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After breakout season by Big Three, the biggest question this spring in previewing the running backs centers around Keith Harrington

WASHINGTON STATE has a ton of production returning from its Big Three at running back this spring, though there are still questions to be answered when it comes to Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and James Williams. The biggest unknown, however, is how Keith Harrington will fit into the mix.

Running backs coach Jim Mastro and head man Mike Leach have said they won’t use a 4-man rotation at running back. With Morrow, Wicks and Williams all buckling up the chinstrap starting on Thursday, where does that leave Harrington (pictured above) this spring?

With 15 days to stake his claim.

Harrington posted 550 all-purpose yards and 5 TDs in 2015 but was the odd man out in 2016, moving between running back and slot receiver and playing in only two games. Harrington is back with the running backs this spring and Mastro is relishing the competition to come.

“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,” Mastro told CF.C last month.

Williams’ 584 ground yards (5.7 ypc) led the Cougars in 2016.  Morrow was right behind with 575 hashes (6.4) and Wicks posted 475 yards rushing (5.4). 

Williams showed a knack for yards after contact last season but If he wants to increase his role in ’17, he needs to improve in two areas, Mastro says: stamina and pass protection.   Both Wicks (13 TDs in 2016) and Morrow (10 TDs) were explosive out in space last season. But each could be better in making that first man miss, and that figures to be a focus this spring.

What will be compelling to watch this spring from a positional standpoint, with WSU replacing star wideouts Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, is if the Cougar running backs might play a bigger role in the passing game than they already do.

Last season, Morrow and Williams each caught 48 passes, while Wicks had 29 grabs.  Now, 125 combined receptions is a heckuva lot from the RB spot – on paper the total would seem unlikely to go much higher.  But the shoes left to fill by Marks and Cracraft are equally large, and someone needs to catch all those passes from Luke Falk. 

More/different screen passes, anyone?

Meanwhile, the combination of Williams, Morrow and Wicks rushed for 1,634 yards and 22 TDs in ‘16, numbers not previously seen in the Mike Leach era at Wazzu. But it would probably also be a mistake to think of 2016 as a high-water mark.

Put it this way: with Wicks and Morrow both fifth-year seniors, and Williams coming off a breakout season as a second-year freshman, and with Harrington challenging for turns, would you pick the over or under on 1,634 ground yards and 22 TDs in 2017?

NOTABLE NOTE:
CF.C had heard from several sources RB Romello Harris, who spent his true freshman season redshirting, will not take part this spring due to injury. For more and INCYMI, CLICK HERE.

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