After enjoying the fruits of Bishop Sankey and Chris Polk's labors in the Steve Sarkisian era, Washington's ground attack took a definite step back in 2014 by failing to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2008. Fortunately, that circumstance appears ripe for change: The Dawgs return their top three running backs who accounted for nearly 81 percent of the team's carries, 74 percent of the team's rushing yards and 77 percent of the team's rushing touchdowns from 2014. There's plenty of talent here, if only the players show themselves capable of taking that next step.
|Yards Per Carry
Interestingly, Washington's most productive departed player at the running back position was not a running back at all. Instead, Shaq Thompson was one of the single most gifted athletes to ever play for the Washington Huskies. When Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman were forced to sit out during the season's stretch run due to injury, Thompson migrated over from the defense and was positively electric, rushing for 372 yards and averaging more than five yards per carry in a three-game series that consisted of versus Arizona State, at Colorado and versus UCLA. Jesse Callier will unfortunately be remembered by Husky fans as a talented player whose chances were cut short time and time again by injuries. Replacing his statistical production will be of little difficulty; replacing his leadership off the field is likely a far more difficult matter.
Last year's fall camp began as the Dwayne and Lavon Variety Hour, and it's likely that the arrangement will repeat itself in 2015. In terms of momentum, however, there's no question that Dwayne Washington appears to have the upper hand. In the season's final four games, Washington carried the ball 62 times for 425 yards (an average of 6.85 yards per carry) and five touchdowns; meanwhile, Coleman finished the year with just 32 carries for 127 yards (3.97 average) and no scores in the regular season's final three games, and did not play in the Cactus Bowl. Perhaps an offseason's worth of healing and conditioning can reset the scale, but for now, Dwayne Washington must be considered the team's clear No. 1 tailback.
|Star rating (Scout.com)
|Expected to Redshirt?
The sole tailback in Washington's 2015 recruiting class, Myles Gaskin is proof positive that good things come in small packages. Gaskin comes into UW at a height at which he would need to look up to Russell Wilson, but makes up for that with a nearly 200 lb. frame and a natural ability to cut back and forth that is more than a bit reminiscent of Chris Polk. Considering his talent and Washington's shallow depth at the tailback position, I do not think it realistic to believe that he makes it more than a game or two into 2015 before seeing the field.
(Also, for those of you wondering why Budda Baker doesn't make an appearance here: In the wake of John Ross' season-ending injury, I don't think there's any chance that the coaches put Budda on offense at the expense of utilizing him in the return game, especially with five scholarship tailbacks on the roster. If you think I'm dead wrong, you know where to leave your comments.)
Players to Watch
- Lavon Coleman enjoyed a hot start to the 2014 season, but by the start of conference play, it was clear that his redshirt freshman season was going to be one of learning experiences. Coleman showed flashes of his potential last year, but rarely looked like the impressive prospect whom Steve Sarkisian nearly played as a true freshman in 2013 at the expense of giving carries to a red-hot Bishop Sankey. Whether Coleman can recapture that spark in the early going of fall camp will speak volumes about his ability to challenge for the starting role.
- Jamon Dotson offers an intriguing role as a scatback option, but the concern over his 5-10, 174 lb. frame is legitimate. Dotson's speed and quickness make him a threat to score every play if the Huskies can get him the ball on the edge of the perimeter, but his slight build make running between the tackles a virtual suicide mission. It's interesting to note as well that true freshman Chico McClatcher will likely compete with Dotson for the same kinds of carries and plays that might otherwise fall naturally to him.
- In my mind, the intrigue surrounding Myles Gaskin comes mostly from the question of whether or not he will redshirt in 2015. Caution and injury history tell me he won't—after all, the last thing Chris Petersen wants is to get to week eight against Arizona and realize that injuries to the tailbacks further up the depth chart will force him to burn Gaskin's redshirt.The realist in me says that Petersen knows four tailbacks are too few to make it through an entire season, especially when one of them (Deontae Cooper) has thrice recovered from ACL tears.
Predicted Depth Chart
|Deontae Cooper / Jamon Dotson
The Cactus Bowl aside, Dwayne Washington's hot finish to 2014 has earned him the first seat at the running back table in 2015, but the job is anything but sewn up. Lavon Coleman endured a difficult redshirt freshman year, but there's no reason to write him off just yet. And as much as we may like them, Jamon Dotson's size and Deontae Cooper's injury history likely ensures that neither becomes the team's go-to running back.
The stakes of this competition are even greater than they were in 2014, thanks to the need for Washington to again break in another starting quarterback, along with the new demand of assembling an almost completely rebuilt offensive line. The best thing Washington's running backs can do in 2015 is provide consistency and dependability around which the rest of the offense can congeal and form an identity. Fail to do that, and Washington's offense will likely again finish the season near the conference's statistical cellar.