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WSU’s Mastro has blunt answer for fans wondering about James Williams’ playing time; Harrington back with RBs

SOME COUGAR FANS putting their coaching hats on last year thought running back James Williams should have played more last season. There’s a good reason that didn’t happen, running backs Jim Mastro tells Two reasons, actually. Meanwhile, a Cougar upperclassmen is back with the running backs headed into spring plus Mastro offers a Midnight Maneuvers update on his RB corps.

The combination of James WilliamsJamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks rushed for 1,634 yards and 22 TDs last season, number previously not seen in the Mike Leach era at Wazzu. Williams got the most carries of the group (102) but it wasn’t enough for fans -- or Mastro.

“The two biggest things he needs to improve on: stamina, and pass protection,” said Mastro. “You’ve got to be able to play more than just six or seven plays, you’ve got to be able to go and go and go. And he couldn’t do that last year. We had to sub him out too many times because he got so fatigued.

“Everybody watches the games and (you hear) ‘James Williams needs to play more, James Williams needs to play more.’  Well, tell him to get in shape because James Williams tired is not better than Jamal Morrow … I’m going to put the fresh guy in there who gives you the best chance to succeed on every play.”

Overall, and with a couple sessions still to go in the two-week winter conditioning circuit, Mastro seemed pleased with the work from his running backs corps. But it didn’t start out that way.  Cougar players get black shirts for exemplary effort, gray shirts for satisfactory effort, and pink shirts are awarded for unsatisfactory results.

“It’s really been fun to watch them compete against each other in Midnight Maneuvers,” said Mastro. “Because they know that other guy is breathing down their neck and could take their job at any second … James Williams was wearing the pink shirt for the first couple days. Wicks, (Keith) Harrington and Morrow wear all black and James was pink. Now, he got out of it but believe me, when he was wearing pink they let him know it.  I really didn’t have to do a whole lot of motivating, they did it themselves.”

Harrington bounced between running back and slot receiver this past season but played in only two games. The previous season, he posted 550 all-purpose yards and 5 TDs.  He’s back with the running backs headed into next month’s spring ball.  And as far as 2016 is concerned, whether it’s Harrington taking a step back in playing time in '16 or the Cougar RBs setting a new bar, that’s all in the past, said Mastro.

“You have to improve their skill sets,” said Mastro when asked for his No. 1 objective this spring. “Competition is everything. Those kids had the year they had last year because the competition was so fierce every day in practice, you can’t help but get better.  If you have nobody behind you, you get complacent … these guys can’t do that. Because we’ll replace them in a second.  And they know that.

“And Keith Harrington will be in the mix this spring too because he’s finally healthy.  So we’ve got four guys now and we’ve got to sort out and find what we’ve got.”

Seattle RB Caleb Perry (5-9, 180) who signed last week with the Cougs, and like most in the 2017 class, plans to arrive at WSU for summer school ahead of fall ball.

“I really like him,” said Mastro. “Now, he’s going to have put on some weight and get his body to be able to play Division I football  but I’ll tell you what … when we ranked running backs from way back until the end, when it was all said and done, he was the No. 1 guy on my board. He can do things that other guys can’t do … That kid can go. You put all (the WSU backs) and tell them to go 100 yards and he’s going to blow them all away.”

It’s not a given that Perry will redshirt, however.

“Hopefully we get to redshirt him like we’ve done with the other guys, get to bring him along slowly and then by the time he’s a redshirt freshman, a redshirt sophomore, he’s ready to go,” said Mastro. This is the one year I could afford to take a kid like that – more of a smaller, fast, scat back type of kid.

“Usually I don’t want that but because I have all four of those guys back, this was the year we could afford to do that. Now next class we need to go back to the bigger kind of back, the Jamal Morrow, James Williams, Gerard Wicks type of guy.”

CF.C had heard from several sources RB Romello Harris, who spent his true freshman season redshirting, was dinged up and would likely not participate in spring ball. Mastro declined comment on Harris, saying “Spring ball is next month and I can tell you this: It’s going to be competitive.”

It’s hard to imagine WSU wouldn’t have a three-man rotation again in 2017.  “I’d like to have one guy who can just be the guy. But they all are doing so well you can’t really pick one,” said Mastro.

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