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UW Position Reviews – Running Backs

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Summing up the 2014 season and looking forward to 2015.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

In our fall preview of the running back position, Ryan correctly predicted what the depth chart would look like: Dwayne Washington, Lavon Coleman, Jesse Callier, followed by Deontae Cooper.

Without the injury to Callier, that would have been totally accurate compared to the end of season chart. Yay Ryan! We forgive you for failing to predict the exact window for Shaq's  three week tour de force. But it would have been nice.

2014 in Review

So. Dwayne Washington - 132 attempts, 697 rushing yards (5.28), 9 rushing TDs. 15 receptions, 91 yards.

RSFr. Lavon Coleman - 138 attempts, 565 rushing yards (4.09), 1 rushing TD. 9 receptions, 91 yards.

Sr. Deontae Cooper - 63 attempts, 285 rushing yards (4.52), 0 rushing TDs. 16 receptions, 155 yards, 1 TD.

Jr. Shaq Thompson - 61 attempts, 456 rushing yards (7.48), 2 rushing TDs. 4 catches, 56 yards.

Sr. Jesse Callier - 19 attempts, 91 rushing yards (4.79), 1 rushing TDs. 0 catches.

This was a very strange and fairly disappointing year from the halfback position.

By the end of fall camp, a by-committee approach seemed inevitable. As it turns out, all four backs (Washington/Coleman/Cooper/Callier) carried the ball at least once in each of Washington's first four contests.

However, from the start it was not a 1A-1D situation.  A back had to tote the ball down the stretch, and the selection of that back never felt random.

In the close season-opening win over Hawaii, Lavon Coleman was entrusted with carrying the load in the second half (finishing with 17 for 78). He seemed to make a decent case for 1A honors. Then in the way-too-close 59-52 win against Eastern, he tacked on 118 rushing yards and a single score on 17 carries.

In the next contest against Illinois he struggled to 46 yards on 18 carries and, even more perplexingly, 44 yards on 13 carries vs. Georgia State and began to fade into the pack of backs. In the first trio of conference games (Stan, Cal, Ore) he combined for an underwhelming 152 rushing yards on 41 carries (3.7ypc).

After he missed the next two games and failed to carry the ball against UCLA, the idea of Lavon emerging as a feature back seemed more and more farfetched.

By the time Coleman was made unavailable due to injury, Jesse Callier had already torn his knee several weeks prior, ending his career, while the staff did not seem comfortable asking Deontae Cooper to carry more than 5-8 times per contest.

To pick up the slack, Coach Petersen turned to Shaq Thompson, who had carried the ball only 9 times in the seven contests before his 98-yard outburst in the ASU loss.  Next the linebacker romped all over Colorado for 174 yards and a TD before a 100-yard curtain call against UCLA.

Shaq, very clearly the most talented runner on the roster, promptly returned to the defense as if nothing had ever happened.

Dwayne Washington immediately picked up the slack by carrying 19 times for 148 yards and two scores in the excruciating 26-27 loss at Arizona. Shaq may have dazzled in his carving of the Buffaloes, but context considered this may have been the best performance from a Washington back in 2014.

Dwayne, who had mostly failed to impress aside from some nice TD runs against weak non-conference opponents, subsequently racked up a cool 100 on Oregon State and followed that up with a 135-yard, two-score Apple Cup performance.

A feature back seemed to have finally emerged from the committee. Then, of course, Oklahoma State completely shut down the Husky run game in the Cactus Bowl and held DW to 42 yards on 13 carries (3.23). Ugh.

Looking Forward to 2015

Of the five backs that contributed last season, Shaq and Callier are gone and Dwayne, Lavon, and Coop should return. Two backs who did not play in 2014, RSFr. Jomon Dotson and Fr. Ralph Kinne, should also return.

As far as newcomers, Myles Gaskin is set to sign out of O'Dea and there is still a possibility of adding one more back to the Class of 2015, hopefully four-star prospect Chris Warren.

What was a committee in '14 will likely remain a committee for the foreseeable future, with the caveat that Dwayne Washington is a likely 1A to someone's 1B.

DW put together a fantastic three-game stretch, but so far he has lacked the lateral quickness and vision of an elite feature back. He is by far the most explosive of the group, and therefore the most likely to break long scoring runs like we saw twice in the Apple Cup.

However, if initially the hole is not there, DW struggles to cut the run back or fight through contact to salvage the play. Even more so than with other backs, his performance seems extremely dependent on the quality of the offensive line play (hence the Cactus Bowl struggles).

Lavon played fine last season, but his physical upside seems to be relatively low. He is a thick back that lacks elite speed or quickness, yet we did not see the yards after contact that would be necessary to offset that weakness.  He will almost certainly have a solid role moving forward (especially considering he was just a redshirt freshman), but I see DW as very likely to stay ahead of him on the depth chart.

Coop has now been healthy for two full seasons, so it's probably time to accept that he is done both recovering from all those injuries and adjusting to life post-injury. His role as a solid backup and change-of-pace option doesn't seem likely to change unless he takes a big step forward that I don't anticipate. If the staff saw him as capable of doing more, they probably would have given him more snaps around the time Shaq had to move over from defense.

As for Gaskin, I'm not really comfortable projecting him to play as a true freshman considering I've never seen him play aside from a highlight reel. I'll just say that the opportunity certainly exists for a freshman to seize some carries from this group. The chances of that happening increase if Chris Warren signs with Washington.

How well this group fares in '15 will largely depend on the quality of the offensive line. While the run game is always massively dependent on the O-line to, you know, block, it's especially true for DW and Lavon, who are "take what I'm given" type backs.

That will be a bad thing if the new-look offensive line struggles to run block effectively, but if that unit improves over the course of the year, so too should the run game. Just don't be too surprised if it's another strange, up-and-down season on the ground.