John McGrath

John McGrath: Huskies may be up to trick under Petersen

Danny Shelton couldn’t help himself. During the last minute of a 2011 Alamo Bowl game that had found Washington and Baylor combining for 123 points and almost 1,400 yards, the Huskies’ freshman defensive tackle saw a squib-kicked football there for the taking and thought: Now it’s my turn to join in the fun.

“I stole the ball from (teammate) Thomas Tutogi,” Shelton recalled Sunday, “and ran about 10 yards before I was on top of a pile. So I got up and started running again. Pretty soon there were like seven guys on top of me, stripping the ball out.

“I lost the ball.”

Shelton also lost any chance to get within five miles of carrying ball again as long as Steve Sarkisian was UW’s coach.

“Oh, man, I’d talk to Coach Sark about it,” Shelton said with a laugh. “But, obviously, that bowl game kickoff return didn’t help out. But you never know. Coach Petersen might throw some trickery in there.”

That would be new Washington coach Chris Petersen, who met with the media Sunday in anticipation of the first practice of fall camp Monday morning. At Boise State, Petersen gained a reputation for his outside-the-box strategy, occasionally using defensive players on offense and offensive players on defense.

During spring practice, Huskies wide receiver John Ross took some repetitions with the secondary, and Petersen remains as intrigued by linebacker Shaq Thompson’s potential at running back as anybody else who has seen videos of his dashes in high school.

“That will be something we’d always pay attention to, depending on depth, ability and those types of things,” Petersen said. “I like doing that with tight ends and defensive ends, moving them into the backfield on short-yardage goal-line packages.

“I think it’s really fun for those guys. They really lock in. We’ve had success doing that, so if somebody can help us, we’ll do that.”

Thompson is amenable to a dual role, but the prospect of carrying the ball five or six times a game doesn’t thrill him as much as you might assume.

“It’s not really a big deal,” he said. “I came here to play linebacker, so that’s what I’m doing. Until coach calls my name and wants me to play offense, I’m gonna be a defensive player.

“I’m not here to play full-time running back. They recruited guys for that —that’s their job.”

Likely impeding Thompson’s enthusiasm is the fact major college football requires players to be familiar with the nuances of any position. Running to the left when the play is designed to go to the right can be tolerated in a two-hand touch pickup game on a sandlot, but in the Pac-12, it’s the stuff of turnovers that cause 70,000 fans to groan.

If Thompson is asked to contribute at running back, he’ll need to memorize an entire playbook instead of half of one. He’s already begun that task with the help of his roommate, Huskies quarterback candidate Troy Williams.

“We go over plays every now and then,” Thompson said. “He’ll give a little test where I figure out which way to go.”

Junior wide receiver Jaydon Mickens is another candidate for double duty. Informed by a coach that “we need some DB’s out there,” during spring practice, Mickens replied: “You’ve got 18 of them, but sure.”

The ebullient Mickens offered the names of two teammates capable of making a part-time position transition.

Defensive back Brandon Beaver, he said, “could play some receiver. He’s a long-receiver guy and has speed. Also, Budda Baker,” continued Mickens, referring to the freshman defensive back from Bellevue High and five-star prize of Petersen’s first recruiting class at Washington.

“I’ve seen his ball skills,” said Mickens. “He’s got great hands. He can play running back, slot receiver or even on the outside.”

Petersen has more pressing priorities than discovering the latent pass-catching talents of defensive backs. For starters, he needs to decide on the starters -- beginning with a quarterback -- who will front a two-deep roster that’s still a work in progress.

But giving defensive ends a chance to score a touchdown on third-and-goal, and receivers a chance to intercept a pass instead of catching one, could provide both fireworks and team-bonding levity.

As for Shelton, a senior All-America candidate, he’s waiting for redemption after the kickoff return coughed up as a freshman.

“A failure,” the Auburn High School graduate said of his misguided attempt to run with the ball. “But it was fun. I wouldn’t take it back.”

Hang in there, Danny. You’ve got a new coach with a new slate, and he regards trickery as a treat.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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