Many RB Options As Huskies Begin Life After Polk
April 9, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Jesse Callier is darting inside and out.
Bishop Sankey is doing the same thing on every other snap.
And now there's Antavius Sims, showing during his first workouts with the Huskies the versatility and outside speed that made him a dangerous, dual-threat quarterback in junior college. Oh, and there's Dezden Petty pulling off his redshirt.
Welcome to true multiplicity in Steve Sarkisian's multiple offense.
After relying primarily on the bullish Chris Polk to be his rushing offense for three record-breaking seasons, Sarkisian is entering his fourth year at Washington with options galore in the backfield.
As Polk is preparing to be an early round pick in this month's NFL draft, no clear heir is emerging. Not yet, anyway.
Then again it's only four practices into life without, "good ol' Number One," as Sarkisian always called his All-Pac-12 runner.
"It's wide open," Sarkisian said Monday of the competition to replace Polk.
Callier, who has 633 yards rushing in his first two UW seasons as Polk's backup, and Sankey, who had 71 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in the win over Colorado last season as a freshman , led the running in the Huskies' first spring day in full pads.
The Huskies also have Petty debuting after he redshirted last season. At 5-feet-11, 208 pounds, Petty could be the big-back, short-yardage answer to Polk's departure.
On the horizon: The relentlessly optimistic and driven Deontae Cooper . He has been back doing some running on the side following his second knee reconstruction in as many preseasons during 2011. The prized recruit and star of the 2010 spring game has yet to appear in a real game for UW, and Sarkisian is likely to hold Cooper out of practices this month so he can be ready for August.
"I'd rather just get him as healthy as possible for training camp," Sarkisian said.
These multiple rushing options is more like Sarkisian had as the coordinator at USC, which had top running backs oozing from its rosters in his time there through the 2008 season.
"When I took the job a couple years ago - I can't believe this is Year Four, by the way; unreal - I had been so accustomed to a two-headed monster at the running-back position," Sarkisian said. "And we had the luxury here for three years with Chris of having that guy who could carry the load as a feature back.
"I'm not opposed, by any means, to going back to having multiple backs back there. But we have to see what these guys can really do. Can Jesse Callier carry the ball 25 times? Or is it Jesse and Bishop? Or can Antavious Sims really be a tailback? We have to figure a lot of things out.
"That's kind of the excitement. What is this really going to look like?"
It looks like a committee through four spring practices, as it should be five months before the opener against San Diego State.
"We'll see. Those guys own that part of it," Sarkisian said of playing time.
"The beauty of it for us is that we are prepared for anything, because the offense is in a manner that we can operate if it's two, three guys, or if it's one guy.
"For four days in, I've thought they've done a nice job."
Callier would seem to have the inside track to get the first carries. He showed explosiveness while rushing for 433 yards on 77 carries as a true freshman in 2010. Most of those runs were on fly sweeps as the outside change-up to Polk's bruising runs. And through two seasons, Callier is already second all-time at UW for kick-return yardage (1,309), another indication of his speed.
Callier is eager to show he is more than a fly-sweep specialist, that he can carry the every-down load Polk redefined while at Washington.
In fact, he wants to be the Huskies' new "YAC" man.
He says his biggest lessons from playing with Polk the last two seasons are to "act mature as a person and be more of a leader." Polk also taught him that while running, "just north-south, north-south. Lower your shoulder. And just YAC (yards after contact).
"Chris was always harping about the YAC."
Speaking of yakking, Callier and Sarkisian remind anyone within earshot that Callier ran inside, outside and wild as a senior at Warren High School in Downey, Calif. He gained a whopping 3,010 with 43 touchdowns in 2009. The yardage led that mammoth state, which has a running back or three in it each year.
"I mean, I'm up for whatever they ask me," Callier said of the 2012 Huskies and life without Polk. "If it's 25 carries a game, I'll do it. If it's 12, I'll do it.
"I'm back to 205 pounds, a lean 205," he said of weight gained this offseason. "Yeah, I'd like to be an every-down back."
Callier's got a lot of company.
"I thought the guys again did some good stuff (Monday)," Sarkisian said. "I thought Jesse and Bishop are doing good things individually, and then collectively it's helped the position. I think Antavius has some things there that will help us, but there is so much there to the position that it's taken him some time."
It's only April. They've all got time.
QUICK HITTERS: The defense continued to make plays on the first full-pads day. Sarkisian credited coordinator Justin Wilcox's new, remodeling unit for that, especially on third downs that featured more effective speed rushing by end Josh Shirley. Yet Sarkisian also thought the offense could have had more energy. "I've seen us more physical, and we'll get more physical," the coach said. ... As with the running backs, no need to read a ton into who is playing where depth-chart wise yet along an offensive line that is missing recuperating starters, including Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa. "Guys are getting better. There's no real depth chart. We're playing football," Sarkisian said. "In turn, we are seeing guys make some strides." The coach did specify a few standouts after four days of practices: OL James Atoe and Micah Hatchie, DE Talia Crichton, CB Greg Ducre, TE Michael Hartvigson, and WR James Johnson. "I think Talia has been tremendous. A real bright spot," Sarkisian said of the senior. "And James Johnson has a tremendous leader, on and off the field." ... The Huskies practice again on Wednesday morning. The practices open to the public are April 21 at 11 a.m. inside Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center and the spring game April 28 at 1 p.m. at CenturyLink Field downtown.