AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -Texas coach Mack Brown refuses to talk about depth charts early in training camp. It wouldn't do much good at running back, where three Longhorns are battling to be the starter.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Jamaal Charles, who rushed for more than 1,600 yards last season, was going to be a senior in 2008, zipping and darting his way through defenses into the open field.
But Charles changed course, entered the NFL draft and is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. That leaves senior Chris Ogbannaya, sophomore Vondrell McGee and redshirt freshman Fozzy Whittaker to battle it out.
Between all three, Texas has a total of 521 career rushing yards and the cutest name on the team. The program that has produced two Heisman Trophy running backs and has boasted 1,000-yard rushers 13 of the past 14 seasons hasn't been this uncertain at the position since Hodges Mitchell replaced Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams in 1999.
``All three of them want to play,'' first-year running backs coach Major Applewhite said. ``All three of them want to start. That's what you want to see.''
McGee, who earned the nickname ``Bulldozer'' in high school, would seem the early favorite after rushing for 297 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He's a smashing runner who can get tough yards.
Whittaker impressed in the spring with his shiftiness in tight spaces. Ogbannaya's pass-catching skills helped make him a valuable third-down player last season. He's also lost weight, shedding about 25 pounds to get down to 205.
``I stopped eating McDonald's and starting eating salads,'' Ogbannaya said. ``I think all three of the guys ... we bring a different aspect to the game. When we put it all together, it makes us a very dangerous group.''
Which raises the prospect that none will ``start.''
Someone will get the first carry in the season opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 30, but this group could very well be a three-player rotation if no one dominates.
``It's friendly competition,'' Whittaker said. ``It's a committee more than one person trying to win the starting spot.''
Brown has typically preferred to have a No. 1 player to carry the load. Texas has tried to share in the past. In 2006, it was Charles and Selvin Young splitting carries with mixed results.
Someone could start to separate from the others on Wednesday, when Texas holds its first scrimmage of training camp, but any word will have to come from the coaches. Except for two practices the first week of camp, all workouts are closed to the public and the media.
``By the time everything shakes down, we'll probably have two with a third that can do a bunch of different things. Usually those things work their way out,'' said offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Applewhite had the luxury of handing off to Williams, Mitchell and Cedric Benson when he played quarterback for the Longhorns from 1998-2001. Now he has the task of picking a starter from this bunch, his first big test as a coach with his former team.
Applewhite knows from experience that the new guy can get the job done. In 1999, Mitchell ran for 1,343 yards - the eighth-highest total in school history - to partly escape Williams' considerable shadow.
``It excites me as a coach to have three guys who are really hungry to play,'' Applewhite said.
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