Brandon Johnson says UW tailback job should be his
Washington sophomore running back Brandon Johnson weighs about 15 pounds more than he did last fall. But he says it's not necessarily due...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Washington sophomore running back Brandon Johnson weighs about 15 pounds more than he did last fall.
But he says it's not necessarily due to any effort to get bigger — no extra late-night hamburger runs or anything like that.
"It just naturally happened," said Johnson, who weighs 204 pounds compared to the 190 he played at last season. "Just the natural weight you put on. And I've been in the weight room a lot, so it's pretty much all muscle."
What he would like to start hogging up, however, is all the time at tailback for the Huskies in 2008.
With the graduation of Louis Rankin, Johnson is listed first on UW's depth chart because of his backup status last season as well as a 121-yard effort late in the year against California, which seemed to anoint him as the running back of the future.
"In my head I'm the No. 1 guy," he said. "I just look at this as this spot is mine. I don't mind sharing time, but as of right now, I want all the carries."
Coaches, however, say it's not that simple.
"It's an open competition right now," said offensive coordinator Tim Lappano.
And currently, that's a three-man race between Johnson and freshmen Willie Griffin and Brandon Yakaboski, who each redshirted last season.
The field will get even more crowded in the fall when four true freshmen who could all play running back will arrive, including Kentwood's Demetrius Bronson and O'Dea's Johri Fogerson. And then there's J.R. Hasty, the former Bellevue High star who appears to be missing one of his best chances to stake a claim to the job, effectively suspended for failing to live up to team responsibilities during the off-season. Hasty and linebacker E.J. Savannah aren't practicing with the team, though they attend practices.
Lappano says the three who are practicing have all been "pretty steady, just like we thought."
All bring a different look to the position than Rankin, who used a battery of open-field moves last season to become the first UW 1,000-yard rusher since 1997.
Lappano, instead, describes all three as "good inside runners" with subtle differences in their games.
Lappano likes Johnson's physical style of running, Griffin's quick feet and "feel for running the football" and says Yakaboski might be the best of the three at breaking tackles.
He also says Yakaboski, a Mount Si grad, is the best receiver. "In my opinion, he has as good of hands as anybody on the football team," Lappano said. "He has got really soft hands and he could be very valuable throwing the ball to out of the backfield."
Johnson said coaches will probably rotate the backs more this year. Also likely getting their share of carries this season are Chris Polk and Curtis Shaw, each listed as receivers but with solid backgrounds as running backs.
Shaw played tailback about half of last season before moving to receiver while Polk, a member of the Class of 2008 who has already enrolled, rushed for 2,561 yards last fall as a high-school senior and is listed as both a back and a receiver.
Coaches envision giving each carries on the "fly sweep" — which Oregon State used so well last year with receiver James Rodgers — and other variations of that play.
For now, Polk isn't expected to get any carries out of traditional running-back plays.
And Johnson wants to leave no doubt this spring about who the starting running back should be. He says he feels just as fast as a year ago despite the added weight, and has confidence borne out of the success of the Cal game.
"That helped me realize that it's not much harder than high school," said Johnson, who attended Dominguez High in Compton, Calif. "That you can just go out and play without being nervous. That's where it really helped me. I'm a lot more comfortable now, so I'm out there having fun."
• Asked for an early read on the transition of Johnie Kirton from tight end to defensive tackle, UW coach Tyrone Willingham called it "good." But he also said he thinks Kirton isn't quite where he could be because he studied in South Africa during the winter quarter. "You can see where being away ... took away from potential learning [of his new position]," Willingham said.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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