After Louis Rankin averaged over 100 yards a game in 2007 and Jake Locker nearly had a 1000 yard season also on the ground most of us thought the days of the running back had returned to Washington.
It was a reasonable assumption because even though Rankin graduated the Huskies were still returning a veteran offensive line and had an experienced Jake Locker leading the team at QB.
The wheels came off early last season and Washington was never really able to get anything going on the ground with the exception of a hundred yard performance in one game by true frosh Terrance Dailey. The offensive line which was so highly touted didn't open up many holes. When there was a hole the young RB's sometimes missed it by over running the play.
Dailey was one of many players who got playing time at RB last year because of injuries and lack of performance. The injuries can be directly attributed to the fact that none of the players on the roster at RB were physically ready to endure the rigors of Pac Ten football.
Turning the page to 2009 the Huskies return Terrance Dailey, Brandon Johnson, Chris Polk, David Freeman, Willie Griffin, and Brandon Yakaboski. The Huskies didn't recruit a RB in the 2009 class but Demetrius Bronson will be on the squad for spring practice after sitting out the fall getting his grades together.
The key to getting better production out of these guys is simply getting them in better condition to take the pounding. There is a lot of talent at this position and with the right coaching they should be able to show a lot of improvement in 2009. The play of the offensive line will also be factor but we will address that in a later article.
Joel Thomas who comes via Purdue/Louisville/Idaho is the new RB coach and he is very highly regarded. He reportedly recenty received an offer to coach in the NFL but turned it down to remain with the new staff.
Brandon Johnson returns for his junior season as probably the most complete running back on the roster. He has decent size and is able to maneuver ok in the middle of the line at times. He doesn't exactly have breakaway speed and his conditioning was suspect last summer. He was coming off knee surgery and some said that he didn't put enough time into rehabbing it.
It was obvious when the season began that he wasn't up to full speed and he was never able to regain his true form as the season progressed. Johnson also walked off the squad a couple of times last season. It seems he really wasn't happy at Washington. The coaching change will either make him or break him. One thing about Willingham is that once you enter his doghouse there really was no way out. Perhaps the coaching regime will work better for Johnson.
Curtis Shaw took last season off for personal reasons but has returned to school this winter. When Shaw left he was the fastest player on the team and he was slated to be a slotback receiver. He returns with twenty more pounds of muscle and wants to be moved back to TB.
Shaw was impressive his freshman season. He almost took over a game against Oregon State. He has great speed and vision and he is my favorite to earn the starting job at RB this spring. Durability is always a big issue with the guys who carry the ball and a stronger Curtis Shaw will mean serious business.
Chris Polk won the starting job coming out of camp last fall. Polk was fast and impressive during the spring and summer. He was originally slated to play the slot like James Rodgers of Oregon State but was moved to TB after it was apparent Brandon Johnson would not be at full speed to start the season.
To say the least the highly touted Polk was not impressive in limited action until a shoulder injury earned him a RS year. Nobody can argue about his athletic ability but he simply wasn't strong enough yet to be an every down back. He also was extremly tentative while running the ball which hampered his production. Chances are he would have adjusted if he hadn't been injured but I think WR may just be a better spot for him.
Wherever this kid does line up expect him to be on the field because he is one of the best athletes on the team.
David Freeman came on the scene after Polk was injured and he opened up a lot of eyes till he too was injured. Freeman showed good speed and a knack for finding the hole. He has a nice wiggle and will be a quality running back as time goes on. Like all of last years frosh he wasn't physically ready to take the pounding of Pac 10 football. He went down with two high ankle sprains after his second game and really never played much again after that. Two high ankle sprains at one time must be some type of record.
Terrance Dailey led the team in rushing last season and even had a 100 yard day. He started the season slowly and was slated to redshirt because he was having early trouble absorbing the offense. When injuries opened up a spot for him he showed a lot of talent. Like Freeman he has a bit of a wiggle that can make people miss. Physically he was stronger than the other guys at RB and even though he was injured on and off during the season he was able to finish.
Dailey's future could be at FB where he could end up being a Richard Thomas type of back. FB has a much more prominent part in the offense that Steve Sarkisian will be running.
Shoulder surgery this winter will force him to miss spring practice and he could be a candidate to RS this coming season.
Brandon Yakaboski has spent a lot of time in the training room since he arrived from Mt. Si HS in North Bend. His claim to fame last season was catching a TD pass in the end zone. This kid has athletic talent but an assortment of injuries haven't allowed him to play or practice much. When he does play the coaches have a lot of nice things to say about him. He is a hitter who runs strong and has a set of nice hands. The goal for Yak in 2009 is to stay out of the training room.
Willie Griffin earned some playing time last season and while he wasn't spectacular he was steady. Griffin has a little more beef than the rest of the guys and even thoguh he was banged up from time to time he showed that he has the potential to contribute on a weekly basis. He had the best performance of any RB in last years spring game.
Demetrius Bronson joins the squad this winter after a lot of rumors stating that he wouldn't make it in after not qualifying last fall. It is unknown at this point if Bronson will play RB at Washington or be moved to another position such as LB. Sitting out half a year is never a great thing. Bronson wasn't highly recruited. In fact Washington was the only Pac 10 program to offer him a scholarship. He has good blood lines. His older brother was a LB at Penn State.