Spring Preview - Running Backs

A week to go until the beginning of Spring Football at Washington! And you thought it would never get here. Well, it’s nearly upon us, so it’s time to look at each position group to see what they’ve done in the off-season. And if UW’s recent Combine Day was any indication, the running back group is ready to finally take off.

Led by Dwayne Washington, who ran a team-best 4.42 40 and jumped 35 inches in the vertical jump, the running backs were arguably the best testing group of the day. With three of the top-5 40 times coming from the RB’s (Jomon Dotson had a 4.43 40 and 35.5-inch vertical jump, while Deontae Cooper posted a 4.49 40 and 32.5-inch vertical jump), the competition for the starting position should be extraordinary.

And don’t discount Lavon Coleman from the mix either. The 5-foot-11, 217-pound redshirt freshman (sophomore to be for the 2015 season) posted a 31.5-inch vertical jump, and Running Backs Coach Keith Bhonapha posted this quick vine of Coleman sounding the siren.

So what is going to separate one player from another?

Here’s the position group heading into spring:
Deontae Cooper (5-11, 202) (RS Sr.)
Dwayne Washington (6-2, 221) (RS Jr.)
Lavon Coleman (5-11, 222) (RS So.)
Jomon Dotson (5-10, 174) (RS Fr.)
Ralph Kinne (5-10, 205) (RS So.)*
Gavin McDaniel (5-8, 185) (RS Fr.)*
* denotes walk-on

The Incumbent: Washington boasted five running backs that ran for 300 yards or more in 2014, losing only one - Shaq Thompson. They may have lost a second in Cyler Miles, but we won’t know Miles’ status until at least after spring football. We should then know whether or not the quarterback plans on returning to Montlake in 2015.

That leaves the three scholarship backs - Washington, Coleman, and Cooper - and one new scholarship face to the mix in Dotson, who redshirted in 2014.

Running for 724 yards last year, it would be easy to slot Washington in as the leader of the group returning in 2015. When you add to it his numbers from the combine, his combination of size and speed is very compelling.

Making a play: Cooper, ironically enough, hasn’t lost any speed after three successful knee surgeries. He ran a 4.49 as a true frosh, and ran the same time just a couple weeks ago. That’s extremely impressive. He’s not as big as Washington or as bruising as Coleman, but he has that in-between game that works as a change-of-pace back.

Finding a niche: Coleman is looking more and more like the third down, short-yardage, goal-line type back. He looked massive at the combine day, and as the above video shows, he’s putting up all sorts of massive weight in order to get even bigger and stronger. Coleman averaged over four yards a carry in 2014, so it’s not as if he can’t be an every down back, but he seems to be working his way into a tough yards back, lead back when the Huskies are looking to convert a first down or by the end zone.

The New Guy: Dotson is the unknown quantity at this position. We really don’t know what to make of the redshirt freshman-to-be, other than he’s basically as fast as Washington but roughly 55 pounds lighter. That means, with all the bigger backs Washington already has, Dotson should be the scat-back, the quicker running back that can dart in and out of holes and offer up a totally different running style to what defenses would normally see out of the Huskies. That is an intriguing factor to consider; the three returning backs punish, punish, punish - then a firefly like Dotson can run to daylight. Sounds good on paper!

What does spring mean for this group? - Obviously Dotson has the most to prove, as he hasn’t done anything at UW so far. But it’s not as if the three backs in front of him have created specific roles to the point where a pecking order has clearly evolved. Washington should be the starter, and it’s not as if Bhonapha isn’t aware of what he can do - but he’ll still need to get his work in. Same goes for Cooper, and especially Coleman, who appears to be transforming his game from that of an every down back to one of conversion specialist, the guy Bhonapha can count on to get the hard yards.

No running back in 2014 had more than 138 carries. Compare that to Bishop Sankey, who had a school-record 327 carries two years ago - only six carries less than Washington (132), Coleman (138), and Cooper (63) COMBINED. Sankey was the ultimate workhorse, and I think ideally Bhonapha would love to get one of his guys up to 200 carries in 2015. But each holds a bit of a different skill set that fits well within the overall fabric of the running game, and you can be assured they’ll need all four scholarship players this fall - if for no other reason than to be able to redshirt incoming RB Myles Gaskin.

In that sense, spring football will be big for the running backs to give Bhonapha a sense if their off-season conditioning has paid dividends on the field, and also whether or not one of the scholarship guys is ready to step up and be that 200-carry guy. Who will it be?

Spring Preview - QB’s

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