February 13, 2013 at 2:01 PM
Position overview — Running back
Now that singing day is over and there is some down time before spring practices begin sometime in March, we’ll continue our position reviews with a spot that was one of Washington’s bigger question marks heading into 2012 and turned into one of its biggest surprises thanks to the performance of the player pictured above, sophomore Bishop Sankey.
Sankey, pictured above in a Dean Rutz photo, finished with one of the best seasons in UW history in 2012 after taking over as the starting tailback when Jesse Callier was hurt early in the first game against San Diego State. With no other experienced running backs on the roster, Sankey ended up taking the bulk of the work at tailback, with the third-most carries in UW history as well as the third-most yards.
Here’s the list of top seasons in UW history:
1,695/Corey Dillon, 1996/301/5.6
1,488/Chris Polk, 2011/293/5.1
1,438/Bishop Sankey, 2012/289/4/9
1,415/Chris Polk, 2010/260/5.4
1,407/Greg Lewis, 1990/248/5.7
1,390/Napoleon Kaufman, 1994/255/5.5
1,299/Napoleon Kaufman, 1993/226/5.7
1,294/Louis Rankin, 2007/233/5.6
1,197/Greg Lewis, 1989/266/4.5
1,113/Chris Polk, 2009/226/4.9
1,111/Joe Steele, 1978/237/4.7
1,107/Hugh McElhenny, 1950/179/6.2
1,084/Napoleon Kaufman, 1992/182/6.0
1,055/Rashaan Shehee, 1997/168/6.3
1,036/Jacque Robinson, 1984/223/4.6
1,002/Ron Rowland, 1976/203/4.9
No other running back last season had more than the 35 carries and 209 yards of true freshman Kendyl Taylor. That turned out to be basically as big of a disparity between the yards and carries of the leading rusher and second-leading rusher as 2011 when Polk had the aforementioned 1,488 yards on 293 carries to Callier’s 260 on 47.
UW coaches hadn’t envisioned that heading into the season, assuming they’d have much more of a committee approach in 2012 with Callier, Sankey and — they hoped — Deontae Cooper battling it out. Instead, Cooper suffered another season-ending knee injury on the first day of practice and then Callier was hurt in the first game, and the workload fell to Sankey.
Like the entire team, Sankey struggled in his first start at LSU which led to some momentary questions about his readiness to be a full-time back. But he answered those two weeks later when he rushed for 144 yards against Stanford, the most any running back had against the Cardinal all season, one of seven 100-yard games he had this season, topped off by the 205-yard performance in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Sankey so dominated the position as the year wore on that few other backs did much. Other than in the blowout win over Colorado, no other running back had more than four carries in a game in any of the last eight games of the season.
A LOOK AHEAD
Sankey will enter spring practice as the unquestioned starter at tailback, already having been named to a few early pre-season All-Pac-12 teams. And his return makes this a position of strength for the Huskies in 2012.
The big question will be who emerges to either serve as a complement to Sankey or needed depth in case of injury.
I wouldn’t expect Callier or Cooper to be fully available until the fall — and obviously with Cooper’s history it’s best right now to temper all expectations for him and just hope for the best. So there will be some uncertainty about this position until fall camp begins.
But there will be lots of other players available in the spring fighting it out to state their case led by Taylor, who made the move from receiver early in the season and appears likely now to stay put in the backfield.
Also back for his sophomore season is Erich Wilson, who had 145 yards on 28 carries, most coming early in the season before he was sidelined with some nagging injuries. The UW coaches will no doubt hope that both Taylor and Wilson come back as sophomores a little bigger and stronger.
And also back is sophomore Dezden Petty, who at 5-11, 225 also is in the mix at fullback. He had 99 yards on 29 carries while also battling some nagging injuries (he didn’t have a carry after the Oregon game).
Also factoring in this spring could be redshirt freshman Dwayne Washington, who somewhat quietly made the move from receiver during the bowl game practices. Washington is listed at 6-1, 205, but UW coach Steve Sarkisian said he could envision Washington putting on another 20 pounds or so and emerging as a “big back” complement to some of the smaller backs on the roster.
Also on the roster is Ryan McDaniel, who redshirted last season while continuing to rehab a high school knee injury. It’s uncertain if he will be ready for spring ball and he’s another that at this point, it’s probably best to wait to see how healthy he is before trying to project how he fits in. At a listed 6-foot, 227 pounds, though, he’s another who could fit that “big back” role, if healthy.
The most significant loss at running back for UW is fullback Jonathan Amosa (No. 48 blocking in the picture above). Amosa had two receptions in 2012 but did not have a carry. Going forward, though, UW will undoubtedly try to make the fullback spot a bigger part of the offense. As noted, Petty could be a factor there. The other listed returners at fullback are redshirt freshman Psalm Wooching and junior Cooper Pelluer.
Pelluer sat out last season with a shoulder injury, and like Cooper and McDaniel, it’s probably best to wait and see where he his physically before trying to project his role for 2013. Wooching was a pretty highly-touted member of the Class of 2012 who will get his first real extended time not working on the scout team this spring.
With a lot of depth at running back, UW signed just one for the Class of 2013 in Lavon Coleman of Lompoc, Calif. He will arrive in the fall.