Deontae Cooper‘s long road to recovery appears to be nearing an end.
After three major knee injuries — two ACL tears in his left knee and one in his right — the junior tailback is expected to play in UW’s season opener against Boise State on Aug. 31, coach Steve Sarkisian said Tuesday.
Jesse Callier, also recovering from a torn ACL, is also expected to play.
“They sure look (100 percent healthy) to me,” Sarkisian said. “And we’ve been challenging them, whether it’s physically or mentally. I don’t know if they’ll be in nine straight plays in a game, but I think they can go in and spell Bishop (Sankey) for two, three, four plays and they’ll be fine at it.
Cooper and Callier will join redshirt freshman Dwayne Washington as backups to Sankey, the junior starter.
“Bishop has really solidified himself,” Sarkisian said. “We all know what he’s done. I’m looking for all three of those guys are going to play in this game. We’re going to see Dwayne Washington, we’re going to see Jesse Callier and I really believe we’re going to see Deontae Cooper. When you have a lead back like that, and you have three capable backs behind him, I feel really good about the running back position.”
Sarkisian said he hasn’t considered giving Cooper a sort-of honorary first touch against Boise State.
“I just want his first carry to be one that he gets up off the ground and he’s proud of himself for what’s he’s accomplished to get to that point,” Sarkisian said. “It doesn’t need to be a 50-yard run; it might not be the most glamorous thing. But I want him to get off the ground and be proud of what he’s accomplished, and I want our team to be proud of him, because he’s worked extremely hard with a great attitude to get to this point.”
In a team scrimmage a week ago, Cooper took his first real contact from defenders in three years. He seemed to hold up just fine, rushing seven times and scoring a touchdown from about 7 yards out.
Callier, a junior, entered the 2012 opener against San Diego State the starting tailback a year ago but injured his knee in the first series.
Also, Sarkisian said after Tuesday’s practice that senior kicker Travis Coons is separating himself as the place-kicker with 10 or 11 consecutive made field goals in the past two days. Coons also appears to be the front-runner to punt, with freshman Cameron Van Winkle likely to take over as the kickoff specialist.
Sarkisian had said Monday that he was meeting with his staff later that evening to discuss the depth chart. Here’s what at least part of that meeting was about:
“We’re at a point now where we’re making tough decisions on redshirting, not redshirting guys,” Sarkisian said. “Even players that maybe played as true freshmen that have a redshirt available to them that we’re contemplating redshirting now for their future, for our future, because of depth is so good. It’s been a lot of interesting conversations. We’ve never been in this position before. Normally, we’re pulling redshirts off guys just to survive, and now we’re at a point where we’re making conscious decisions for the young men and also for our program and the future.”