Sometimes player potential is based on having shown flashes in a limited role. Other times we wonder whether the good players will continue their growth and become dominant. UW tailback Myles Gaskin is way past the 'flashes' stage and now stands at the next door of player potential: dominance. Images of dominant running backs don't usually conjure 5'9" sub-200 lb backs; I know I tend to visualize someone wearing the defense down physically. But, really, what is a dominant runner? It's someone who makes opposing coaches and fans scream "Get that guy. He's xxxxxxx killing us." Think back a few years; how much did you hate to play against Oregon State's diminutive Jacquizz Rodgers? He could take over a game. Looking at Myles Gaskin and what he contributed in 2015 to the Washington Husky offense, we're all probably thinking the potential is there to do the same.
When analyzing the better/worse/neutral situation for the Dawgs at the running back position, a larger spotlight must shine on the player who figures to carry the bulk of the load. Comparing last season vs this season - should Gaskin stay healthy - hinges a fair amount on how much better #9 is than he was a year ago. But we absolutely must factor in the supporting cast who will be called to make significant contributions of their own.
Here's the nuts and bolts RB situation:
Key Losses: Dwayne Washington (47 car, 282 yds; 25 rec, 315 yds), Deontae Cooper (16 car, 98 yds)
Additions: Sean McGrew (5'7", 175; four-star), Kamari Pleasant (6'1", 185; two-star)
Key Returning: Myles Gaskin (5'9", 193) 227 car 1302 yds; Lavon Coleman (5'11", 220) 33 car 176 yds; Chico McClatcher (5'7", 176) 19 car, 153 yds; Jomon Dotson (5'10", 175) 18 car, 42 yds
Coleman figures to be second in line for carries based on (a) his experience and (b) his contrast to Gaskin in size and style. He's your change-of-pace guy who can handle as much workload as the Huskies are willing to give him. He carried the ball 10 times or more in nine games as a freshman, but did not record a single 10-carry game in 2015. I wouldn't be surprised to see that trend reversed in Coleman's junior season.
How much will the team miss Dwayne Washington? DW did a lot of things for the Husky offense early in the year before he was injured and never really returned to form. But he was never a consistent running threat, just a guy who could explode. While UW doesn't have any 220 lb accomplished blockers with good hands and blinding speed to fill his role completely, they have some explosive players who can potentially duplicate Washington's ability to score from anywhere on the field.
Between Jomon Dotson, Chico McClatcher and Sean McGrew, at least two should emerge as guys who get large chunks of yards consistently. Jake Browning loves to check down when there is space for his running back to work with, and these guys have the speed and running style to turn a dump-off into a DW-esque trip to the house. If McClatcher ends up working more as a receiver in 2016, then there is surely room for all three to make big plays.
Isolating position groups can be a little imperfect with the distinction between the 'Running Backs' vs. the 'Running Game.' Obviously the offensive line and their play will have a lot to say about how productive the running back unit will be in 2016. Ditto the play of the quarterback and the entire passing game.
The Verdict: Better
Coming into last season, the Huskies projected Washington as the starter and Coleman as a second-year backup. Veteran Deontae Cooper was expected to be the third option, with true freshmen Gaskin and McClacther, plus redshirt frosh Dotson, as players with potential to contribute. Washington and Cooper were less of a factor than expected, meanwhile the two true freshmen averaged over 5.9 yards per carry and scored 18 TDs between them. In 2016, Gaskin is the unquestioned starter with Coleman back again as a more experienced backup. Dotson and McClatcher return and look to improve on rookie campaigns. McGrew is one of the top incoming running backs on the west coast and fits the mold perfectly as someone who can be a contributor without having too much put on his plate. Kamari Pleasant - should he play offense - has a downhill running style and the potential to grow into the bigger-back mold, but is unlikely to be needed this season barring injuries.
The only area where the running back unit appears to fall off from last season is in the blocking department. Washington was an excellent pass protector and Cooper probably second to DW in that respect, so at least one of the current players will need to prove that they have what it takes to protect the QB and take out a defender when McClatcher or John Ross comes behind them on a reverse.