Pre-Spring Outlook - Running Backs

SEATTLE - It had been eleven years since a Washington back eclipsed the 1000-yard rushing mark, and in 2007 they nearly did it twice. Louis Rankin's 1294 yards was the fifth-best rushing season all-time for a Husky, and quarterback Jake Locker finished the season 14 yards short of a grand.

It took a while for Rankin to reach his potential, but his senior season was one for the record books. He also accounted for over 80 percent of all the running backs' total output last season. Locker will get his yards, so the main question heading into spring ball is; which tailback is going to pick up the substantial slack in Rankin's absence and provide the foil Locker needs to create balance in the run game?
Tailback

Brandon Johnson 5-11 195 So. Hawthorne, Calif. (Dominguez)
J.R. Hasty* 5-11 200 Jr. Bellevue, Wash. (Bellevue)
Brandon Yakaboski* 6-0 190 Fr. Duvall, Wash. (Mt. Si)
Willie Griffin* 5-8 200 Fr. Oakland, Calif. (McClymonds)
Chris Polk 5-11 195 Fr. Redlands, Calif. (Red. East Valley)

+ Walk-on
* Has utilized redshirt season

If you look at the numbers, Brandon Johnson appears to be the obvious choice. Johnson, a sophomore from Willie Hurst's stomping grounds at Dominguez High in California, was the only other tailback besides Rankin to get substantial carries and the only other one to play in more than three games in 2007. He gained 196 yards on 51 carries, just short of four yards a pop, and scored twice - against Syracuse in the opening game of the season, and California, where he also racked up his first career 100-yard rush effort.

Against the Bears, Johnson ran 14 times in the fourth quarter, four of those rushes good for first down. He should he could break into the second level, and he also showed that he could get the tough three yards when needed to move the chains. Clearly Johnson will be Tyrone Willingham's first option heading into spring, and I doubt Johnson will do anything to move himself out of that top spot heading into the Huskies' opener at Oregon this fall.

Could Johnson carry the rock 18 times a game, which is what Rankin did in 2007? It's possible, but Willingham has some other pieces in his arsenal that just might work as solid change-ups to Johnson's style. Willie Griffin is a back that runs low and with great lean. At 5-8 he can hide behind Washington's massive line of scrimmage and pick his holes to explode through. Brandon Yakaboski, by contrast, is 6-feet tall and a much more athletic back that can run either inside or outside.

J.R. Hasty is the real 'x' factor, and has been from the first day he showed up on campus. Ever since his redshirt year in 2005, at least one national publication has deemed the former Bellevue Wolverine star as the Pac-10 'Breakout Player of the Year'. To say that the results haven't lived up to the promise would be an understatement. This is Hasty's year to show that he still has what it takes to make the same difference offensively that his Bellevue counterpart E.J. Savannah is doing on defense.

And while the incumbents are fighting it out, one newcomer that just might come in and take it all away from them is Chris Polk. Polk is arguably Willingham's top prize from a 2008 recruiting class considered by many to be one of the top-20 in the country - stealing him away from USC right before Polk was set to sign as an early high school enrollee. Polk is now on campus and ready to show Husky fans why he was so highly coveted by the Trojans.

Polk is listed as a receiver and running back by the Huskies, which means he could end up doing just about anything and everything for Washington. The staff will have 15 practices to figure out exactly where he might make the biggest impact in Tim Lappano's offense, and it just might be as a split back in the spread or in the tail of the 'I' in Lappano's power-I package.
Fullback

Paul Homer 6-0 222 Jr. Omaha, Neb. (Millard North)
Luke Kravitz* 6-1 245 Sr. Olympia, Wash. (Olympia)
Austin Sylvester* 6-1 245 Fr. Reno, Nev. (Manogue/Hun School)
Tobias Togi+* 6-0 230 Fr. Seattle, Wash. (Evergreen)

+ Walk-on
* Has utilized redshirt season

As opposed to the relative uncertainty at tailback, the Huskies know exactly what they have at the fullback position. Paul Homer has been a rock ever since coming west from Nebraska, and is on track to start in every single game he's ever played as a Husky. Homer isn't going to wow you with his running ability - he only ran for 2.5 yards per carry - but that isn't his primary focus. His calling card is his toughness as a lead blocker for the tailback.

Conversely, Luke Kravitz has found his niche as a short-yardage guy, a player that moves the sticks. The senior from Olympia only carried the ball 17 times this past season, but scored four times.

Both Homer and Kravitz are also valuable contributors on special teams (Kravitz had a 45-yard kickoff return against Washington State), so they have more than carried their share on offense and in the return game.

With their roles solidified within Lappano's offensive philosophy, Austin Sylvester just might head back to defense. The redshirt frosh from Reno played middle linebacker all spring and fall, but moved to offense when Kravitz was hurt early last season. He could also straddle life between the two positions and be ready to play either position in a pinch if necessary.

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