University of Washington

Huskies hope for more big plays, consistency from junior tailback Dwayne Washington

After getting buried on the depth chart after two fumbles against Illinois in 2013, running back Dwayne Washington has shown big-play potential for the Washington Huskies.
After getting buried on the depth chart after two fumbles against Illinois in 2013, running back Dwayne Washington has shown big-play potential for the Washington Huskies. The Associated Press

Despite his reluctance to publicly discuss his football exploits, word is that Washington Huskies tailback Dwayne Washington talks plenty.

His teammate, Deontae Cooper, who seems like an honest guy, claims this is true.

“You’ve just got to get to know him. He actually likes to talk a lot more than he projects,” Cooper said after Sunday’s practice. “He’ll open up. He’s a good dude. You’ve got to get him to open up to you guys.”

That didn’t happen Sunday. After the Huskies completed their second practice of fall camp, Washington declined interview requests — he almost always does — as he soaked in one of the cold tubs set up for players on one sideline of Husky Stadium.

The fourth-year junior from Lakewood, California, took a little while to open up on the field last season, too, but when he did, he sparked the Huskies offense in a way that few others could: in a three-game stretch against Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State, Washington rushed for 383 yards on 49 carries and scored five touchdowns — including runs of 66, 68, 51 and 60 yards.

Those bursts of productivity — flashes of the potential the previous coaching staff envisioned when they converted Washington from receiver to running back — allowed him to lead the Huskies in rushing with 697 yards despite missing two games due to injury and carrying the ball six fewer times than teammate Lavon Coleman.

So as the Huskies prepare for the 2015 season with the same stable of backs they had a year ago — Washington, Coleman and Cooper (and no, we’re not counting Shaq Thompson) — it’s Washington who seems to offer the most intrigue, even if the demands of the position might again dictate a by-committee approach.

“I think he could be in line for a breakout year,” coach Chris Petersen said. “If we get our O-line going a little bit and he can hit some creases, I think he could do some special things.”

After catching 15 touchdown passes as a senior receiver at Gahr High School, Washington redshirted at UW in 2012, then earned the backup tailback position behind ex-Huskies star Bishop Sankey heading into the 2013 season.

But two fumbles in an early-season game against Illinois sent him tumbling down the depth chart — some wondered whether his upright running style might have been a hindrance — and he saw mostly garbage-time duty the rest of the season.

It was in just such a situation, though, in UW’s 69-27 blowout victory at Oregon State, that Washington dropped a few jaws: 11 carries, 141 yards, two touchdowns.

He’s a big-play threat, no doubt. But the Huskies want to be able to rely on him in short-yardage situations, too.

“He can obviously run in the open field when he gets out in space,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “Getting those tough yards consistently, in short-yardage situations — turning those 2-yard runs into 5-yard runs. His understanding is even better from a year ago.”

Running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said that if Washington appears to run more upright than other tailbacks, it’s because he’s simply taller than most of them. But he would like to see him improve his lateral elusiveness, even if he’s fast enough to outrun most defenders.

“I think it’s kind of hard to correct a guy to get him low when you’re talking about a guy that’s 6-2, so he’s going to look a lot different than a Bishop Sankey or a Lavon Coleman — some of those, I guess, more compact backs – just because he is going to be such a long strider,” Bhonapha said. “I think the one thing where he has to continue to gain ground on is really being able to shift his weight, drop his hips and transition left and right, whether it be a speed cut, a jump cut. Just continue to grow that part of his game.”

Even if he never grows any more comfortable discussing it.

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

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