RUNNING BACK: WSU Fall Camp Preview

PULLMAN – It might be easy given the high-powered Air Raid passing offense to overlook the WSU running backs headed into fall camp. But that would be a mistake. For starters, the Cougars have depth in the backfield plus an innovative RBs coach entering his first year at WSU. A disciple of the Pistol offense, Jim Mastro's group of Cougar running backs could indeed emerge early and often in 2012.

Rickey Galvin: Third-year sophomore. The shifty tailback returns as the incumbent starter. He totaled 844 all-purpose-yards in 2011, 602 of which came on the ground and five touchdowns on a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. But neither Galvin or any other WSU back eclipsed the 100-yard mark in any single game. Galvin is a dynamic playmaker, though he must continue to improve his yards-after-contact in 2012. His 28 receptions last season could make him a perfect fit for an offense that places an emphasis on running backs who excel at catching the football.

Carl Winston: Fourth-year senior. A five-feet, eight-inch 200-pound bruiser, Winston enters the 2012 season following three relatively quiet years running between the tackles. In 2011, he compiled 442 yards rushing on 3.6 yards-per-carry. He scored four touchdowns and occasionally showed a penchant to showcase his own version of "Beast Mode" when inside the opponent's red zone.

Teondray Caldwell: True freshman. Listed as the third-string back in WSU's post-spring depth chart, Caldwell fits well into Mastro's system. A sleeper in many recruiting circles, Caldwell signed with Nevada following his senior season of high school but never enrolled in college. He has been praised for ability to catch the ball out of the backfield since coming to WSU.

Marcus Mason: Second-year sophomore. Mason's freshman stint for the Cougars read like a mighty impressive single-game performance: 19 rushes for 153 yards and a touchdown. After amassing 88 yards on six carries in the season opener against Idaho State, Mason saw his carries diminish, failing to appear on the stat sheet for seven consecutive games before compiling 41 yards on just five carries in the Apple Cup.

Leon Brooks: Fourth-year junior. He seriously raised his stock during spring practices after serving primarily as a punt returner in 2011. Brooks is undersized (5-6, 167 pounds) but Mastro post-spring called him a perfect for the Cougs' offense. Brooks rushed three times for 26 yards in the "Spring Game" and caught four short passes, perhaps giving fans a glance of how he'll fit into the "Air Raid" in 2012.

Theron West: 5-7, 170. Third-year junior.

West has three years to play two seasons after rushing for more than 1,100 yards at LA Harbor College in 2011. Another back capable of hurting opponents on the ground and through the air, West offsets his lack of size with ridiculous speed (4.4 second 40-yard-dash).

Mastro will likely use his deep stable of dual-threat running backs in fall camp to see exactly what he has and if any players made serious gains over the summer. However, at the end of spring practices, "Winston and Galvin are your 1's. Leon, Caldwell and Mason are in that next tier… but that's where it's at as of right now," Mastro told CF.C at the end of the spring session.

The battles:
Where to begin? Should both stay healthy, Galvin and Winston could jockey back-and-forth for carries all year. Both are proven commodities that can burn defenses waiting for pass after pass. As the power back on WSU's roster, Winston will need to continue his efficient production in the opponent's red zone to cement his place on the depth chart.

With Mason, Caldwell and Brooks on the "second-tier" of Mastro's depth chart headed into fall camp, each will be looking to distinguish himself. All three running backs were seen this spring to feature similar skill sets, making up for a lack of size with good speed and nice pass-catching abilities. Who might emerge from this group is likely the one who can quickly pick up Leach's offense the most while grinding through fall camp.

Like any newcomer, West enters fall camp as a bit of an unknown entity. Should the junior rise up the depth chart, don't be surprised to see Leach burn his redshirt to maximize the potential in his 170-pound frame.

Final thoughts and intangibles:
Galvin is the first WSU running back since Harrison who looks like he could break loose for an 80-yard touchdown run on every play.

While his rushing numbers might not improve in 2012 due to a pass-oriented offense, his total all-purpose yards almost certainly will. Galvin has an advanced ability to make defenders miss and on crucial third-downs late in the game, such as last year's 37-27 win over ASU, that's a valuable commodity. He's the kind of back who can shimmy past the coverage and turn on the burst. Look for those types of momentum-shifting plays to happen more frequently this season.

Mastro is bullish on the yardage totals to be gained in 2012. In the spring, he said he had little doubt one or two of his ‘backs would eclipse the 1,000 total yard mark in WSU's scheme. It's not a stretch to assume he had Galvin in mind.

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