Young backs impressing so far

SEATTLE - Running backs are used to doing all sorts of crazy drills. You'd think some of them were dance moves: The Circle the Tire drill; the Loop the Loop Tire drill; the Shake and Bake drill; the Stalk and Block drill; the Stance and Start drill. I doubt when Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier were being recruited to Washington, Joel Thomas ever told them about 'The Bag'.

"Ah, the bag," junior running back Johri Fogerson said with a laugh. "They never had to do that drill either. It was funny."

"The Bag is a way to get the pads poppin'," Thomas said Tuesday after Washington's first full day in pads. "It's like hitting a big body, and hopefully simulates having to hit somebody in the hole and everything."

That 'big body' happens to be a 225-pound swinging bag of sand ("That bag is four pounds heavier than I am," Fogerson said) that the backs are supposed to try and run through and then make a cut coming out of the collision. Having seen guys launched every which way but forward after contact, I can tell you it's a lot easier said than done.

The first time through, players will try and glance off of it, avoiding the middle of the bag at all costs. Thomas sees right through that, and makes them go again. As nasty at 'The Bag' is, Fogerson doesn't think it's the hardest part of what new backs have to go through. That award would go to the pass protection drill, where the running backs are supposed to block incoming missiles otherwise known as linebackers and safeties coming at them full-speed.

Cooper and Callier tackled 'The Bag' and pass pro Tuesday, and stood up to the tasks asked of them, even if it wasn't pretty at times. They may not have attacked the bag with as much gusto as sophomore Cole Sager, or handled the pass pro as well as sophomore Demitrius Bronson, but they didn't shrink from the challenge. And they definitely didn't complain about it.

"Right now they are backing up what they've done in terms of their running style and their ability to produce," Thomas said of the two frosh. "They are very mature with the way they approach the game. They aren't thin-skinned; they take the coaching very well. And they take the stuff from the film room over to the field pretty easily."

"I was proud of them," added Fogerson, the elder statesman of the running back corps. "They really stepped up in the pass pro for the first time, and that's the hardest thing to do as a running back. I was excited for them. They were surprised, but they handled themselves well."

Fogerson, hailed by Sarkisian earlier this spring as having arguably the best off-season of any UW football player, has bulked up to 221 pounds. And according to him, he's gotten even faster. "I'm feeling good right now, so I just hope to maintain," he said.

He has also taken on the role of mentor for Cooper and Callier. "The way I look at it, they're little brothers," he added. "Me and Chris Polk played last year and we got most of the playing time. Honestly, I want to try and teach them as much as I can. Obviously it's a competition. Like coach Sark says, there's always competition. So the best guy is gonna play. But that's not really a factor, because if they are competing and working hard, that's going to make me better. And I'm competing and working my butt off, so that's going to make them better too. It's a win-win situation."

"I just like Johri's stability at the running back position," Sarkisian said. "He's a very versatile guy: He can run the ball, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's smart, he can line up all across the field. He brings a little bit of a calming effect to the younger guys."

Thomas believes that Fogerson is now at a place in his career where he can handle multiple responsibilities. "He knows what's going on," Thomas said of Fogerson. "There's no holes in his game as far as the offense, which makes him that more valuable. You can move him around even more. You can put him in certain situations, whether it's pressure situations or normal down-and-distance situations. That's where he's made himself that much better, also physically as well as mentally."

Now that Fogerson has gotten to the point in his development where he can be like a coach on the field and self-critique, Thomas' attention moves to the freshmen. "They are both talented running backs," he said of Cooper and Callier. "They are going to help our team in one way or another - whether it's running the ball or if it's on special teams or whatnot, we thought that going into it, and they are proving it as we go through practice right now."

No one should be surprised that Cooper and Callier have hit the ground running at Washington; it's what they did at their respective high schools. In fact, they were number-one and two in the state of California in terms of rushing yards per game as seniors. Cooper averaged 260 yards per game at Citrus High in Perris, while Callier averaged 251 yards per game at Warren High in Downey. Callier's 3010 total yards led the state.

Oregon State Head Coach Mike Riley has said in the past that the best predictor of production is past production. He was speaking of James and Jacquizz Rodgers when he said it. Will Cooper and Callier follow the same blueprint for success?

As much as he would like to say so, Thomas isn't ready to go that far just yet. "I've seen guys with plenty of numbers in high school that are flops in college," he said. "And I've seen guys with no numbers be studs in college. All of a sudden, that's when they develop. I think it's more a fit of your system and setting guys up for success in that manner. Some guys are great spread/gun runners running that inside zone; some guys are great downhill power runners. That's our job as evaluators - to get the right kid in the right system. Because not everybody is the 'x' runner you need in your system."

So it naturally begs the question - why are Cooper and Callier the right fit for what the Huskies are trying to do on offense? "They want to play," Thomas said matter-of-factly. "They don't want to sit and watch.

"That's going to be the motto with all our freshmen - they are expecting to come in and figure a way to compete and contribute this fall. Will all of them do that? I don't know that for a fact, but at least when we went out recruiting…the best players are going to play. And I think these two are very competitive from that nature."

Thomas added that their high football IQ is going to allow Cooper and Callier a chance to play from the opening kickoff. "That's one of the biggest parts of this whole deal," he said. "The more they can understand, the more they can handle, then the faster they'll be able to contribute to the team. If they don't know their plays, then we're not going to throw them out there onto the field."

And they also have to get through 'The Bag'.

"I'm trying to prepare 'em not to be in awe of something that's totally different," Thomas said. "So that's this part of the process." Top Stories