7/26: Quarterbacks (Kirk DeGrasse)
7/27: Defensive Backs (Brad Johnson)
7/28: Running Backs (Ryan Priest)
7/29: Defensive Line (Jesse Kennemer)
7/30: Linebackers (Ryan Priest)
7/31: Receivers (Chris Landon)
8/1: Offensive Line (Kirk DeGrasse)
8/2: Special Teams (Brad Johnson)
8/3: Coaches (Chris Landon)
The Huskies go into Chris Petersen's first fall camp with significant questions around not just who is going to play, but what kind of roles each of the Huskies playmakers are going to be asked to play. Petersen's first year as head coach is going to include many tall tasks, not the least of which is replacing one of Washington's most productive running backs in program history. In today's camp preview, we focus on the running back position and examine the players who will vie to succeed Bishop Sankey as Washington's featured back.
Who's Gone (2)
|Name||Attempts||Yards||Touchdowns||Yards per carry|
A couple of days ago, in his preview of the quarterbacks, Kirk made the observation that Keith Price's name is etched into a multitude of categories in the Husky football record book. The same can be said, of course, about Bishop Sankey, who leaves the Husky program as one of its undisputed all-time greats. In three years, Sankey laid claim to the program's records for the most carries in a game (40) and a season (327), rushing yards per game (143.8), games with 200 yards rushing or more (4, tied with Napoleon Kaufman), career rushing touchdowns (37), rushing yards in a season (1,870) ... you get the picture. Husky fans thought that the program faced a great challenge in replacing Chris Polk two years ago; the difficulty of replacing Sankey will likely prove to be exponentially greater.
Key Returners (5)
|Name||Attempts||Yards||Touchdowns||Yards per carry|
|Jesse Callier (Sr)||48||213||3||4.44|
|Dwayne Washington (RS-So)||47||332||4||7.06|
|Deontae Cooper (Sr)||43||270||3||6.28|
|Lavon Coleman (RS-Fr)||--||--||--||--|
With Bishop's departure as the first running back taken in the NFL Draft, Washington needs to find a playmaker or three in the backfield to replace his considerable production. Last year, Sankey accounted for more than one-third of Washington's offensive yardage, and 21 of the team's 64 touchdowns. Clearly, replacing that kind of all-star production is no small feat. Dwayne Washington figures to have the inside track to become the first-string tailback after having earned the second-string role in 2013, but if Callier can return to his pre-ACL form, he'll certainly be a threat as well. (It's easy to forget that Sark referred to Callier and Sankey as 1A and 1B prior to the San Diego State game in 2012, before Sankey took advantage of Callier's injury by grabbing the starting role and never looking back.) Deontae Cooper made incredible strides last year in recovering from the three (!) ACL tears that kept him out of action until his junior year, and against Oregon State, he appeared to show off the impressive speed that had Husky fans drooling over his potential in 2010. His past health concerns will probably keep him from carrying the ball more than six or eight times per game, but he has the potential to be a dangerous change of pace if he's running on fresh legs in the third and fourth quarter. As a redshirt freshman, Lavon Coleman is the team's running back with the greatest chance to go from relative unknown to household name, as he boasts an NFL-ready frame (6-0, 215 lbs.) and played so well on the practice squad last year that he nearly convinced Sark to burn his redshirt, despite Sankey's complete command of the Husky ground game.
|Name||Height||Weight||Star rating (Scout/Rivals)||Expected to redshirt?|
|Jomon Dotson (Fr)||6-0||165||3 / 3||Yes|
|Gavin McDaniel (Fr)||5-9||170||2 / Not rated||Yes|
|Shaq Thompson (Jr)||6-2||231||5 / 5||No|
With a deep stable of four scholarship players expected to compete in the Husky backfield, don't expect either Dotson or McDaniel to see the field in 2014—barring catastrophe, Chris Petersen and his staff will almost assuredly preserve their redshirt eligibility. The most exciting newcomer (if we can call him that) is Shaq Thompson, who has starred for the Huskies as a starting linebacker from virtually the day he set foot on campus. Shaq received plenty of chances in the backfield during spring football, and by all accounts made the most of them. Furthermore, Chris Petersen has repeatedly gone on record to say that the idea of Shaq in the backfield isn't a gimmick.
"If I'd have to say one thing I know now, he's a very good football player. You put him on offense. You put him on defense. You put him as a kick returner (which he did once, impressively, late in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl against Petersen's Boise State Broncos). He can just do a lot of things very well.
"I like coming out here and see him get a run, make a play on defense and pull the ball out. So that's interesting. That's intriguing. He's one of the guys I'm really anxious to go play a real game with, to see that show up, because he does so many good things out here. But I want to see it in a game."
Considering that he is primarily a defender, Shaq will likely be no more than a semi-regularly used change-of-pace option, but I can't blame Washington fans for licking their chops to finally see him in game action on the offensive side of the ball.
Players to Watch
Quite simply, there doesn't appear to be a running back in a Washington uniform with a higher ceiling than Lavon Coleman. Part of that interpretation may be our tendency to fall in love with the potential of players who haven't yet seen the field—for exhibit A, look no further than Husky Nation's infatuation with JC cornerback Travell Dixon after he left Alabama—but despite that possibility, I'm bullish on Coleman's potential. It speaks volumes that the coaching staff was so impressed with his ability that they nearly pulled his redshirt during Sankey's run of utter dominance, and his performance in the spring game drew rave reviews. We won't know exactly what he's capable of until Aug. 30 when the live bullets start to fly, but look for him to carve out a space in the pecking order during fall camp.
Replacing one of the, and arguably the, greatest players in program history at a particular position is no small feat, yet that's what Chris Petersen must do in his first season as Washington's head coach. Perhaps the only thing that Sankey didn't do at an elite level was block; virtually every other aspect of his game was as polished as could be. We probably shouldn't expect any of Washington's rushers to carry the ball nearly as often as Bishop did (289 and 327 times in 2012 and 2013, respectively), but don't be surprised either if one or two of Washington's running backs impresses in the four games leading up to the conference opener against Stanford. Dwayne Washington will likely get the first carry of the season against Hawaii, but I expect to see him and Coleman seize the lion's share of carries by the start of Pac-12 play. My prediction for the depth chart at the end of fall camp:
- Dwayne Washington (1A)
- Lavon Coleman (1B)
- Jesse Callier
- Deontae Cooper
- Shaq Thompson (change of pace)