Countdown to Spring: Running Backs Preview

PULLMAN -- The Air Raid offense officially takes wing at Washington State tomorrow with the start of spring practices. But it will come with an experimental twist that could have the Cougars' deep corps of running backs high-steppin' all the way to the season opener.

New Cougar running backs coach Jim Mastro is going to introduce elements of The Pistol offense that he used last season to great effect on the ground at UCLA, where the Bruins climbed from 97th nationally in rushing offense to the top 40.

The key to making the Pistol running attack sing is backs who focus on going north-south, not east-west.

That would seem to suit the Cougs' top four backs -- Rickey Galvin, Carl Winston, Marcus Mason and newcomer Teondray Caldwell -- to a tee. All of them are what Mastro calls "downhill" runners.

For the running backs, catching the ball – both coming out of the backfield and heading out in the pattern – is of course a key to success in the Air Raid. Consider that Mike Leach's leading rusher in his last year at Texas Tech, Baron Batch, was also his third leading receiver, (57 catches) that season.

BUT RUNNING THE ball will also be key. The headliner coming into the spring is redshirt sophomore Rickey Galvin, who led the Cougs last season with 602 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. On top of that, Galvin also showed skill catching the ball with 242 yards on 28 receptions.

And who could forget Galvin's nifty footwork in the Arizona State game when he caught a short pass from QB Connor Halliday, danced away from a would-be tackler and busted upfield for 17 yards to convert a 3rd-and-15. That's the kind of play Leach covets out of his running backs.

Carl Winston and Marcus Mason both offer, at the least, a change of pace.

WINSTON IS GOING to be a senior this fall and is easily the best runner between-the-tackles the Cougs have in the lineup. Winston doesn't love contact, he lives for it. The 5-8, 200-pound bruiser was second on the team with 442 yards and was the main man when it came to short yardage situations.

Mason, a sophomore-to-be, didn't get a ton of touches his freshmen year, but still managed to average 8.1 yards per carry (153 total) and turned heads with his 65-yard TD run against Idaho State. Mason is not only the fastest running back the Cougs have, he's in the running for the fastest player on the team. He has the potential to put up big numbers and could receive an increased workload in 2012.

Caldwell, who enrolled at WSU in January, figures to be an especially intriguing guy to watch this spring. He was originally a 2011 Nevada signee -- recruited by Mastro while he was coaching for the Wolfpack.

What he brings to the table won't fully be known until the Cougs get into spring drills but in an interview with CF.C earlier this month, Caldwell spoke of his ability to burst upfield and also catch the ball out of the backfield with consistency.

Washington State Sports Information informed CF.C the heights/weights will not be updated until fall. So Caldwell will be listed at 5-10 and 185 pounds this spring. But Caldwell has put on some muscle, and Mastro said he's now right around 200-pounds.

The Cougars look to have versatile, quality running backs who can make things happen in the Pac-12. The unit has experience and quickness. Obviously with the Air Raid, the Cougars will focus on the aerial attack, but don't count out the ground game. Mastro provides the unit with over 20-years of coaching experience, and I expect him to have the unit prepared to significantly contribute – on the ground and in the passing game.

  • Mastro has high hopes for JC transfer Theron West, who arrives in the summer.

  • Last season sophomore Eric Oertel was moved from LB to RB and had 10 carries for 10 yards in 2011. However, with starting LBs Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell being dismissed from the team, depth is a concern for the Cougar linebacker corps. Whether Oertel will return to LB won't be known until the Cougs take the field this spring, but it would seem to make sense. He was named the 2009 Wisconsin Gatorade player of the year in high school and has plenty of LB experience.

  • In Leach's last year at Tech, if you take out lost yardage by the QBs, the running backs gained 1,407 yards in 13 games, while accounting for 20 TDs on the ground. Tech logged 319 total rush attempts, with 669 pass attempts in 2009.

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