We’ll continue our pre-spring review of UW’s position groups with an area that should be one of Washington’s best in 2011 — running back.
The return of Chris Polk (pictured at right in a Dean Rutz photo from the Apple Cup) was enough to give UW what will likely be considered one of the top two or three backfields in the Pac-12 heading into next season. And with all but one player who saw time last year in the backfield set to return and the addition of a few highly-touted newcomers, Washington could be as deep and talented as it has been since the mid-90s. (And one thing I should mention is that the depth charts for these entries are my projections and are not anything official from the school).
PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Chris Polk, 5-11, 214, RJr.
Jesse Callier, 5-10, 205, So.
Deontae Cooper, 6-0, 193, RFr.
NEWCOMERS ARRIVING IN THE FALL
Bishop Sankey, 5-10, 194, Fr.
Dezden Petty, 6-0, 213, Fr.
Polk’s return was one of the best pieces of news for UW this off-season as he has become the first player in school history to top the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first two seasons, and with 2,561 career yards is already sixth on the school’s all-time rushing list. He passed Rich Alexis, Louis Rankin and Hugh McElhenny with his 177 in the Holiday Bowl and trails only Napoleon Kaufman (4,106), Joe Steele (3,168), Greg Lewis (2,903), Vince Weathersby (2,811) and Jacque Robinson (2,636).
So if my math is correct, he needs 1,546 yards to become the leading rusher in school history. He’ll probably need to do that this year as it’s best to assume this will be his final season at Washington (one reason getting at least one TB in the 2011 class was critical). Polk figures to enter the season listed on all the pre-season all-conference teams alongside Oregon’s LaMichael James (and maybe he’ll be listed as a darkhorse candidate on some Heisman lists, as well).
Polk showed by the end of the season he could do it all, showing workhorse ability with 34 carries in the Holiday Bowl, and breakaway speed with all those runs against Washington State. UW coach Steve Sarkisian has said he’d like to get Polk more involved in the passing game next year, though it’s not as if he’s been non-existant in that area — he had 22 catches last year (fourth on the team) and has 47 in his career.
Callier proved to be a more-than-capable backup last year with 433 yards on 77 carries, and while he’ll contend for more carries in 2011, it’s hard to see them wanting to take too many away from Polk, as long as he stays healthy.
The return to health of Deontae Cooper will be key for adding depth and different dimensions to the tailback spot.
Cooper missed last year with an ACL injury suffered in August. Sarkisian said last week his rehab is on schedule, with no complications so far. The plan is that he will be able to participate in some non-contact drills in the spring and then be fully ready to go in the fall. So we won’t really know exactly how he will fit in until deep into fall camp, obviously.
UPDATE — Since this was initially written, Johri Fogerson has been indefinitely suspended from the team, so I have removed him from the depth chart.
Sankey, the heralded recruit from Gonzaga Prep, will also arrive in the fall and figures to immediately compete for a spot on the return teams (as will Cooper and Callier) and maybe get into the rotation at tailback.
An obvious question is how will UW spread the carries around if everyone makes it back healthy. I’d answer first that everyone needs to get back healthy before that becomes a real concern. But for 2011, I would think this position revolves largely around Polk. It’s almost certainly his last year at UW and I would think his carries would stay on the same path as this year.
However, with UW needing to break in a new QB, there is likely to be an even greater emphasis on running the ball, which should mean more carries to go around. Polk averaged exactly 20 carries a game last season — most since Corey Dillon’s 25 a game in 1996 — and you’d think that won’t drop. Polk says he feels like he gets better the more he carries the ball, and hard to argue that point after the last two games of 2010.
But with the Huskies potentially averaging more than the 37 carries a game they had this year, and with maybe not getting as many from the QB spot as it got in 2010 with Jake Locker (who had 114 carries), there should be enough opportunities for others (and again, some of them have to get healthy first).
Polk has proven durable the last two years, but tailback is obviously also a spot where injuries are common, so having quality depth is always important. UW should have that this year, while also building a solid corps for future seasons, as well.
PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Zach Fogerson, 6-0, 238, So.
Kimo Makaula, 6-2, 229, RSo.
John Timu, 6-1, 225, Fr.
Tobias Togi, 5-11, 239, Sr.
This is a little bit more difficult position to read. UW loses Austin Sylvester to graduation, and he was a player whose contribution was easy to overlook as he had no carries and just four receptions last season. But UW coaches felt he was a good lead blocker and his effectiveness in that role helped spur the late-season rushing success.
Ideally, UW will groom a fullback who can do both — block well while also providing some help running and receiving.
Zach Fogerson finished the 2010 season listed behind Sylvester and is the most logical heir apparent. Though he played sparingly — he officially saw action in seven games with two carries for 10 yards and one reception for seven — coaches often praised his performance in late-season practices.
Fogerson appears to have the size to handle the blocking necessities of the position as well as the running and receiving ability to maybe be the Stanley Havili-type player the coaches ideally would like to have at fullback.
From there, however, it’s even more uncertain. Makaulu spent the year largely working with the scout team at fullback as did Togi, a walk-on.
Timu may be an intriguing option. Sarkisian said last week Timu — listed as a safety/athlete when he signed with UW — will get some looks at fullback. He’s said to now weigh 225 pounds and Sarkisian praised his work in the off-season conditioning program after he officially enrolled in January after grayshirting last fall while recovering from a high school knee injury. He was a high school quarterback, rushing for 648 yards as a junior, so he has experience in the backfield.
Petty, who along with Sankey is one of two running backs in the Class of 2011, is listed as both a tailback and fullback, and need will likely determine where he gets more of his opportunities when he arrives in the fall.