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Washington Huskies 2017 Spring Football Preview: Running Backs

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They were fantastic in 2016 and everyone is back for an encore

Washington v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 2018 edition of this spring preview has me a little worried. Lavon Coleman will be gone. With physical demand shortening the lifespan of running backs, Myles Gaskin will almost surely be gone as well. That will leave the Huskies with a bunch of guys who may --even a year from now-- have done very little on the field. But we can worry about that next year. In 2017, the Dawgs will feature Thunder and Lightning or Smash and Dash or whatever cute name you prefer when two really good tailbacks with different styles share carries in the same offense. If you’re looking for a strength the Huskies posses as they prepare for spring practice to begin in a few days, the top-loaded-but-not-necessarily-deep running back position figures to be something to start licking your chops about.

2016 in Review

Myles Gaskin is just a steady, smooth, chain-moving weapon. He was a first team All Pac-12 running back in 2016, surpassing 1300 yards for the second time in as many seasons while also scooting his way to 10 rushing touchdowns. Gaskin did it in whisper-quiet fashion, mostly because John Ross was dazzling everyone with his 19 touchdowns and Jake Browning tossed a TD pass every time Chris Landon reached for an IPA.

Lavon Coleman went from forgotten man to a key cog in the UDub rushing attack. Coleman added 852 yards and seven touchdowns of his own while posting the second best yards-per-carry average (7.5) of any running back in the Pac-12. Coleman was not only productive, but also clutch; putting the Dawgs on his back in key situations at Arizona and during an attempted rally by the Cougs in the Apple Cup.

Returning UW Running Backs

Player Jersey # Height Weight Class
Player Jersey # Height Weight Class
Coleman, Lavon 22 5'11 223 SR
Gaskin, Myles 9 5'10 191 JR
Hurst, Logan 23 5'10 182 SO
Kinne, Ralph 40 5'10 220 SR
McDaniel, Gavin 30 5'8 172 JR
McGrew, Sean 25 5'7 177 Rs FR
Pleasant, Kamari 24 6'0 191 Rs FR

With the somewhat head-scratching move of Jomon Dotson to cornerback (Dotson had the third most carries on the team by a wide margin), there isn’t a lot of experienced depth behind the big two. In fact, that “experience” amounts to three garbage-time carries apiece for Ralph Kinne and Gavin McDaniel. Even so, there isn’t a need for panic when it comes to the UW running back situation. The one-two punch of Gaskin and Coleman is something every coach would love to have, and it’s as good as any duo in the conference.

Dotson showed promise in his limited duty, so one has to think that his move to defense means the coaches are high on returning redshirt freshmen Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant.

Spring time storylines:

Who’s number three?

One question entering last season was “which incoming freshman RB will make an impact?” Most thought it would be McGrew. Some said it would be Pleasant. Not sure how many people predicted that neither would see the field. With Gaskin and Coleman likely both moving on after the 2017 season, the future Thunder and Lightning will both be given the chance to step in as the 3rd back in the rotation. McGrew is fascinating as a pass catching threat in the Chico McClatcher mold, and Pleasant possesses some of the downhill style of Coleman. It will be interesting to see how each are used in the spring.

Catching out of the backfield...

Myles Gaskin figures to take on an increased role in the passing game in 2017. As a freshman, Gaskin caught only 6 passes for 19 yards the entire season. Last year, he was much more of a threat in the screen game making 19 catches for 137 yards including a high of five grabs in the Peach Bowl. Gaskin is a capable receiver, and with everyone pitching in to fill the production void left by John Ross, look for him —along with Coleman and McGrew— to be utilized in the passing game even more in 2017.

Sticky Fingers...

How many times did Husky running backs fumble the ball in 2016? I’ll give you a hint: It’s the same as the number of National Championships won by the Oregon football program. That’s right; ZERO. No fumbles. None. Pretty remarkable. Credit has to be given to RB coach Keith Bhonapha for instilling a commitment to protecting the football, and it can’t hurt to have ball-hawking players like Jojo Mcintosh and Keishawn Bierria trying to pry the pigskin free every day in practice. We’ll see if the new members of the UW rushing attack can be as sure handed.

Grinding it out

With an experienced offensive line returning almost everyone in the two-deep, and the two-headed beast of Gaskin and Coleman back in the fold for an encore to their outstanding 2016 seasons, the Huskies should have one of the top rushing attacks in the Pac-12 to lean on. How the youngsters will fit into the equation remains to be seen, but McGrew and Pleasant should add another dimension to the Husky ground attack. If you’re looking for a little more intrigue, wait until fall when former Juanita speedster Salvon Ahmed is placed into the mix. The KingCo offensive player of the year is 6’0” 185 pounds of shake and bake.