t say the same about the Bearcats in their postseason opener, though, as Crocker leaned on the ground attack while still managing to do more than enough with 174 yards and two touchdowns through the air against the Knights.
Johnson believes Cullman will need those kinds of contributions from every unit this week versus Walker if the Bearcats hope to keep climbing the playoff ladder toward a Class 5A state championship.
“When we’re balanced, running and passing, we’re pretty hard to stop,” he said.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.