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Washington Spring Previews 2016: Running Back

Will it be the Myles Gaskin show once again for the Huskies?

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

2015 Year in Review

True freshman Myles Gaskin gave the Huskies their first feature runner in three years, and emerged as one of the top running backs in the Pac-12 with a 1302 yard, 14 touchdown season. His 5.7 YPC average was good for 3rd in the Pac-12 last year. Gaskin was solid if not spectacular.

What surprised me upon looking back at the numbers was that UW's team rushing totals fell from what most thought was a fairly unimpressive rushing attack the previous season. After finishing 4th in the conference with 188 YPG in 2014, the Huskies dropped to 9th in the Pac-12 with a 164 YPG average last year.

But having one outstanding running back somehow seems like a more potent weapon than using a committee that--on paper at least--was more effective. And fresher in fans' minds are the last six games where UW averaged 212 YPG, compared to the anemic 106 YPG average in first six FBS games of 2015.

Here's what we said heading into fall camp of 2015:

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.

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.

Nice work, Ryan Priest. Pretty spot-on prediction.

Players Lost, Players Returning

Dwayne Washington entered last season as the #1 running back, but never proved himself a versatile enough runner to be "the guy." DW could hit a hole and fly, but was pretty much zero in the shiftiness department; that's kind of a big one for a running back. Washington elected to forgo his senior season and we wish him the best in his quest to catch on at the next level.

Deontae Cooper (whom I believe was in the same recruiting class as Joe Steele) has not yet declared what his plans are. If Coop does return, he will be an inspirational leader and once again a key special teamer, but it's hard to imagine him getting a lot of carries.

Gaskin, the 5'9" 192-pounder from Lynnwood, will be looked upon to put the the UW ground attack on his back in 2016. His eight 100-yard games as a true freshman culminated with a 181-yard, 4 TD performance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Gaskin is just really, really good. He's got balance, speed, toughness, and I can only recall one fumble all season. For the first time since Bishop Sankey, the Huskies have their go-to back.

Lavon Coleman was pretty much MIA in the offensive scheme for most of the season, but is an important player for the Huskies in 2016. Gaskin will need to be spelled, and Coleman showed some flashes toward the end of the 2015 season, notching 121 yards on 22 carries in the final three games. Perhaps in the comments section we can resume the conversation about whether or not he is a "bruiser."

I'm interested to see if Jomon Dotson has an increased role on the Husky offense in 2016. While Gaskin is good in so many areas and outstanding in short yardage, he has not yet shown the ability to be a good receiving back. Factor in that he will need some plays off, and it stands to reason that UW will try to find a 3rd down receiving/pass blocking back; the role that Dwayne Washington found himself filling before his injury. Dotson is a good pass receiver, and showed fantastic speed and athleticism at the Husky Combine. Is he a good enough blocker? Can he become a good enough blocker? That's something the coaches will be watching in Spring Camp.

Chico McClatcher is a hybrid WR/ RB who will have an impact no matter how the Huskies choose to use him on the field. Reserves Ralph Kinne, Logan Hurst, and Gavin McDaniel also return.

Story Lines to Watch

Can Myles Gaskin handle the load all by himself again? Gaskin accounted for just over 61% of the Huskies' rushing yards and just under 61% of the rushing touchdowns by UW running backs. Can he handle that again? I don't see why not.  Following Bishop Sankey's 287-carry 1439 yard sophomore season, the consensus was he wouldn't be able to and shouldn't have to carry the ball that much the following year. Then, as a junior, he toted the rock 327 times for 1870 yards. Gaskin can carry the load, and I wouldn't be surprised if he does.

Is Lavon Coleman a bruiser? Sorry. Stirring the pot again. It's what I do. But seriously, can Coleman come in and provide a change of pace with a little thump, while not making the running game less effective?

Who will be the 3rd down back? Will it be Dotson? Will Cooper's 7th year be one of the most inspirational storylines in Husky history? Someone will need to protect Jake Browning and release into the flat. Will it be one of these guys, or perhaps...

Freshmen Arriving in the Fall

...will it be Sean McGrew? This R2-D2-sized back was named California State Football Player of the Year, and is truly an all-purpose runner. He surely has the receiving and running skills to be an immediate impact player and he likely will. He's fast, shifty, tough, and a good pass receiver. Blocking at the college level is obviously the question mark, but I cannot wait to see him on the field in 2016.

Kamari Pleasant, a 6'1" 185-pounder out of Southern California was recruited as an "Athlete" who plays cornerback and running back. The Huskies do seem to have some depth at both of those positions, so a redshirt season could be in the cards for Pleasant. But things can change quickly, and Pleasant has a bright future at Washington, where most people think he will end up on the offensive side of the ball as a downhill-style running back.