Spring Battles to Watch - Running Backs

With Washington Spring Football a week away, it's time to break down the positions and analyze where the real battles for starting time should take place. We move on to running backs, where one player has clearly solidified his place in the rotation - but who will back him up? The answers probably won't reveal themselves this spring.

Running Back:
Bishop Sankey, Jr. 5-10 200
Jesse Callier, Jr. 5-10 211
Deontae Cooper, Jr. 6-0 201
Dezden Petty, So. 5-11 225
Kendyl Taylor, So. 5-10 200
Erich Wilson II, So. 5-100 188
Dwayne Washington, RFr. 6-1 205
Ryan McDaniel, RFr. 6-0 227

Cooper Pelluer, Jr. 6-3, 230
Joshua Perkins, So. 6-3, 216
Psalm Wooching, RFr. 6-3, 219

The Background: Heading into the 2012 season, Jesse Callier was supposed to be the man, with Bishop Sankey backing him up; 13 games later their roles have completely reversed. Callier, who cut his teeth initially at UW working alongside Chris Polk, spent last year on the shelf after a knee injury in Washington's first offensive drive of the season took him out of the picture.

Enter Sankey, who had 28 carries for 187 yards as a true freshman in 2011. With little backup, all Sankey did last year was run for 1439 yards and 16 touchdowns - basically matching Polk's senior numbers. The cherry on top of a wonderful sophomore campaign came when Sankey became the first Vegas Bowl MVP of a losing team when he single-handedly kept UW's offense chugging with 205 rushing yards. There are arguably only two other Huskies right now who should feel more secure in their starting positions than Sankey; Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Sean Parker.

Sankey's production had made it so the most obvious question for the running backs heading into Spring Football is; what does his stranglehold over the starting spot mean for the other backs? While Steve Sarkisian and first-year RB Coach Johnny Nansen can't openly say it, Sankey is - barring injury - a lock to start against Boise State on August 31st. Their job is to promote competition, but at this point the only competition that matters is the one to back Sankey up as a change of pace to help bolster the running numbers even that much more. Kendyl Taylor, a converted true frosh wideout, was second on the team last year in rushing with 209 yards, and there was only one other back that ran for more than 100 yards - Erich Wilson, another true freshman. Clearly someone has to step up to provide the production to take some of the load off of Sankey.

Callier's Comeback: While there is nothing to suggest Callier isn't going to make a full and speedy recovery, he tore his knee up in the beginning of September - six months ago. The chances of seeing how far Callier has come in his rehabilitation this spring is slim to none; hopefully the junior from Downey, Calif. will be cleared to full practice status in the summer, which will allow him some time to condition himself properly and get back in the mix. With over 2000 yards in all-purpose running so far at UW, Callier has already proven himself to be an important cog to Sarkisian's offense when healthy - the best-case scenario for the Huskies is that Callier can regain the form that saw him run for over 400 yards and 700 yards' worth of kicks in 2010.

Cooper's Last Stand?: Hopefully the same can also be said of Cooper, who is facing much, much longer odds than Callier when it comes to seeing the field. The junior from Perris, Calif. is roughly a month further ahead than Callier with his own knee rehabilitation, but still won't be cleared for Spring Football. Unlike Callier this is the third knee injury Cooper has sustained since donning the purple and gold in 2010. Ever since he went down the fall of his freshman year, it's been setback after setback for the upbeat Cooper. The most frustrating thing about Cooper's 'career' at UW is the fact that he was the kind of breakaway threat the Huskies needed at the time - and still need. Yet the surgeries have deprived Cooper of his dream to play Division-1 football, and this year has to be his last shot at redemption. Not many backs have suffered as many trials and tribulations as Cooper, and fewer still have come back time and time again with his trademark smile and positive attitude. If the Football Gods ever believed in justice, they'd give Cooper one pain-free season to show what he can do. As it stands, if the Huskies get anything from him this coming fall it would be quite a story.

Will the Freshmen Continue to Develop?: Taylor, the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder from Arizona was a pleasant surprise when he was pressed into action in UW's upset win over Stanford. With each game he continued to progress and make his mark to the point where this spring he wouldn't shock anyone if he made the backup running back spot his own. He's got the size needed, as well as the versatility to run inside, out and also catch the ball out of the backfield.

Erich Wilson is another true frosh back that was given some carries to prove his worth in 2012, but didn't get near enough totes to really get a great sense as to if he'll be better than Taylor this spring. It should be a great battle, as Wilson ran for over 2100 yards as a senior in high school so we know he can be an every-down back if given a shot.

The big X Factor in this group is Dwayne Washington. Another converted receiver, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete from Lakewood, Calif. enrolled late to UW last fall, so redshirting was a no-brainer. During bowl practices he got his shot as a running back and impressed enough that he's expected to continue his training in the backfield this spring. He's a bigger back that could really jump out, depending on if he's put in the necessary work during the winter. Speaking of the bigger backs...

The Bigger Backs Need to Make Their Case: Dezden Petty was brought in as a bigger back in Washington's attack, but ended up not doing much in 2012 other than some spot mop-up duty and the occasional short yardage attempt. Once the coaches decided to move Taylor from WR to RB, Petty's carries went down. Add to the mix Ryan McDaniel, a 2012 early enrollee rehabbing his own knee injury suffered in high school, and you have two good-sized backs that can offer up a bruising alternative to Sankey if the Huskies really want to pound the rock. This spring will be the first time McDaniel is expected to run and go 100 percent, so it'll be interesting to see if the touted prospect can deliver offering up a viable run alternative. Either way the Huskies need to find that change-of-pace ballcarrier, and any good stable of backs needs to have some different sizes and styles to it. These two are the only big options right now at RB.

New Blood at Fullback: With Jonathan Amosa and Cole Sager graduating after the 2012 season, Washington will be blooding a new fullback. They moved Cooper Pelluer from linebacker last year, but he missed last year with a shoulder injury before he could make his presence felt.

With Pelluer's health up in the air that means Psalm Wooching should be Washington's starting fullback in August. Watching him with the scout team last year he showed plenty of athleticism and nasty, not afraid to mix it up with anyone on the field. In fact he showed a lot of moxie and probably didn't make a lot of friends on the field with his physical play, but that should prove beneficial when he's asked to lead block and act as personal escort for Sankey, et al…

Perkins could prove to be a thorn in Wooching's side this spring. The H-Back, converted from wideout last year, is getting bigger and the UW coaches might be intrigued with what he can do in the blocking game. They already know he can catch the ball a little bit, so if he can show the physicality and versatility required of the position, the fullback spot just might have one of the more intriguing position battles of spring.

The other fullback that could have done something this spring in a spot role is Pio Vatuvei, the sophomore defensive lineman - but since Vatuvei injured a knee during the season don't expect to see him make an appearance this spring. That doesn't mean he can't make an impact as a lead blocker or in certain 'jumbo' packages, but you won't see Vatuvei running around in March.

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