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Fall Camp Position Preview: Running Backs

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There’s a chance for a committee approach, but more likely it’s the Salvon Ahmed show

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Less reliable, but more explosive.

That’s how most would characterize the difference between and Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin. As steady as they come, Gaskin racked up over 5300 yards during his UW career, and he always seemed to get better as the game (and season) wore on. Early in the year, Gaskin would see some lighter duty, making us ask: “What’s wrong with Myles?” Later in the season, his workload increased, and by the time the Apple Cup rolled around... well, just ask a Coug if they are glad Gaskin’s gone.

The preseason prognostications are rolling out, and we’ve been seeing the running back position for the Huskies characterized this way:

Myles Gaskin is gone —the most productive back in UW history— and now UW is left with a few talented but unproven running backs who will serve as a committee to replace Gaskin.

Bullshit.

Gaskin will be missed no doubt, but his replacement is not some committee; it’s a speedster who wears #26.

2019 Washington Huskies Running Backs

Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Cameron Davis 22 6'2" 187 lbs FR
Kamari Pleasant 24 6'2" 215 lbs JR
Sean McGrew 25 5'7" 184 lbs JR
Salvon Ahmed 26 5'11" 193 lbs JR
Richard Newton 28 6'0" 213 lbs R-FR
Malik Braxton* 36 5'10" 206 lbs SR
* Denotes walk-on

This is a solid group, and while a few of these guys will get plenty of carries (especially early in the year), there is a clear #1 guy. It’s the junior from Juanita, Salvon Ahmed.

Another piece of bull I’ve been reading is that Ahmed is just a burner who can only run outside. Why is that assumption made about every guy that is fast and under 200 lbs? Fact is, Ahmed is beautifully tailored to run up the middle. He actually hits the hole harder than Gaskin with less dancing. And when makes up his mind and plants that foot, watch out.

For example, this run against Auburn:

There is really nothing spectacular looking about this run, seems like he just runs up the middle and pops out the other side. Well, there are a lot of big bodies in there, and there’s no hesitation from Ahmed. He plants his left foot and absolutely explodes through. He also puts a nice move on the safety without having to decelerate much at all.

Is Ahmed good at running outside? Damn straight he is. And he can break tackles as well. It’s very Myles Gaskin the way he keeps propelling forward though attempted tackles.

The left side of the Husky offensive line (Hilbers #70 and Wattenberg #76) kind of miss their blocks, but they do enough “slowing down” of their defenders that it allows Ahmed to quickly shift into top gear and blow by. Then it’s more of those subtle moves (not dancing), and BOOM, back into top gear.

With the Huskies’ #1 back being a guy under 200 lbs, then surely the change of pace back will be a big, bruising runner. Right?

Maybe. But more likely it’s a guy that’s even smaller. Sean McGrew really came on last year, and if you have failing eyes like myself, you would have sworn it was Gaskin. McGrew is shifty and fast and all those things you would expect from a guy who is (probably shorter than) 5’7”, but he is another runner who is great between the tackles. He uses varying speed to find his way though defenders, just like #9 did for four years.

Wait, is this a DRAW PLAY? Is this the 1979 Seattle Seahawks and is that Dan Doornink getting the carry? Nope. It’s the 2018 Washington Huskies, and you won’t see a traditional draw play like this very often. This play is really well executed by everyone (except Drew Sample who uncharacteristically fails to eliminate the very defender that ends up making the tackle).

McGrew is a patient runner, He accelerates/decelerates effortlessly, a characteristic that can be coached and improved, but really is something that you are born with.. call it a “feel.” McGrew has the feel. It may sound strange to say this about a guy so diminutive, but he might be someone we see at the goal line frequently or in other short yardage situations. He has fantastic vision and the defense will have a hard time finding him behind a jumbo 3-TE set. Really excited to see if McGrew can continue to improve in 2019. He has the potential to play a massive role in the Husky offense, especially with Ahmed transitioning into Gaskin’s workload.

If I had to guess, I’d estimate Ahmed and McGrew will have the most touches of any of the backs, and by a good margin. But in that scenario, what I can’t even begin to predict is how those other touches and snaps will be divided up. A big piece of that equation is who proves they can pop loose on a screen (or pick up a blitz) on 3rd and long.

Junior Kamari Pleasant is a big, smooth, gliding downhill runner. And the former free safety prospect turned running back packs a wallop. Pleasant is the one player at this position who could see snaps strictly as a blocker. He has demonstrated the ability to block in the running game, and he added 10 pounds in the off-season. Now at 215 lbs, that’s getting to H-back size. He also has good feet and is a threat in the passing game. He should look to add pass-blocker to his resume.

A lot of buzz surrounding redshirt freshman Richard Newton and his Lavon Coleman sized guns. Even at 183 lbs at Palmdale (Ca) High School, Newton was a physical runner, and there is a Lavon “power-wiggle” to go with it. He is currently 213 pounds, but needs another year or two to approach Coleman in the guns department. He’s intriguing however, and for sure Newton is in line for some of those early season carries.

True freshman Cameron Davis arrives with a 4-star rating and as a top-20 overall running back in the 2019 class. When you look at the three upper class-men returning this season, it seems like Davis is headed for a red shirt in 2019. But honestly there is no reason he cannot be that third option carrying the football this year. He looks the part of a Chris Petersen back with quick acceleration and dynamic athleticism. I don’t think the coaching staff cares about preserving red shirts if players can contribute. Davis will be a factor in the backfield for UW, it’s just a matter of when.

The Huskies have an experienced and what could be dominant offensive line heading into 2019. Popping long, explosive runs is always a chief goal of Petersen’s rushing attack. As are the grind-em-down 4th quarter runs. Myles Gaskin did both on a consistent basis during his time at UW.

When Gaskin was down for a few games last season during October, Ahmed wasn’t healthy himself. Now, for the first time in his Husky career, Ahmed gets the opportunity to show what he can do with the bulk of the offensive touches. We know he can explode for some big plays, but can he carry the load into the 4th quarter and hammer away while virtually never putting the ball on the ground?

We’ll see.