Post-Spring Review: Running Backs

Starting Wednesday, will be breaking down all the position groups to see where the Washington Huskies stand after the first 15 practices of the Chris Petersen Era. Up now is the running backs, a group with heavy scrutiny placed on them in the post-Bishop Sankey era on Montlake. Who will pick up the slack?

Running Back:
32 Deontae Cooper - Sr.
22 Lavon Coleman - RFr. OR
24 Jesse Callier - Sr. OR
12 Dwayne Washington - So.
35 Ralph Kinne - RFr. walk-on

What did they do in the spring? - Well, just like the quarterbacks, there ended up being only a couple of running backs on scholarship for the majority of spring football. Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington nursed injuries during the second half, meaning Deontae Cooper and Lavon Coleman took the majority of reps, along with walk-on Ralph Kinne. Cooper has become something of a medical miracle during his comeback from three consecutive knee injuries - although not all to the same knee - and dare I say it to invoke the wrath of the Football Gods, but he looks almost as good as he did when he was ripping it up as a true freshman. Obviously it's going to be very, very difficult for any college football player to come back from three consecutive knee injuries, let alone come back at 100 percent fitness and physical ability. Cooper seems 100 percent on the former, but I'm skeptical he'll ever have the same breakaway speed he did coming out of Citrus High School in Perris, Calif.

Coleman is a redshirt frosh, and the previous coaching staff couldn't help but rave about the Lompoc, Calif. native. With direct connections to another legendary Lompoc running back, Husky favorite Napoleon Kaufman, the 6-foot, 215-pound Coleman emerged as a perfect blend of inside-outside running for UW during March and April. And with Callier and Washington done for spring, it allowed Coleman some serious repetition against the first-teamers, something he wouldn't have been able to count on otherwise. It's helped to prepare Coleman to the point where he'll join the fray for legitimate playing time this fall. He's physical, has enough speed to give defenders second thoughts about giving him space to breathe, and has footwork that might remind some of Sankey in time.

Kinne is going to be an interesting player to watch. The former Shelton back took a lot of snaps this spring, I'm sure it was a lot more than he could have possibly expected. Like Psalm Wooching, Kinne was kind of a man without a home after Steve Sarkisian bolted for USC. At 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds, Kinne was listed with the fullbacks, but that position was effectively blown up by Petersen and Smith. Wooching moved to defense and Kinne stayed as a back, albeit more as a bigger single back. He's an instinctual, tough runner and can get you three yards when you need it. I'm sure he turned some heads when he ran for 5.5 yards a carry in the spring preview, and I'm sure some of that had to do with the fact that he was reaping the rewards of staying healthy and available during spring.

Where does the position stand heading into the summer? - In some ways, I suspect some Husky fans might look at what happened with the injuries to Callier and Washington and take them with silver linings. Much in the same way the suspension to Cyler Miles opened the door for Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams to throw a seemingly infinite number of passes the last 15 practices, injuries to Callier and Washington - arguably the two expected to contribute the most given Cooper's injury history and Coleman's relative inexperience - would provide Cooper and Coleman plenty of opportunities to prove their health, as well as their comfort level moving to the next stage in their development.

And as much as anything else, both Cooper and Coleman are in playing shape, are riding a positive wave of momentum based on what they were able to accomplish during the 15 spring practices, and I fully expect them to keep pushing on as they attempt to continue to separate themselves from the other running backs in the rotation.

The injuries to Callier and Washington won't hold them out for fall, and honestly shouldn't hold them out of the summer PRP's (player-run practices). They were both at all the practices, and when they weren't rehabbing off the side they were paying attention to new RB Coach Keith Bhonapha and taking mental notes. They may not have gotten the physical reps they were hoping to get, but they've spent at least the same amount of time as the rest in the film room and have the experience to jump right back in when cleared.

There's just one slight problem with all this; the new UW coaching staff - including Bhonapha - barely had a chance to evaluate both Callier and Washington before they went down with injury. They did participate in the first half - Callier, to a lesser extent - so it's not as if they don't have some film they can go on when talking about improvements during the PRP's. Obviously staying healthy is a primary concern, but what will Bhonapha ask Callier to work on? We saw ball security issues with Washington early in the 2013 season - especially at Illinois - so that's one part of Dwayne's game he can always improve on.

Again, the silver lining in all this, if you choose to believe in such things, is that both Callier and Washington have experience playing at the Pac-12 level - 53 games played between the two of them - so if you're a Washington fan you have to hope that those two players are able to bounce back physically and jump right into the mix like John Timu did at linebacker after the first half of spring ball. He came in and acted like he'd always been there. Callier, especially with his 40 games played during his UW career, will be a valuable addition to the running back room the moment he's cleared for full contact. He's a veteran presence who can pass protect, play between the tackles, or be a difference-maker catching the ball out of the backfield. Washington is arguably the most athletic back of the lot and the one with the most game-breaking potential. While Cooper failed to score on his long runs versus Oregon State (don't get me wrong, he came about as close as you can get to scoring and I fully believe he'll be even faster this year), Washington had no such problems. He's a legitimate home-run threat every time he touches the ball.

What to look for in the fall - Clearly getting Callier and Washington back healthy and ready to go is going to be a huge boost for the Huskies moving forward if they stand any chance of duplicating Sankey's numbers in the aggregate. I certainly don't expect one back from the stable to go out and instantly become the next Sankey and take that many reps - won't happen. But the number of talented backs suggests Smith needn't hold back from liberally rotating fresh runners to pound away at defenses. How quickly they are able to pick up from the mental reps on the side to actually playing within the new offensive structure will be a focus for sure.

Arguably the biggest talking point about the running backs heading into the fall revolves around a player that isn't a running back at all - at least not yet. Linebacker Shaquille Thompson was the biggest recruiting coup for Sarkisian outside the state of Washington, and ever since he stepped foot on campus Sark was looking for ways to include him as an impact player. Special teams seemed to be a likely destination, and he has had some kick and punt returns. Petersen showcased Thompson with some carries during this spring, and the results were impressive - the capper being a 75-yard dash during a scrimmage that had defenders grasping for air as he blew by them in vain.

Anyone that has looked at Thompson's incredible senior highlight reel during his time at Grant High in Sacramento knew that his ability running with the ball was a sight to behold. At 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds, Shaq is already a ridiculous physical specimen, and Petersen immediately picked up on Sark's earlier dual-role thought for Thompson and expanded it to offense.

Everyone is going to claim UW did it because UCLA did it with Myles Jack. Sure. Whatever. If people need to make that comparison, that's fine. But the reality is, Shaq Thompson is a player that, in a perfect world, should never leave the field. He has the capability of impacting a game in so many ways, Petersen is simply exploring an alternative UW fans always knew existed, and wondered if they would ever see it on the field. Well, your chance could come as early as August 30th.

So if all four scholarship players are healthy and Thompson is added to that talented mix, it's doubtful true frosh Jomon Dotson will ever see the light of Husky Stadium. Instead I'm guessing the 5-foot-11, 175-pound speed merchant will be hunkered down in the new UW weight room and not allowed to leave until next spring. Top Stories