Player Spotlight - Bishop Sankey

SEATTLE - Ever since Chris Polk declared for the 2012 NFL Draft, the first question on Husky fans' minds was - who takes over carrying the ball for the purple and gold? Jesse Callier immediately sprung to the top of the list as Polk's heir apparent, running for just short of 700 yards the past two seasons.

Add to that Callier's prodigious two-year kick return totals (his 1309 total yards already ranks him second all-time at Washington for career kick return yards, just 27 yards ahead of teammate Kevin Smith), and it sure looks like the Washington offensive coaches are primed to turn Callier into the same kind of featured back he was in high school, where he ran for an incredible 6529 yards at Warren High School in Downey, Calif.

But an ankle tweak this spring has opened the doors for some new faces to come through - namely Bishop Sankey, Dezden Petty and walk-on Willis Wilson.

Experience Should Pay Off - As a true frosh in 2011, Sankey was given limited touches - just 28 carries for 187 yards, but that comes off as a 6.7 average per attempt. That means that Sankey knew exactly what to do with the ball as soon as he got it, and some of his best averages came against stout defenses; four carries for 22 yards against USC, five carries for 31 yards against Stanford, two touches against Cal for 16 yards and two carries for 21 yards against Oregon.

Another Productive Talent - Those numbers don't give a tremendous sample size, but if you add them to the numbers the 5-foot-10, 197-pound Sankey put up during his career at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, it's easy to see that Sankey has a history of piling up big chunks of yards. We've talked about Callier's production in high schools, but while at GP Sankey ran for 4355 total yards, making him that league's all-time leading rusher - including 2518 yards his senior season, also another league record for a single season. What's more remarkable about those number, especially the senior numbers, is that he did that while playing half the year at quarterback. Sankey ran for 359 yards versus Mead, 299 yards against University, 253 yards against Mt. Spokane, 235 versus Shadle Park and 229 against Central Valley; a tailback would be considered a massive success with just one of those games on a season's resume.

Health Equals Wealth - As was stated earlier, Callier's ankle issues allowed players like Sankey, Petty and Wilson to get extended minutes in front of Steve Sarkisian, Running Backs Coach Joel Thomas, and new Offensive Coordinator Eric Kiesau - and they've taken advantage. Sankey and Wilson, in particular, have been the ones that have been available for every snap of spring, so it's not surprising that they have been featured - which means money in the bank come fall when decisions ultimately have to be made for starting carries. Petty came back a few practices ago from a back tweak, but had a big practice at Memorial Stadium to put him back in the thick of things as a third down, short yardage back.

Scouting Report - Because Sankey had to play quarterback at GP his senior year, he was taking a lot of punishment - and that meant his yards were hard earned, mostly in the middle of the field. After high school ball was done, Sankey worked diligently to get his speed back up to where it had been and that showed up last fall as he was able to quickly get to the second level on defenders. So while players like Callier and Petty appear to be reliable when it comes to getting those hard yards between the tackles, Sankey has a history of being able to do that too if needed, but he also has that extra burst to find the corner, something those other two players are hit and miss on. So while Sankey isn't as big as those two in terms of handling consistent punishment, he provides the bigger play, 'Lightning' component to their 'Thunder'. When at USC, Sarkisian noted how he was very comfortable using two running backs as change-ups to use depending on their whim, along with down and distance and the situation at hand.

The versatility of this running back group - Callier and Petty as the hard hitters, with Sankey and Wilson adding the slippery edge component, and Antavius Sims and Deontae Cooper being the big 'X' factors - lends itself to a RB-By-Committee approach by Sarkisian and Kiesau this fall, but don't discount Sankey's spring…he's shown that, of all the backs Washington has right now, he has the versatility and game to be a lead back if it comes down to playing that hot hand behind Keith Price. There's no question he's not a finished product by any means - his pass protection has to become more reliable - but he can catch the ball out of the backfield without and seems to be UW's only true home-run threat any time he has the ball in his hands because he can consistently get to the corner and sprint to the sideline.

Quotable: "I think Bishop has had a very consistent spring football so far, two-thirds of the way through. I think Jesse obviously has been hampered by the ankle injury, but to his credit, again a younger Jesse Callier might be sitting on the sidelines with just his jersey on, but the veteran Jesse now is a junior, is battling through it and competing, made some really nice plays for us today and I know that he's mature. Those two guys have been performing well." - Steve Sarkisian

Competition: Ultimately I feel that Sankey's competition will be the trainer's table - because if he's healthy all year long he should be able to rack up at least 100 carries. That should be his basement in terms of handling the rock. Washington ran the ball 452 times in 2011 - an average of 35 times a game. If we assume close to the same average, I could see Sankey and Callier splitting 25 of those carries, with Price racking up 5-7 just on scrambles and designed runs - and Petty picking up the rest. Price did have more rushes than either Callier or Sankey last year, but with those two in control of the carries this year that statistic should change dramatically.

However the totals shake out, both Callier and Sankey are going to have to stay upright for the Huskies to provide a reasonable balance for Price's potent passing attack. Between them, they averaged over six yards a carry every time they touched the ball, so it's not like they can't be productive; they just haven't been asked to do it before on a consistent basis. If UW can get close to the 154 rushing yards they averaged in 2011, that will be more than enough for Price to do some serious damage via play action and other variations off run fakes.








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