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Huskies face by-committee approach at running back

By Christian Caple Tacoma News Tribune

SEATTLE – Bishop Sankey totaled so many rushing yards and scored so many touchdowns for the Washington Huskies the past two seasons, it might have been easy to forget what very well could have been Sankey’s most important accomplishment.

He never missed a game due to injury. And he carried the ball 327 times in 2013.

That’s what makes replacing the former Gonzaga Prep standout this season – or attempting to, anyway – such a multifaceted proposition. Sankey wasn’t just talented. He was durable.

“Running back is a tough position,” said fifth-year senior Deontae Cooper, one of four Huskies backs vying for playing time this season. “Credit to Bishop for doing what he did. I’m not sure if we’re going to have that.”

Head coach Chris Petersen has made it clear that he doesn’t mind a by-committee approach, though he obviously would prefer for one player to emerge as the No. 1 option and be able to carry the ball enough times to develop an in-game rhythm.

“I know we’re going to need ’em all and they’re all going to get an opportunity,” Petersen said. “And then when the game’s played, those that stay healthy, those that produce, are going to get more carries. We have a big sign in our training room: ‘Durability (is) more important than ability,’ and I certainly believe that at that position.”

None of this year’s competitors are as established, but each seems to offer something different. Cooper and fifth-year senior Jesse Callier are the veterans, players whose careers were at one point sidetracked by injuries – four ACL tears among them, three of them for Cooper – but who enter the 2014 season healthy and eager to contribute. Each had strong performances during UW’s most recent open scrimmage. And Cooper’s 11-carry, 166-yard performance last season at Oregon State suggests he could still prove to be a valuable asset in the backfield.

There’s Dwayne Washington, the 6-foot-2, 219-pound sophomore whose combination of speed and size best manifested itself in that same OSU game, in which he carried 11 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. If not for early-season fumble troubles as a freshman, he might have seen more carries.

The mystery candidate is redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman, the only player of the four who hasn’t played in a college game. But his size (5-foot-11, 217 pounds) and physical running style adds a unique element to the mix.

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