April 1, 2010
SEATTLE - Every practice during Spring Football at Washington is a chance to make an impression.
Whether that's a positive one or something different, that's up to the student-athlete. And it's particularly relevant to the Huskies' running game, where a handful of backs are jockeying for position to see who could take the No. 2 spot behind the incumbent, Chris Polk. Because of Polk's injury (shoulder), and the addition of two heralded recruits, the program is spending a lot of time teaching and re-emphasizing what UW demands from the position.
With the eyes of the coaching staff focused on them, now is the time to get noticed.
"I welcome it as a coach. I think it's a great opportunity with the young guys, fresh blood and creating competition," said running backs coach Joel Thomas. "We're really pushing guys right now and forcing guys to rise up. There's a tremendous opportunity with Chris down right now for someone to step up and really make headway."
The candidates include junior Johri Fogerson, who successfully made the switch from safety last season. Demitrius Bronson is also in the mix, and there are two intriguing possibilities with freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, both of whom were highly regarded coming out of the Southern California region. Callier, who has spent just four days on campus, is being introduced into the rotation slowly. But the smooth running style of Cooper has raised some eyebrows. Although it's early, both players have definitely made an impact.
"It's going to be interesting once they go through spring ball and summer conditioning," Thomas said. "They both grasp the game. I don't think they could not grasp the game considering their stats (in high school). They're fun. They love the game and we got to keep them hungry."
Nevertheless, no concrete opinions will be formed until Saturday, when the team tosses on pads for the first time this spring. Until then, it's hard for coaches to evaluate a player wearing shorts in a no-contact drill.
"We'll see how they look in some live situations," Thomas said. "So hopefully then we'll be able to tell what the competition is and how it ranks."
This week, head coach Steve Sarkisian told the media that he wanted the Huskies to re-introduce a more physical brand of football to their opposition. This was directed towards the running game, which struggled at times to pick up key yards last year. Developing a second and a third running back is key considering no player other than Polk and quarterback Jake Locker rushed for more than 100 yards last year.
Even though Polk is sporting the red jersey on the sideline, it doesn't mean he's not able to improve his game. Thomas checked off a list of areas where he'd like to see the sophomore - who was coming off the best frosh season in Husky history - improve. So Polk is looking to fine tune his other skills, namely blitz recognition/pickup and catching passes out of the backfield.
This is a big part of what spring football is about - coaching up the student-athletes. When Bronson fumbled a few times on Tuesday, the staff was quickly in his ear to talk technique and boost his confidence.
"That's why we coach," Thomas said. "It's a challenge to correct problems. I know he's willing, but he needs to be willing 365 days a year and every time he touches the ball. Once he understands that, he'll be ready to rock and roll."