BOCA RATON — Rising redshirt sophomore Kerrith Whyte is searching for a new role in Lane Kiffin’s offense.
Already, Kiffin may have found a spot for him – or, thanks to Whyte’s versatility, three.
“He can play slot, he can play running back, and he can play special teams,” Kiffin said.
With the two lead running back spots likely taken by Buddy Howell and Devin Singletary, Whyte has a chance to emerge as a Darren Sproles-type of player: someone that can be used in the backfield one play, sent out for a pass the next play, and still be able to contribute on special teams.
“It’s a different build of a player, but I can see him doing all those things,” Kiffin said about a comparison between Sproles, who set the NFL record in all-purpose yards with 2,696 with the New Orleans Saints in 2011, and Whyte.
Nicknamed ‘Papa’ by his teammates, Whyte’s 1,002 yards kickoff return yards last season were fourth best nationally. Originally, kick returning was supposed to be Whyte’s main priority last year, but with Jay Warren starting the season on the bench, a spot to be Buddy Howell’s compliment at running back opened.
In a three game stretch against Kansas State, Ball State, and Charlotte, Whyte ran for 107 yards on 4.65 yards per attempt. Whyte also scored his first touchdown in that stretch, taking a handoff three yards into the end zone against the Cardinals.
Once then-true freshman Devin Singletary picked up the offense, however, Whyte was relegated to the bench by Charlie Partridge, only receiving three carries after the October 15 loss to Marshall. Now, Whyte appears to be having the time of his life with the new coaching staff.
“I love it – it’s fast and it gives us freedom,” Whyte said. “It’s a new opportunity. Everyone has a new opportunity to showcase themselves to the coaches and to other players.”
With a new coaching staff comes a clean slate and through the first two weeks of spring practice, Whyte’s efforts in practice have earned praise from Partridge’s successor.
“I didn’t know much about him coming in because the talk was about (Howell and Singletary),” Kiffin said. “He’s done a really good job.”
Kiffin mentioned that he’d recently compared Whyte’s style to Oregon’s Charles Nelson, a Daytona Beach product who had 52 catches for 554 yards for the Ducks last year. Interestingly, Nelson averaged roughly the same amount of yards per return on kickoffs as Whyte did, with 25.9 to the FAU back’s 25.7.
“They’re similar – they’re going faster than they look,” Kiffin said.
Named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team as a kick returner last year, Whyte is still working to figure out what his roles will be on both the offense and special teams. However, having Kiffin already in his corner is a big help for the young running back.
“We’re still forming the relationships around here with the new coaching staff,” Whyte said. “We’ll see where we end up.”
The Owls will return to practice on Thursday and will practice every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday until the spring game on April 22.