Where does the running back position find itself heading into fall camp?
The three main returning running backs - Washington, Coleman, and Cooper - accounted for nearly 60 percent of Washington’s total run game in 2014, and 28 percent of the Huskies’ total offensive output. Considering UW’s third-leading rusher was actually a linebacker (Shaq Thompson), and their fourth was a retiring quarterback (Cyler Miles), the Huskies’ run game is in particularly strong shape, and I expect those percentages to go up.
One of the main reasons the running back group is looking good right now for fall camp is that Chris Petersen kept the covers on Washington and Coleman during spring in order to minimize the wear and tear to their bodies. There will be plenty of miles put on their tires this fall. Deontae Cooper was out for a part of spring handling a personal matter, but it was his sixth (!) spring with the purple and gold, so it wasn’t nearly as important for him to get reps.
Those backs that needed the reps - namely Dotson, Kinne, and McDaniel - got all the turns they wanted, and then some. So you have three rested veterans and three contributors-in-waiting, all available for fall camp.
And then you add a quality freshman back in O’Dea stud Myles Gaskin, and the amount of depth and balance across the classes makes the running back group one Jonathan Smith should be able to rely on heavily in 2015.
Dwayne Washington (6-2, 221, Jr.): ESPN’s Ted Miller wrote a column about how Washington is the Pac-12 running back no one is writing about (at least until he wrote about him). That may the case, and the conference is stuffed with elite backs - but Washington should definitely be involved in that conversation. He’s one of those runners that goes for minimal gains, lulls you to sleep, and then busts out 50 and 60-yard touchdown romps. Washington has size, arguably the fastest straight-ahead speed of anyone on offense (an injured John Ross excepted), and athleticism. He can produce as an every-down back, or as a converted receiver - out of the backfield. He is the starting point for Washington’s running back group and will be counted on for at least 175 carries this season.
Lavon Coleman (5-11, 222, So.): Another physical back, Coleman shed a bit of bulk which should give him a little bit more pop going through the hole and into the second level. The sophomore is the true bruiser of the bunch, and I don’t know if Smith and running backs coach Keith Bhonapha plan on pigeon-holing Coleman as such, or as the guy that just comes in and does everything Washington would be asked to do when he needs a breather. The Huskies have enough flexibility with body types and running styles that they can mix and match to a lot of different game scenarios. Either way, Coleman has shown he can provide the tough, consistent yards when needed. Now in his third year with the program, Coleman is now considered a veteran and hopefully his breakthrough season takes place in 2015.
Deontae Cooper (5-11, 202, Sr.): Cooper is still very much a modern science miracle, running for over 550 yards the last two years after three knee tears seemed all but certain to derail a promising career. He averaged about four carries a game in 2014, and while I don’t see that number doubling in the fall I do think Cooper can be counted on for some solid production here and there when circumstances dictate. As Petersen has pointed out in the past, no one group takes more punishment than the running backs - so having a long-standing veteran in reserve when Washington and Coleman are unavailable is a nice luxury for Smith and Bhonapha during a taxing season.
Jomon Dotson (5-10, 174, RFr.): It’s time for Jomon Dotson to show the world what he’s got. He’s the second-fastest back behind Dwayne Washington, and he took a ton of reps in the spring. He’s gained at least 10 pounds since he showed up on campus, and he’s got the body type that can do damage as either a running back or slot, or even out wide if the Huskies want to run some Fly packages or variations to get their fastest players out in space. As long as Washington and Coleman remain healthy for the entire season (not a wager I would take to the local bookie), expect Cooper and Dotson to get roughly the same number of turns, with additional carries going to the ‘hot hand’.
Myles Gaskin (5-9, 195, Fr.): With four scholarship running backs ahead of Gaskin, as well as two quality walk-ons that received a ton of turns during spring ball - you would think the Seattle native would be down the pecking order when it comes to Bhonapha’s options. But you would be wrong. At nearly 200 pounds, Gaskin is ready-built for the Pac-12. He can overpower people inside the box or motor around the edge and use his speed to extend plays. As we saw last year, running backs get hurt. It got to the point where the UW coaches had to bring a player from the defensive side of the ball was the Huskies’ starting running back for two games and finished the season with 456 rushing yards. Washington fans should be comforted to know that Gaskin is the kind of running back that can affect a game, provided he learns the playbook quickly and successfully navigates the change in game speed from the Metro League to a big-time BCS conference.
Projected Fall RB Depth Chart:
12 Dwayne Washington (6-2, 221, Jr.)
22 Lavon Coleman (5-11, 222, So.)
6 Deontae Cooper (5-11, 202, Sr.)
34 Jomon Dotson (5-10, 174, RFr.) OR
9 Myles Gaskin (5-9, 195, Fr.)
40 Ralph Kinne (5-10, 205, So.) OR
30 Gavin McDaniel (5-8, 185, RFr.)