VOL. 133 | NO. 156 | Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Gainwell Learning Multiple Roles on Offense As He Embarks On Tiger Career
Special to the Daily News
Memphis Tiger freshman Kenny Gainwell lined up as a running back in the middle of Sunday’s Liberty Bowl practice and took a handoff through the offensive line for a short gain.
There are no breaks on coach Mike Norvell’s field. So when Gainwell, listed as a running back, untangles himself from the arms of a defensive lineman, it’s time to reset and run another play.
But rather than returning to the backfield, he sprints to the slot one yard behind the line of scrimmage. The former Yazoo County standout quarterback puts his inside leg forward and his outside leg with his heel up in the air – he’s now eligible as a wide receiver. The ball didn’t come his way as he ran a route through the middle of the field, but the transition from one position to another went off smoothly.
“This is what I came here to do,” Gainwell said of his multiple roles in Norvell’s offense. “I love it.”
Norvell wants to put Gainwell in multiple positions on offense. And no one understands the transition Gainwell is attempting more than Tony Pollard, who has played the same role since Norvell and his staff arrived in Memphis. Playing wide receiver and running back was easy for Pollard because he did it at Melrose. But Gainwell played quarterback and a little running back before arriving in Memphis so the coaching staff anticipates an adjustment period.
The 5-foot-11 freshman is studying Pollard to learn the different alignments and nuances of playing multiple positions under Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham.
“Right now, he’s shadowing Tony [Pollard] as much as possible to be a multiple guy,” Norvell said. “He played quarterback in high school and some running back. He’s got really good hands. He’s in that same mold we’re looking for.”
Gainwell is not taking the comparison to Pollard lightly. He’s soaking up all of the advice he can while making a push for playing time in his first season at the University of Memphis.
Pollard sees why people are comparing Gainwell to him and, although he wants the freshman to develop his style rather than trying to be ‘the next Tony Pollard.’
“He’s looked really good so far,” Pollard said. “A lot of people say he looks like a littler version of me, but he’s his own self. I’m just teaching him little things. He has the concepts down just like alignments, making sure you’re on the ball and they’re off the ball and when you’re off the ball they’re on. Just stuff like that.
When Memphis coaches watched film on Gainwell, they saw an explosive athlete with position versatility they crave. The stats bore that out as well – Gainwell totaled 8,412 yards (4,730 rush/3,682 pass), two dozen 100-yard rushing games, 75 rushing touchdowns and 32 touchdown passes in four years at Yazoo County High School.
Position versatility, or being multiple, isn’t something new for the Tigers. Sean Dykes can line up on the line as a tight end or in the slot as a receiver. Scottie Dill can function as an offensive lineman and tight end in some sets. Pollard can play wide receiver and running back. A bevy of defensive players can play multiple positions.
The quick switching helps the Tigers play the fast-paced style that has proved so successful the past few seasons.
“We’re trying to play fast. And when you’re playing fast, you have to have guys who can play different positions on the field to create some position versatility for your offense,” Dillingham said. “So we have running backs who play in the slot and tight ends who play attached then play in the slot. You have to be able to do it all. That’s what allows us to go fast and what allows us to be multiple.”