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BYU football 2017 running backs preview: Is there any hope in replacing a legend?

With Jamaal Williams in the NFL, BYU has a massive hole to fill

Poinsettia Bowl - BYU v Wyoming Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

This is not an article about the greatness of Jamaal Williams, but that is how it must start. In order to properly preview the running backs for the BYU football team in 2017, you have to recognize the magnitude of losing Jamaal. Williams ran the ball 23.4 times per game last year.

That is worth repeating... 23.4 times per game!

To put this into perspective, Taysom Hill averaged 31 passing attempts per game in 2016. Losing the skill of Jamaal is tough, but few are recognizing the significance of losing his workload.

BYU running backs coach Reno Mahe addressed this during media day.

Translation, "we have no idea how to replace Jamaal WIlliams."

And who can blame them, especially in a Ty Detmer offense in which he ran the ball 132 more times than he passed last year. Granted, that may change drastically given the fact that a running QB has been replaced with a passing QB. Regardless, BYU coaches enter the 2017 season with many questions in the backfield.

Squally Canada

Last year was the the first full season for the redshirt junior, and it had some bright spots. Against Boise State, Squally ran 21 times for 88 yards. He followed up that performance with 9 carries for 41 yards against Cincinnati. Rushing for 130 yards on 30 carries in two weeks is solid.

While Squally Canada certainly has the speed and athleticism to find the field, his durability is a question mark. It is unlikely that the 5'11", 200 lbs back can be counted on for 20 carries week in and week out.

Expect somewhere around 15-17 carries. If he can improve on the 4.3 yards per carry from last year, he could average around 70 yards per game. Not bad.

Ula Tolutau

A highly recruited Salt Lake native, Ula Tolutau was committed to Wisconsin back in 2014. After his mission, however, he committed to BYU and is immediately eligible this season.

Ula has great size at 6'1", 230lbs to carry a workload this year. He ran for almost 2,500 yards in high school and was named Mr. Football by Deseret News 2013. While he is not the fastest running back on the team, he is likely the toughest to bring down.

It is expected that him and Squally see the bulk of the carries in 2017.

KJ Hall

Towards the latter part of the 2016 season, KJ seemed to be a breakout star. In the final three games of the regular season, he averaged over 5.4 yards per carry. Hall's best game was against Massachusetts where he broke the century mark finishing with 101 yards on 18 carries.

The games in which he shined were Southern Utah and Massachusetts though, not exactly murderers’ row. However, he was also just a freshmen thrown into the mix late in the year.

The Spanish Fork native is great at seeing the field and making the right decisions. He has to be able to do this as he is not a bruising back, standing at 5'9" 175lbs.

Given his frame, Reno Mahe has rightfully established him as a third down/situational type back.

Trey Dye/Riley Burt

Both should see the field quite a bit this season, but likely as return specialists. They have been working out as running backs and hopefully they are able to make an impact there as well. Burt's most noticeable attribute is his speed. Trey Dye is similar to Hall in that he is smaller and will probably be used as a third down back.

Some interesting things about RIley Burt is that he was recruited as a defensive back and played some at BYU in 2015. He finished the year with 14 carries and 86 yards. It is rare to see someone redshirt after their freshmen year, but it made sense with Jamaal WIlliams returning.

Trey Dye is even more rare in that he played in 2014 and 2015 before redshirting in 2016. He has only has 5 carries so far in his career, so it is difficult to speculate much on him. Dye and Burt expect to see quite a bit of time returning kicks.

Kavika Fonua

Kavika Fonua is another guy in the mix after seeing time at safety his first two seasons. Fonua played running back and safety in high school, and was extended a scholarship offer by BYU after posting the second-highest SPARQ rating (123.3) at the Dallas NFSC combine and being named MVP of the Nike camp in Oregon. Fonua is a name that gets lost in the running back mix, but he is a potential darkhorse based on his athleticism.

The 2017 running backs are the most up for grabs position on the team. There are many questions surrounding who can replace the load of Jamaal Williams. The good news is that there is a lot of bodies amongst the group, and it just takes one to break out. With the lack of separation on a starting running back, expect a by-committee approach as BYU starts the season.