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Originally published Friday, April 20, 2012 at 2:36 PM

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Washington tailbacks Jesse Callier, Bishop Sankey compete for job of replacing Chris Polk

The Huskies' running game was powered by Chris Polk the past three years but with Polk entering the NFL draft, UW's tailback job is up for grabs. Junior Jesse Callier and sophomore Bishop Sankey are the most likely candidates.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington football fans attending Saturday's open practice at Memorial Stadium will undoubtedly pay close attention to the tailback spot, where Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey are competing to replace Chris Polk.

The workout begins at 11 a.m. and is one of just two chances UW fans have to see the Huskies this spring.

The tailback competition, though, is one that is certain to stretch into the fall, and might never have as clear a winner as was the case the past three years, when Polk dominated the position as few others have in UW history.

"Right now, those (Callier and Sankey) would be the guys that would be 1A and 1B," running-backs coach Joel Thomas told reporters after Friday's practice. "And I'll let you guys decide (which is which). But it's been a competitive battle. I really like the energy and the effort they bring every single day. They are serious about taking the job over. One of them is going to do it."

Just how much one or the other takes it over is the question. Thomas said it's "safe to say" the carries will be distributed more evenly than the past three years, then adds: "But who knows? When I first got here I didn't think Chris was going to carry the ball as many times, as well. We were sprinkling in other guys and he kind of took the job over. ... It may be a 55-45 deal, 60-40, I don't know."

Polk, generally considered a second- or third-round pick in next week's NFL draft, left UW with one year of eligibility left after rushing for 1,000 yards each of the past three years. Napoleon Kaufman is the only other UW running back to top the 1,000-yard mark three times.

Polk, though, carried a heavier load than just about any UW tailback ever has.

Polk got 779 of UW's 1,323 rushing attempts the past three years, or 58.8 percent. By comparison, Kaufman got 663 out of 1,452 available attempts in 1992, 1993 and 1994, 45.6 percent.

In one more comparison showing how much UW relied on Polk, consider the one season (1996) spent at Washington by Corey Dillon, when he rushed for a school-record 1,695 yards. Dillon had 301 carries, the most for a Husky — Polk is second with the 293 he got in 2011. But even Dillon had a slightly lower percentage of carries that season than Polk got the past three, 55.9 percent.

While media and fans will paint the competition to replace Polk as a battle, Callier and Sankey each say they will be happy with whatever carries they get.

"I'm up to whatever they ask for," Callier said. "If it's 25 carries a game, then I'll do it. If it's 12, then I'll do it. It's up to the coaches."

Callier, a junior, was the main backup last year (rushing for 260 yards on 47 carries), and Thomas refers to him as the "wily veteran" of the group.

Sankey, meanwhile, rushed for 187 yards on 28 carries last season as a freshman and has continued to improve in his first spring with the Huskies.

"Bishop is starting to become a stronger, more confident tailback," Thomas said.

Each has put on a little weight, though neither is quite up to Polk's 222. Callier said he's at 205 and Sankey is at 200, hoping to be 205 by the fall.

The competition might not be confined to just those two. Standing on the sideline at every UW practice is sophomore Deontae Cooper, who, like Callier, enrolled in time for spring ball in 2010 and immediately began earning raves for his play. But Cooper suffered a knee injury that August and another last summer and has yet to see action. Thomas said Cooper is on track to return for fall camp, though until he returns to full-contact football, it's hard to know exactly how he will fit in.

"We'll see in August when he gets going," Thomas said.

Also in the mix is junior-college transfer Antavius Sims, and arriving in the fall is 2012 signee Erich Wilson. Of Sims, trying to make the switch from quarterback, Thomas said for now "he's got some work to do."

As might be said of everyone who takes on the task of replacing Polk.

Note

Nate Fellner, a safety the past three years, spent another day at strongside linebacker, and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said the switch is going well. "We are trying to find a way to get our best people on the field," he said. "It fits his skill set, and really there's no difference when you're a strong safety rolled down in the box to what we ask our (strongside linebacker) position to do."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

In the running
Washington's Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey are competing to replace Chris Polk at tailback. Their rushing totals in backup roles last season:
Yards Carries
Jesse Callier 260 47
Bishop Sankey 187 28

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