Mid-Spring Review: RB's

Let's put it right out in front; there's no way a Washington running back is going to duplicate Bishop Sankey's 2013 numbers this year. No Washington running back is going to account for nearly 2200 yards of total offense and 21 touchdowns - they just aren't.

But what they might be able to do is collectively approximate Sankey's production. When it comes to pulling off a plan like that, it's definitely doable.
Running Back:
32 Deontae Cooper - Sr.
24 Jesse Callier - Sr.
12 Dwayne Washington - So.
22 Lavon Coleman - RFr. OR
35 Ralph Kinne - RFr. walk-on


What have they done in practice? - It's been a while since Deontae Cooper has played football without a knee brace, but that's exactly what the senior did during the first half of spring football. The 6-foot, 201-pound Cooper will never get back to the way he was when he first came to Montlake; a blur. It was clear the moment he stepped on the field turf at Husky Stadium that he could be a home run threat every time he touched the ball. That's not the case anymore. Even when he broke free, as he did a couple times versus Oregon State, he was eventually caught. That doesn't mean Coop still can't bust out a truckload of 10, 15, and 20-yard runs. He's still got a lot of miles left in him due to sitting out those years, and we're just starting to see the player that ran for nearly 7500 yards and 107 touchdowns in high school.

Jesse Callier missed a little bit of spring ball, but he also looks to improve a bit on his 2013 season totals; 213 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, his most productive season was his first at UW when the 5-10, 202-pound senior ran for 433 yards backing up Chris Polk. Callier, like Cooper, worked out the first half without a brace of any kind, and looks fairly sharp. He's probably the one pure running back that is just as good out of the backfield catching passes, but it's hard to see that versatility come out when most of the practices have been focused on fundamentals and installation.

Dwayne Washington continues to run like a man that has no fear - of anything. He's consistently the most aggressive of the running backs, especially on runs between the tackles. That's not surprising given his 6-foot-2, 221-pound frame, but you can also tell that he still suffers a little bit from not being a natural back. He runs a little high, and as we saw last year can turn the ball over on occasion. While Cooper and Callier aren't the open field threats they used to be, Washington can go the distance at any time - and that's his biggest calling card. We saw it against Oregon State in 2013, and I suspect that won't be the only time Washington will do that.

Lavon Coleman was praised by the former UW staff for having an NFL-ready body now, and it's easy to see why they thought so. The 6-foot, 215-pound redshirt freshman from Napoleon Kaufman's hometown looks the part of a future star, and depending on what happens with the guys in front of him - his future may be now. He ran hard the first half of spring; you can tell he was a very prolific and polished running back in high school and all he's done since getting to Montlake is get a little bit bigger, stronger, and faster.

With Ryan McDaniel out for spring, redshirt freshman walk-on Ralph Kinne has been getting a number of reps as a bigger back. The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Kinne - a high school teammate of David Ajamu's at Shelton - was originally brought in and placed at fullback by Steve Sarkisian, but that position has been blown up by Petersen and new Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith.

Where does the position stand after two weeks? - Well, it's safe to say that, despite Sankey's absence, the position is in very good hands moving forward. All of the incumbents - Cooper, Callier and Washington - are getting their work in and haven't shown a lot of rust or slowdown in the transition from Sarkisian to Petersen. And Coleman certainly shows signs of being a player that could really emerge from the shadows of a redshirt year to become an impact performer.

It would also be wise at this time to talk about the 'x' factor at running back in 2014: Shaquille Thompson. The 6-foot-2, 231-pound do-it-all player for the Huskies has been given a chance to tote the rock a bit so far in the first half of spring ball - something two weeks ago Petersen said he would do. Thompson is simply a tremendous athlete - he punted for Grant High in Sacramento - so it's not surprising that Pete wants to see what he can do as a change-of-pace back, a bigger two-way linebacker/running back in the mold of UCLA's Myles Jack. The Jack comparisons are inevitable simply due to the timing of the experiment, but Petersen knew all about Thompson in high school and what he's capable of as an offensive skill player.

Thompson's cameo simply adds another quality runner to a mix where it's going to be hard to pick one from another, provided they all stay healthy (knock wood). Petersen, Smith, and RB Coach Keith Bhonapha have a decent handle on what each back is like on the field, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and can utilize each back in the appropriate way. There was only one year Petersen didn't have a 1000-yard back at Boise State, so he takes the run game seriously.

What to look for in the second half of spring - With five running backs - each with their own particular style - out there vying for carries (six if you rightly include Kinne), Bhonapha has the opposite problem of Smith and the quarterbacks; how can he get everyone enough reps to give them a chance to show what they can do? It's a nice problem for the first-year UW coach to have.

Cooper has looked strong so far through six practices, giving reason to believe he may be the most equipped to be that 'every down' back that might start games. It's also clear that the others have also had strong moments of their own and could also be used in that capacity. Callier actually has the most experience of the four scholarshipped running backs, but has never really been used in that capacity before.

What may come to pass is that, in order for the group to reach Sankey's production in the aggregate the UW staff will create packages for each player - including Thompson - that will work to maximize their strengths in certain down-and-distance situations and also, at the same time, keep everyone relatively fresh throughout the season. So instead of one back getting the ball over 350 total times - like Sankey did in 2013 - the UW staff may try to make sure they can get 2-3 of the running backs 150-plus carries.

The Huskies ran 610 times in 2013, so if the top three backs all carried the ball 150 times, that also allows the quarterbacks to get in their carries, as well as one or two of the backups and 'specialty' backs - players like Thompson and any of the receivers that might end up with carries. The Huskies had 11 carries last year between Jaydon Mickens and John Ross; given Petersen's interest with getting Thompson some play at running back, it's certainly not unreasonable to think that he'll try and find down-and-distance opportunities to unleash Mickens and Ross like the Seattle Seahawks did with Percy Harvin in the Super Bowl. It's clear Petersen knows he has some game-breaking talent all over the field at UW, and he intends to use it.


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