Spring First Half Review - RB's

There might be a faction of Washington fans just a little disappointed that there hasn't been more competition for the No. 1 QB job and that it's been Keith Price's job to lose since before Spring Football started. That group might be even more disheartened to learn that there's been even less of a competition through the first six practices of spring when it comes to running back.

Bishop Sankey has an even bigger stranglehold over the running backs position than Price does at QB, but that doesn't mean the backup spot battle doesn't have any allure.

Sankey Reigns Supreme: Even the newly-appointed Pope Francis doesn't have anything on this Bishop. The junior from Spokane finished 2012 on the highest of high notes, running for over 200 yards and winning Vegas Bowl MVP honors against Boise State - the team the Huskies face in their 2013 opener. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Sankey has done nothing through the first half of spring to think he's anything other than a mortal lock to make that start versus the Broncos, showing the same speed, agility, and explosiveness we came to expect by the end of 2012. The only obstacles Bishop needs to overcome at this point are the same every running back at Washington is now having to deal with; a new position coach and assimilating the new no-huddle aspect of Steve Sarkisian's offense. Sankey looked no worse for the wear after going through a half-dozen practices at 130-plus reps a practice (the reality is he probably didn't rep more than a third of those), and talking to Sarkisian it sounds like Bishop's all-around game has continued to mature on the field.

"He's a much more confident guy," Sark said of Sankey. "Coming off the season he had last year he's really exuding a great deal of confidence. He's playing at a high level. He's running the football, he's catching the ball, I think his pass protection has improved…the overall confidence factor for him has really shown up and the end result is that he's playing at a high level."

A True Backup Battle: Normally Jesse Callier would be battling Sankey for starts and reps this spring but he's still out rehabbing the knee injury he suffered during the first offensive series of 2012. Add Dezden Petty's defection during the first week of spring and now the battle has been joined by two youngsters: Erich Wilson and Dwayne Washington. And they've been going toe-to-toe ever since it became evident they were in prime position to be Sankey's heir apparent.

Wilson gets the nod here first more through experience carrying the ball in live situations more than anything. The 5-foot-10, 188-pound sophomore from East Palo Alto, Calif. brings the speed element to the backup spot, being more of player that can do damage in space than truly between the tackles. He carried the ball 28 times for 145 yards and one touchdown in six games as a true freshman last year. Wilson actually had a better yards-per-carry average than Sankey but his sample size was a tenth of Sankey's.

Washington's Potential Is Evident: The real 'X-Factor' in the running back group has been Dwayne Washington ever since the Huskies started looking seriously at him as a running threat during last year's bowl practices. "I think Dwayne Washington has been really impressive running the football," Sarkisian said this spring. "He's been a really nice compliment to Bishop. This is a transition for him from high school where he was a wide receiver. He's obviously got a great build for running back. We did it all last season as kind of a scout team running back and now he's actually learning and playing in our system. The only times right now where Dwayne is struggling is when he really doesn't know what to do. And that's just going to have to come with time, and the sooner he can learn the nuances of the position and the calls he'll play even faster and he'll play even better. So that's the challenge with him."

The beauty of putting Washington at running back is his versatility. He's already shown great hands, toughness and burst as a receiver. For those needing a refresher on why UW signed Washington, click HERE to watch nearly 15 minutes of Washington as a senior at Gahr High.

McDaniel Gives UW Another Gear: Although he hasn't been 100 percent for all the practices so far this spring, it has been very encouraging to see big Ryan McDaniel get his first carries as a Husky so far this March. At six feet tall and 227 pounds, McDaniel gives Washington that bigger running back presence that they've wanted as a change of pace for years - and now that Petty has decided to transfer it's important the redshirt frosh from Torrance, Calif. continue to strengthen his injured knee and make sure he's available this fall. Losing the knee brace has made a world of difference for Keith Price in terms of mobility, so the same has to be said for a running back. McDaniel, ever since showing up last winter as a mid-year enrollee, has been rehabbing a knee injury suffered during his senior year in high school. It's a good thing he did enroll early because the UW training staff and doctors have had plenty of time to get McDaniel ready to go for this fall, and if he can at least minimize the OL-sized brace he wears on his repaired right knee. It's not easy to come back from ACL and MCL injuries, but McDaniel has been diligent with his rehab and his work this spring is testament to that. He's clearly not at full-go yet, but hopefully getting as much work as he has so far will give him the juice he needs to ramp things up and be ready to go 100 percent this fall.

