Lorenzo Booker Trying to Do A Little of Everything in UFL
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Hartford's Lorenzo Booker is a running back that works out with the receivers. And he wants to begin returning kickoffs.
Meanwhile, Colonials head coach Chris Palmer is trying not to overwork the 5-foot-10 speedster from Florida State University.
Booker, a third-year pro, has been Hartford's best all-around offensive threat in this young United Football League campaign.
He is No. 2 in the UFL in total yards from scrimmage with 381, tops with the Colonials. Rushing the ball, he is Hartford's leading rusher with 189 yards on 35 carries and second on the squad in receiving with 13 catches for 192 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass against Sacramento – the longest such play in league history.
"I do a little of everything. That is my niche – versatility," Booker said.
In last week's loss to Omaha, Booker led the Colonials (1-3) in rushing and receptions for the second straight game. He had 89 yards on 16 carries against the Nighthawks and four receptions for 30 yards. A week earlier in a loss against Florida, he rushed for 45 yards on six carries and pulled in five receptions for 32 yards.
In the first meeting against Omaha three weeks earlier, he was Hartford's leading receiver with five catches for 50 yards. In the opener against Sacramento, he rushed for 51 yards on nine carries.
"He's been our ace in the hole on offense," Palmer said. "He is excellent in the passing game and does a nice job running the football. We have to guard against trying to use him on everything. He's such a talented player."
Booker was on the field for 45 of Hartford's 67 offensive plays against Florida, a number that Palmer thinks is probably a little high. Booker just shrugged that off. He would play every down if he could.
And Booker wants to do more. He wants to return some kickoffs.
"I know that is one of the reasons I'm not in the (NFL) right now," Booker said.
"Teams have called and asked about me receiving kicks. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to come here. I can't show anything more from an offensive perspective than I've already shown. If you're going to be a third down back, you have to be able to do other things."
Booker played two years in the NFL. In seven games with Miami in 2007, he caught 28 passes for 237 yards and ran for 125 yards on 28 carries. Traded to
Philadelphia the next season, he backed up All-Pro Brian Westbrook and played in 10 games, rushing for 53 yards on 20 carries and pulling in six receptions for
11 yards. He was cut by the Eagles just prior to the 2009 season opener.
This summer, he signed with the Colonials to sharpen his game and continue to
challenge himself as a player.
"Catching balls out of the backfield is too easy. That's not challenging," Booker said. "I know (NFL) teams will put me in that position (slot out wide) and I want to make sure it is as normal to me as possible. Most running backs there would feel awkward."
"The next thing for me to learn is to be able to read (defensive) coverages," Booker said. "I never really had the chance to do that until I got here. The only way to get better is to run routes and catch balls as a receiver."
That doesn't stop Booker from using his quickness to run between the tackles on the ground. His rushing average of 5.4 yards a carry is the best in the league.
"You need to get the most out of yourself," Booker said. "At the end of the day, the toughest opponent is you. If I go out and rush for 200 yards but I know I was capable of 250, then it wasn't a good day."
Palmer added, "He has excellent hands and good quickness. He understands the game and is a smart player -- all the things you're looking for in a football player."
While a little frustrated with Hartford's 1-3 start, Booker is enjoying his time with the Colonials and the opportunity to stretch himself as a football player.
"I'm having a great time here," Booker said. "For me, it was never a question on whether or not I could make plays. I'm getting a chance here to tighten up my routes (as a receiver), read coverages while showcasing some of other skills I have."
His 80-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Josh McCown in game one against Sacramento was his first professional touchdown. It came on a little five-yard screen and Booker sped away at high speed from the Mountain Lion defenders.
"That was all (offensive coordinator) Dave (Ragone) and coach Palmer," Booker said. "That was a perfect play call. I think coach Palmer could have run it back for 50 yards. If you catch someone in a zero blitz and throw the screen...."
Booker said the ball took forever to get to him. "You're watching the ball hang up there forever because there is no one behind you."
At the midpoint of the season, the Colonials are behind. But they hope to begin a resurgent second half when they travel to Nevada Saturday to face the defending champion Las Vegas Lobos (3-1) for the first time this season at 3 p.m. on Versus.
Hartford has not trailed at halftime yet this year. Yet, they've lost three straight games. Booker is ready to do what it takes to carry the Colonials. He'll get his chance on Saturday.