RB Winston embracing Air Raid, drawing notice

PULLMAN--It might be surprising given the pass-happy nature of the Air Raid, but Mike Leach demands more from the RB position than your average offensive coordinator. They are expected to be proficient blockers, catch a whole lot of screen passes and be ready for the occasional zone read running play. After 15 spring practices, senior Carl Winston sounds more than ready to embrace any challenges.

Following Tuesday's spring finale, Winston said he couldn't wait to show off his complete repertoire this fall.

"It's an adjustment but I kind of like this offense," said Winston. "I get a chance to show how versatile I am as far as catching the ball out of the backfield, running the ball, blocking. I get to pretty much showcase all my skills."

Winston in 2012 will try to improve on his 3.6 yards per carry from last season (443 total rushing yards). But there is little doubt he can rack up more than 88 yards receiving as he did last year, due to the unpredictability of where the backs are headed on any given play in the Air Raid.

"The defense (doesn't) know what you're going to do every single time as far as lining up on the line of scrimmage," he said after practice Tuesday. "You get a chance to get the defense just a little bit off-balance and you never know who is going to get the ball in this offense. It's a great offense."

EMBRACING THE new offensive system this spring has paid dividends for Winston. First, WSU's most experienced running back avoided losing any ground to a quickly emerging slew of talented young guns. Second, when asked by CF.C after Tuesday's final practice, running backs coach Jim Mastro had no trouble naming his top two on the depth chart. Winston was one of them.

If Winston translates his desire to showcase his versatility come fall, he could become exactly what Mastro looks for in a running back.

"The big deal we're looking for here is all-purpose yards -- because we are going to catch five, six, seven balls a game," Mastro said. "The offenses I came from were (focused on) yards-per-carry. Here, it's how many all-purpose yards we can get in a game."

THE FACT THAT Leach can pick Winston out of a crowd could also help him this season to put up the best numbers of his career. Leach jokingly noted multiple times during the spring that he has trouble deciphering who is who among his running backs.

Winston needn't to worry though. He possesses a physical trait that sets him apart in the eyes of his head coach.

"If you come up behind them they all look the same," Leach said. "(But) Winston's got a little bit thicker legs so I can typically pick him out pretty well."

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