Spring Preview: Running Backs

The running back position has plenty of bodies, but will anyone step up to take the lead in the race to see who gets a bulk of the carries in 2009? Head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff get their first real look at what they have to work with starting next Tuesday, but here's a quick look at the halfback and fullback positions and which players to keep an eye on...

The Players

Halfbacks

So. Terrance Dailey (5-10, 200)+
Jr. Brandon Johnson (5-10, 210)
RS So Brandon Yakaboski (5-11, 215)
RS So Willie Griffin (5-8, 200)
So David Freeman (5-8, 195)
RS Fr. Chris Polk (5-11, 205)
RS So. Curtis Shaw (5-11, 210)
Fr Demitrius Bronson (5-11, 220)


Fullbacks

Sr. Paul Homer (6-1, 240)
Jr. Austin Sylvester (6-1, 245)
RS So. Tobias Togi (5-11, 235)**


**walk-on
+ out for spring


Returning starters: Homer has started 21 games over the past two seasons; Johnson, Polk, Griffin and Dailey all started at different points in the 2008 season, but none has more than five starts.

Key players lost: FB Luke Kravitz

Projected depth chart heading into spring:

Halfbacks

1) Polk
2) Shaw
3) Freeman
4) Griffin
5) Johnson
6) Yakaboski
7) Bronson


Fullbacks

1) Homer
2) Sylvester
3) Togi


The big question heading into camp:

Who will emerge as the starter who can take a bulk of the carries this fall?

The fullback position is in good hands with Homer and Sylvester. Both are solid players who can make plays as receivers out of the backfield and both are very good blockers.

That leaves the quandary at halfback where no one has really separated themselves from the other over the past 18 months.

Heading into last spring, everyone believed that Johnson was the heir-apparent to Louis Rankin after a solid freshman season, but the young man from Compton tweaked his knee in spring practice, got out of shape over the summer and then got in Tyrone Willingham's huge doghouse during fall camp and remained there throughout the season.

When his head is right, it's my belief that Johnson is Washington's most complete back. He shows good vision in the hole and he's physical. He's also a decent receiver out of the backfield and with Sarkisian's new system being implemented the best receivers will get longer looks as far as reps are concerned.

Polk and Shaw are probably the most explosive backs on Washington's roster, but the departed coaching staff used Polk way too early and in a spread scheme where his game didn't translate into much into the explosive plays many expected. To top it off, Polk suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second game that required surgery, but he should be ready to go next week for the start of camp.

Shaw missed the 2008 season due to a family/personal issue, but he returned in January and has been part of the offseason program.

As a freshman in 2007, Shaw started off as a kick returner and then saw a few carries as a slot reciever on reverses. Eventually he was moved out wide and he showed some serious promise. However, the new staff wants to give him a look at running back, hoping to add his outstanding speed (4.45) and quickness to a unit that sorely needs an influx of both.

Griffin and Freeman are the wild cards because both showed glimpses of being solid contributors, but both suffered minor injuries that nagged them throughout the season.

Freeman can be explosive and Griffin is a grinder who makes most of his yardage between the tackles. Both could be key situational players for the Huskies this coming fall once the new staff figures out how to use them. Griffen was the second-leading rusher on the team in 2008 with 219 yards and he had a touchdown in the Apple Cup as well.

Yakaboski is tough to read because he's the biggest back on the current roster, but he's also been the most injury-prone – two concussions and minor knee and ankle injuries in his first two years. Former offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said the redshirt sophomore had the best hands on the team, and that included the receivers, so there is a chance he could see time as a third-down back or even make the move to fullback at times to take advantage of his size.

As a freshman, Dailey was Washington's top rusher in 2008 managing to post 338 yards and one touchdown. He isn't shifty, but he has above-average speed and he hits the hole hard. He will miss spring ball due to a shoulder injury and he is expected to miss up to six months, so he may be looking at a redshirt season this fall in order to get him completely healthy.

Keep an eye on…

Shaw and Bronson.

With Shaw missing an entire year of football, the first question will be -- where is his head? The second question will be -- how can we get his speed and athleticism on the field?

Bronson was viewed as a possibility at linebacker by the old staff, but it appears the new staff will give him a long look at running back hoping to use his size and vision to a be a physical presence in the backfield.

Bronson was a late-qualifier and enrolled in January. He has been involved in the offseason conditioning program and we've heard good things about how he looks so far.

It will be interesting to see if he stays at running back or if he makes the switch to defense, but either way he's an athlete the coaches want to find a place for somewhere on the field.

The future…

Dailey and Freeman are both young playmakers who could be very effective if used correctly. The Huskies didn't sign a running back in the 2009 class, so if Bronson shows he can be an effective player there the coaches are likely to keep him in the fold.

Sarkisian noted on signing day that 2009 signee, Narbonne LB/FB Tim Tucker, may get a look at fullback or H-Back once he steps on campus.

Either way, the Huskies need to get faster and get much more production out of this position in order to help the rest of the offense reach its full potential. Narbonne RB Melvin Davis and O'Dea FB Zach Fogerson are two early commits for the 2010 class that have a chance to come in and compete right away and the Huskies are expected to bring in at least one more back and probably two who can add speed and elusiveness to the unit.


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