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Cougar running backs coach Jim Mastro has a great problem to have this spring

PULLMAN — Cougar running back Keith Harrington didn’t lack for confidence after this past Saturday’s practice. “In my opinion, I think we have the best backfield in the nation,” said the fourth-year junior. But what does his position coach think about that? And could Jim Mastro actually utilize four running backs on game days this fall?

Asked if having four such talents in the backfield -- seniors Jamal Morrow (5-9, 200) and Gerard Wicks (6-0, 228), and sophomore James Williams (5-11, 192, pictured above) and Harrington (5-8, 194) -- could potentially convince the Cougars to increase the regular backfield rotation from three to four this season, running backs coach Mastro said no.

“There won’t be four,” Mastro told CF.C, confident in the three-back rotation he and head coach Mike Leach prefer.

However, which three will be the featured backs, and who will be the odd man out, are two questions both very much up in the air this spring, said Mastro.

“They’re all right there,” said Mastro. “We switch that depth chart daily, so we’ll just see how it plays out as the season gets closer,” before lamenting that, “there’s not one guy that’s separated himself, which is a little disappointing. I was kinda hoping one guy would kinda take it by the horns and run, but really no one has yet.”

In reacting to Harrington’s assertion that WSU backfield is the nation’s best, Mastro said, “I’m glad they have that kind of confidence in themselves. They’re four talented kids, I know that much.”

Ultimately, however, the top three running backs will be the ones who have been the most consistent throughout spring, fall practices and on into the season.

“They’re all talented, they’re all explosive, but we need the most consistent guy from my end,” said Mastro, adding that Harrington has been the best blocker of the four so far through six spring practices.

Though rather than heap praise on Harrington for his efforts, Mastro instead is using it as motivation for the other three, saying that his superiority at that facet is a little disappointing “because he didn’t play at all last year. Those other three guys played a whole season. He comes in here and he’s probably doing the best job of protecting the quarterback right now.”

And for those thinking that Harrington is still fighting his way into the running backs conversation based on how successful Morrow, Wicks and Williams were last season, Mastro was quick to mention that pass protection is the top priority when it comes to evaluating the skills of his backs.

“The main thing is they all have to protect the passer better,” said Mastro. “They’re good at it, but you can never be good enough at that, cause you see so many different skill sets coming at you on defense.”

Star senior quarterback Luke Falk was also quick to correct that Harrington belongs in the conversation.

“We’ve got four great running backs, and any of them can play at any time,” said Falk.  “They’re coachable, they’re the best kind of players and teammates you’d want to have. Those guys are awesome.”

“All of us are studs,” Williams said after a practice this week.

Leach also agrees, and relishes the fierce competition at the position.

“We’ve got some good backs,” said the Wazzu head man. “They’re competitive. We’ve got guys fighting for time. I think those backs will push each other -- which has allowed us to do some more things with Morrow. And James Williams is starting to get into a rhythm.”

If Harrington doesn’t ultimately end up in the starting rotation, however, he won’t bear any grudges.  “The other three running backs are amazing running backs,” he said. 

“Look at our backfield — they’re beasts,” Harrington enthusiastically added. “To play with them three is an honor, and to play for Coach Mastro is, too.”

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