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Husky Running Backs Have No Discernible Pecking Order, Just Opportunity

Four UW tailbacks are in the mix, trying to leapfrog each other on the depth chart and get their carries. It's competitive.

For University of Washington running backs, it's been one misdirection play after another — and they're just a game into a strange season.

Sophomore Richard Newton was supposed to be the starter and senior Kamari Pleasant an insurance back. 

Reverse that order. 

Redshirt freshman Cam Davis was talked up as an up-and-coming guy, someone who would get a minimum of carries, and he did.

Oh yeah, senior Sean McGrew led the Huskies in rushing with 91 yards on Saturday night against Oregon State, averaging a meaty 10.1 per carry. He broke free for a long gainer of 27 yards and scored on a 21-yarder. 

So what's the pecking order?

After a 267-yard team rushing output against the Beavers, apparently there isn't one. The UW, turning more physical than finesse-minded under the new coaching leadership of Jimmy Lake, will mix and match its runners and use a lot of them this season. 

Oregon State saw four Husky tailbacks take their turns, plus three wideouts run the ball on fly sweeps and even tight end-turned-fullback Jack Westover get three carries.

"It's exciting to grow with this offensive line and 'the Stable,' " McGrew said, giving him and his fellow backs a pet name. "You all got to see a little bit of it tonight, or a lot of it. Hopefully there's a lot more to come."

The 5-foot-7, 175-pound McGrew, as small as he is, never lets you forget that he's still hanging around. He brings superior quickness that's made to order to run behind the Huskies' huge offensive line that averages 6-5 and 324 per starter.

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Don't be surprised if he draws the game-opening assignment or at least more carries against Arizona next Saturday. 

That's not meant to diminish Pleasant, who's worked extra hard to make himself more relevant. He added a good 20 pounds in the offseason to his now 6-foot, 230-pound frame and the weight has served him well.

The extra heft rapidly moved him up the depth chart, where he had languished as either the third- or fourth-string guy, to become the first-teamer against Oregon State, just the second start of his college career. He piled up 61 yards on 12 carries and scored on a 15-yard dash to the end zone. He did everything expected of him to remain the No. 1 guy.

Newton, after scoring 11 times in 2019 while coming off the bench as a tailback or wildcat back, seemed an obvious choice when camp opened to move to the top of the UW backfield ladder. Against the Beavers, he was merely the third back. He still received more carries than any of the other guys, running 15 times for 41 yards.

Yet Newton has to be a little frustrated that he's regressed some rather than taken big steps forward. Again, he's the third guy. He didn't run with his usual reckless abandon against Oregon State either, appearing a little tentative with the ball, which was atypical for him. 

Chances are Newton may be held back by his blocking ability or he hasn't fully grasped all the nuances of the new John Donovan offense. Of course, he has plenty of time to turn things more in his favor.

Davis manned an all-purpose role against the Beavers, running twice and catching three passes. There's no reason he can't move up the depth chart. If any of the vets lets up for a minute, he'll ready to move past them.

The way the Huskies will approach this season, it appears there are going to be lots of carries and yards to pass around.

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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