Washington coach Chris Petersen is only labeling it an experiment at this point, but he’s also not ruling out anything when it comes to Shaq Thompson’s potential as a running back.
“Shoot,” Petersen said, “we may give him more reps and (discover that) he’s our best guy.”
For now, though, the Huskies aren’t in a rush to run with Thompson, the 6-foot-2, 231-pound junior linebacker.
Thompson, for his part, said repeatedly after UW’s third spring practice Saturday that his priority is defense. But he also likes the idea of having the ball in his hands again, as he did often in high school, and he’d like to do it more with UW this spring — and perhaps into next fall.
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“It felt good,” Thompson said Saturday, two days after participating in a drill with the other running backs. “Brought back some memories from high school.”
It was Thompson who pitched the idea of playing some running back to Petersen before spring practices.
“I kind of started the conversation with him,” Thompson said, “and he kind of liked it.”
Petersen, like virtually every recruiter in the country, had scouted Thompson at Sacramento’s Grant High School.
“I’ve known Shaq for a long time. I know what kind of football player he is — he’s a football player,” Petersen said. “He can play offense or defense. … So we’ll continue to experiment a little bit. Nothing may happen, depending on depth issues. But something may happen down the road.”
As UW’s new staff implements its schemes and verbiage, the concern for Petersen is putting too much on Thompson’s plate too soon.
“The one thing is we can’t water him down,” the coach said. “He has some new things (to learn) on defense and we gotta make sure he’s dialed (in) there. And then there’s a lot on offense. We can’t just throw him to the wolves and set him up for failure, but we’ll try teach him some fundamentals at the running-back position, a couple plays, and go from there.”
The Huskies aren’t lacking for options as they try to replace record-setting back Bishop Sankey. Seniors Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier appear refreshed this spring as they continue to distance themselves from major knee injuries; sophomore Dwayne Washington is UW’s most physically imposing ball carrier; and redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman is a raw but powerful talent.
The running backs welcomed Thompson in the backfield on Thursday, he said, and he’s trying to find out if he can find a second home there more regularly.
“I know it’s tough,” he said. “I do miss that side of the ball, being a running back, touching the ball. The only thing I don’t miss is getting hit in the legs. … I’d rather hit than be hit.”
Certainly, Thompson took notice of what UCLA’s Myles Jack, the former Bellevue star, did last season as a two-way player, earning Jack the Pac-12 freshman offensive and defensive player of the year awards.
“He started the trend,” Thompson said, “and I’m just hopping on it.”
• The Huskies practiced outside at Husky Stadium for the first time this spring, and for the first time in shoulder pads. A steady rain favored the defense, which forced three turnovers in three 11-on-11 periods.
• Quarterbacks Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams continued to split snaps about equally. “Three days in, I think we’re making good progress,” Lindquist said.
• Sophomore defensive end Marcus Farria was absent for the second straight practice. Senior offensive lineman James Atoe was also absent Saturday. Afterward, Petersen declined to comment specifically on either player, but said he would announce it if a player was out long-term.
• Austin Seferian-Jenkins watched practice a week after having surgery to repair a stress fracture on his left foot. The former UW tight end, now preparing for May’s NFL draft, said he felt good and is on track in his recovery, scheduled for 6 to 8 weeks. If he needed to, he could “push it” to be ready for UW’s Pro Day on April 2, but NFL teams have told him not to rush.
• UW signee Budda Baker of Bellevue was at practice, as was Federal Way High running back Chico McClatcher, one of the state’s top recruits for the Class of 2015.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364