The Walking Wounded: It's been disappointing to see at least a couple of offensive and defensive linemen walking (limping?) around practices last fall and this spring, but it's been a double downer to see Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper out again for another long stretch of practices. Cooper especially, as his upbeat demeanor and positive influence on his teammates masks a desperate desire to get back on the football field in full pads since his first knee injury nearly three years ago. Two more knee tears later, is it finally time to call it quits for Cooper? Not if you see him at practice. The six-foot, 201-pound junior has always rehabbed as if his life depended on it, and you can tell he has unfinished business at Washington. Even if he were to carry the ball only once in a game it would represent a serious victory for Cooper given the number of hurdles he's had to overcome just to fulfill a dream to play college football. I really hope he gets that chance in the next two years.

Callier, on the other hand, is a back the Huskies truly need this fall. Getting the 5-foot-10, 211-pound junior to 100 percent fitness this fall would add a couple different dimensions to Washington's stable of ball carriers. First it would allow UW to redshirt promising frosh Lavon Coleman, something they need to do to give balance to the position group. Second, Callier's presence would add more experience and breadth of knowledge to a group sorely lacking in wise hands outside of Sankey. Third, it would give Washington another powerful back capable of getting them tough yards in short-yardage, third-down, and goal-line situations. Now they have toyed with using bigger players in the past like Pio Vatuvei and Elijah Qualls certainly has shown he can do damage as a jumbo back in high school, but there's nothing like having a seasoned vet take charge and moving the chains. Callier can give Sankey some much-needed cover in this area - especially given the fact that based on what UW has done offensively so far this spring we can expect to see a lot more no-huddle than ever before. So having as many fresh bodies carrying the rock will be essential.

Fullback Still Unknown: Whether it was Jonathan Amosa, Austin Sylvester, or Paul Homer, Steve Sarkisian has always had a fullback he could rely on since arriving at Washington in December of 2008. They haven't been as big a focal point at UW as they were when he was running USC's offense, for instance - but they've still remained a part of Sarkisian's overall offensive philosophy. Psalm Wooching was brought in from the Big Island to be a four-year starter at the position, and that may very well happen. But for the 6-foot-3, 219-pound redshirt frosh - as well as his teammate joined in the position battle, converted linebacker Cooper Pelluer (6-3, 230) - there wasn't a whole lot to take from the first six practices of spring. That isn't because they aren't going to be good or versatile or valuable; it had more to do with what the UW offensive coaches were trying to get done, namely implement a lot of no-huddle looks. And the fullback just isn't going to get a lot of joy in no huddle situations where the QB's are trying to utilize mis-matches with receivers and use their running backs on quick-hitting draws and the like. Sark said during the last post-practice media gathering that they'd be going back to square one with their first April practice a week from Tuesday, so I anticipate - much like the kicking game getting to work with the inclusion of frosh Cameron Van Winkle now in the mix - that Wooching and Pelluer will be getting their chances to shine in the second half of Spring Football.

Unofficial Depth Chart: Here's my very unofficial look at how the running backs peg out after the first six practices of spring.

Running Back:
Bishop Sankey, 5-10, 200, Jr.
Erich Wilson, 5-10, 188, So. OR
Dwayne Washington, 6-1, 205, RFr.
Ryan McDaniel, 6-0, 227, RFr.
Jesse Callier, 5-10, 211, Jr. (INJ.)
Deontae Cooper, 6-0, 201, Jr. (INJ.)

Fullback Psalm Wooching, 6-3, 219, RFr.
Cooper Pelluer, 6-3, 230, Jr.

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