UW has seven scholarship running backs on its roster.
Which is six more people than footballs on any given play.
So how will the Huskies ultimately ration their reps? Will Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant — a pair of sixth-year seniors — command the most carries for a second consecutive season? Will junior Richard Newton return to form after inexplicably sitting the final two games last fall? Will sophomore Cameron Davis finally ascend to a starting spot, or will redshirt freshman Jay’Veon Sunday explode onto the scene?
Through 12 practices, all five have earned first-team reps (with redshirt freshman Sam Adams II and early enrollee Caleb Berry noticeably trailing their teammates). McGrew, Pleasant and Newton each received at least 20 carries in four games last fall, and it’s difficult to imagine — barring injury, illness or suspension — more than three running backs receiving significant reps.
Consider this a game of musical chairs.
Who will be sitting when the next song stops?
“(Davis) ran hard the other day,” UW offensive coordinator John Donovan noted on Monday, after being asked specifically about the smooth sophomore. “You earn the right to play, and if he runs like that he’ll earn the right to play. He’s done a good job. I thought Rich Newton did a great job of running hard and pass protection (this spring). Jay’Veon, if you guys have seen him, he’s got some great ability. Sean McGrew’s been around. He’s a guy you know you can trust, and he’s made plays in games. Kamari’s the same way. Those guys have been around. We know what they can do.”
Of the aforementioned five, McGrew, Newton and Davis appear most primed for a spot in the regular rotation. The ever-reliable McGrew led UW with 227 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry and four touchdowns last season — establishing himself as an elusive and deceptively physical runner who is working to improve in pass protection. The 6-foot, 215-pound Newton led the Huskies with 11 total touchdowns in 2019, despite missing three games with injuries.
And Davis? The former four-star recruit from Rancho Cucamonga, California, could eventually be the best of the bunch.
“Cam’s another guy that’s shown some flashes,” Donovan said of Davis, who rushed 15 times for 67 yards last fall. “He’s played a little bit, but he’s taken the next step here (this spring).”
Come the season opener on Sept. 4, Pleasant and Sunday (who missed Monday’s practice with a walking boot on his left foot) could also work their way into the running-back rotation. And in a pro-style system designed to highlight the run, the Huskies’ significant depth — at an injury-prone position — is a positive for an offense also returning the entirety of its offensive line.
Still, unfortunately for those on the fringes, there’s only so many empty chairs.
“Over time I think it will sort itself out,” Donovan said. “There are some guys that I think have done a good job. It’s very similar to the QB room — they’re going to push each other. But at some point I think we do need to narrow it down once we get close to the season and really try to hone in on getting guys in a rhythm, in a groove. So I think eventually we’ll get there, and we’ll see who that will be.”
Tight ends aplenty
We don’t need to read Cade Otton’s resume.
By this point, you probably know that UW’s 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end was named an All-Pac-12 performer last fall after leading his team in essentially every statistical receiving category. You know that he could have declared for the NFL draft, but opted instead to return for his senior season. You know an argument could be made that he’s the most complete player on UW’s entire team.
But Otton might only be the tip of this offensive iceberg. Three other tight ends — junior Devin Culp (6-4, 265), sophomore junior-college transfer Quentin Moore (6-5, 245) and redshirt freshman Mark Redman (6-6, 250) — have also impressed this spring, and UW has employed as many as three of them simultaneously in offensive formations.
Of course, those three have combined for just one career catch — so perhaps it’d be wise to proceed with caution.
But considering Otton’s track record, Culp’s physicality, Moore’s athleticism and Redman’s dependable hands, there’s reason to be excited about the tight-end room.
“We’ve got some dudes,” Donovan said, when asked about the emergence of Culp and Moore. “Mark Redman’s another guy. Shoot, he’s taken the next step for sure. He showed flashes last year, but he’s been a lot more consistent. He just does things that last year we would have been like, ‘All right, I’m going to have to coach him off that.’ Now he sees it and he does it.
“We’ve got a good room right there, man. It’s great. They’re going to be pushing receivers to get on the field, or backs, or whoever else. If they make plays, shoot, we can do a lot with tight ends on the field. So I think those guys have definitely shown some flashes, and if they can pick it up and play consistent and make plays at the same time, then they’ll earn the right to play. But I’m excited about that room if they can keep progressing.”
A Sam Huard status report
Through 12 practices, early enrollee quarterback Sam Huard — currently situated behind sophomore returning starter Dylan Morris and graduate transfer Patrick O’Brien — is attempting to absorb play calls and cadences and audibles and coverages.
But according to Donovan — UW’s second-year quarterbacks coach — Huard hasn’t struggled to adjust to the speed of the game.
“I think he’s OK with the speed, really. I don’t think that’s as much of an issue,” Donovan said of Huard, who has showcased both elite arm talent and understandable inconsistency while working with the third team this spring. “I think it’s more about how it’s all on top of him right now. It’s being able to sort out each (thing he has to do and see) on each particular play. We’ve got a ton of plays in. We’ve got a lot of formations. We’ve got a lot of cadences. We’ve got a lot of different situational-type stuff. I think it’s more that than anything else.
“I think he does understand the plays pretty well. I think he does well with the speed of the game. It’s more the operation, getting in the huddle and spitting it out, taking charge at the line and knowing where exactly to look on each play, checking the play clock. All that stuff is pretty new to him. For a guy that hasn’t been under center and all that stuff, he hasn’t had many issues there. He’s done a pretty darn good job, I’ll be honest.”