Today we’ll tackle the running backs.
The Huskies, who had five running backs on scholarship for 2015, already lost one running back they were probably expecting for 2016 when Dwayne Washington decided to turn pro. And with Deontae Cooper’s future at Washington at a crossroads, UW looked to recruit like-for-like numbers.
A BCS program has to get at least one difference-maker at running back each year - or at the very least one that projects as a difference-maker. The Huskies filled that need very early in in the recruiting process when Sean McGrew verbally committed in May.
The Gatorade State Player of the Year for California, McGrew added his name to a list that also includes Jake Browning (who won it twice), Su’a Cravens, Cody Kessler, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez, Lorenzo Booker, Matt Leinart, and many, many more. McGrew accounted for over 6500 total yards in three years as a starter at St. John Bosco, and he never was part of a league loss during his time in Bellflower, Calif.
At 5-foot-7, he follows directly along the Myles Gaskin path as a short but shifty and difficult running back to bring down with an arm tackle. He’s got jump-cutting ability and when he finds some open grass he’s gone. His 10.56 100 meters time was second at California’s state championship track meet, so McGrew has wheels.
McGrew admitted that the Washington coaches are intrigued about the idea of him and Gaskin in the backfield together, so don’t necessarily look at the true frosh as a change-up. In many ways he might be just more of the same if Gaskin needs a breather. And how could that possibly be a bad thing?
It was a good thing Dwayne Washington told the UW coaches his plan when he did, because it allowed the Huskies to go after Kamari Pleasant, who was committed to Arizona State at the time. When Washington came to UW as a true frosh, he was 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, a converted receiver. Pleasant is currently 6 feet tall and 195 pounds. It’s conceivable he adds another five pounds before he shows up for the fall, so at 200 pounds he provides a solid basis for a future ‘big’ back in the style of Washington; a pure athlete with great speed who could do damage running the ball or catching it out of the backfield.
It’s easy to go ‘no trades’ and stick with the players that are committed to you - and that is a staple of Chris Petersen’s recruiting philosophy. That’s why they had to say thanks but no thanks to top running back Beau Bisharat, whose recruitment opened up shortly after Pleasant committed. But I’m sure some Washington fans are going to follow Bisharat’s career at Colorado to see ‘what could have been’.
So, to recap, the off-season running back recruiting checklist was as follows:
Recruit an impact running back - check.
Recruit a player that could fill the role left by Washington - check.
Sign like for like numbers in terms of replacing players - looking likely.
So in general terms, the Washington coaches did exactly what they needed to. They signed a top talent, a potential game-breaker in McGrew, and a pure athlete in Pleasant that looks a carbon-copy of Dwayne Washington.
But there’s always a but…
It’s doubtful Pleasant will immediately fill Washington’s shoes. It’s certainly possible, but most of the time I’ll err on giving a true frosh time to acclimate and get used to the college experience, let alone the speed and physicality of BCS-level football. And that goes double for out-of-state players that don’t necessarily have a local support structure in place like a Gaskin would, for instance.
That means a lot of the load will be placed on Lavon Coleman to provide that ‘big’ change of pace from Gaskin. How Jomon Dotson develops in his third year will be key as well.
As long as Gaskin continues to provide consistent production and the others chip in with meaningful cameos, that means McGrew and Pleasant can break in at their own pace. It feels like McGrew can make a bigger splash immediately, especially if he is able to enroll in spring and get 15 extra practices under his belt before fall.