“That’s a hard question,” shrugged sophomore standout Myles Gaskin when asked what he’s been working on to improve his game. “I try to work on everything because you can never get too good at something.”
He added that’s what he’s been doing all along, working at becoming a multi-dimensional back. That includes the not-so-glamorous part of playing tailback: pass protection.
Just ask his coach, Keith Bhonapha. He’ll gladly speak to the importance of pass blocking. In fact, he went so far to call it second to none.
"If you have a guy back there that knows what he’s doing, is solid in protection, it just helps the offensive unit as a whole,” Bhonapha said this week.
Alas, Bhonopha also noted that pass protection is without a doubt the area with which freshman running backs struggle with the most. He alluded to the fact that freshmen have a difficult time digesting complex offensive schemes. However, he did note that Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant are working their tails off to get acclimated to Husky Football, and so long as they continue to improve he’ll be happy.
The newcomers also drew praise from Gaskin. He believes that, although both have different body types and skill sets they have bright futures in purple and gold.
The new guys also have a couple of resources to show them the ropes and help ease them into the system, as the veteran tailbacks have taken a leadership by committee approach.
“I wouldn’t say it’s anybody has definitely stepped up and said ‘okay, this is the leader of the room,’” said Bhonopha, adding that he thinks they all do a good job of trying to push each other to get better.
While the bodies of the running backs vary dramatically, they refuse any and all labels that media tries to attach to them. In fact, Myles Gaskin vehemently dismissed the notion of being tagged as a 'lightning' back, where Lavon Coleman would be 'thunder'. He argued that classifying running backs puts a fence around abilities.
“I feel like if you say ‘he’s thunder,’ he can’t be quick on his feet and stuff like that," Gaskin said. "And Lavon has good feet. And when you say ‘I’m lightning,’ then I can’t run anyone over. I think I can do that.”
Instead of getting caught up in a game of identities, Gaskin simply says the two just go and play football. This philosophy ties back to his claim that he’s been working to improve in all aspects.
How exactly does one improve every facet of their game? For a record-breaking running back like Gaskin, it means grinding in the film room. He says he’s been breaking down footage of other backs, seeing what they do, and applying it to his own game.
Bhonapha can attest to his standout’s dedication. “I think he’s becoming more of a student of the game protection wise and understanding what we’re trying to get done," he said of Gaskin's diligence. "I think he does a better job of really trying to be detailed when you think of aiming points and understanding his reads in the run game.”
He also gave some kudos to Coleman, noting that he has a 'sudden quickness to him' but doesn’t want his veteran tailback to shy away from his natural size and power. He suggested Coleman also use his size to his advantage, staying behind his pads and running through tacklers.
"He is continuing to work on just being one of those vertical runners and has to continue doing a good job of using the leverage of blocks and not guessing out of holes,” Bhonapha said of Coleman.
The talented halfbacks admit that they have some work to do between now and September 3rd. “We have to push the edge and push the envelope to continue to get better, continue to take the next step.” Bhonopha insisted. “We have 17 days to get to where we need to be.”
On Wednesday, it looked like one thing they worked on was catching passes out of the backfield. That’s an area that took a hit with the departure of Dwayne Washington at the end of last season.
Again, Gaskin declined to pigeonhole one back into a specific role, asserting that shouldering Washington’s work load will be a group effort. He did, however, compare one current Husky to Washington.
“I know Juice (Jomon Dotson) is the fast guy, and that’s what Dwayne was," Gaskin said. "And he has good hands too."
Dotson is just one of the running backs that could potentially shoulder the burden left behind by Washington. It just goes to show, like Gaskin said about the thunder-lightning comparison - you can’t label a guy by his body type. Otherwise it would be impossible to compare Dotson to Washington, who took a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown with his very first touch as a professional last week for Detroit.
It also speaks to the hunger of the group. The running backs don’t want to be given a label. They want mastery in all aspects of their craft.