BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 04/21/2014

Thiel: Huskies QBs, RBs remain spring mystery

The Huskies finished spring football practice with no clear starter at QB or RB. Fortunately for coach Chris Petersen, the early schedule will be an extension of spring practice.

Chris Petersen claims to have no clear idea about who starts at either quaretrback or running back. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

For much of the century, the Washington Huskies benefited from large production by Jake Locker/Keith Price at quarterback and Chris Polk/Bishop Sankey at running back.

At the end of 2014 spring football practice, a contradictory void fairly screams: The new coach doesn’t own up to a real idea as to who in the fall will succeed the stars at either spot.

Chris Petersen even conceded the possibility of an alternating tandem at QB with Jeff  Lindquist and Troy Williams.

“I don’t think anyone likes that, but we’re going to do whatever we have to to give ourselves the best chance to win,” Petersen said after the final  scrimmage Saturday on a damp, cool day Husky Stadium that drew maybe a couple thousand of the curious. “I know everyone’s waiting for a starting quarterback. We don’t have that.

“It’s always nice to have a starting quarterback. But that guy (Price) graduated in December. We’re at square one until one guy establishes himself.”

The QB mystery deepens because of spring absence of Cyler Miles, the presumed incumbent and Colorado native who decided to wear a Broncos hat to a Seahawks fan celebration party Feb. 2, apparently attempting to replicate the experience wearing of a pork chop to a wolf pack.

The subsequent fight has him and fellow knucklehead Damore’ea Stringfellow suspended indefinitely by Petersen, an awkward drama that apparently will spill into the summer before we learn whether further lashings will be administered.

Over at running back, the successor to Polk/Sankey is equally nebulous, but the position also has a tear-jerker saga that has purple sentiment all in his corner, for whatever that is worth.

Deontae Cooper, who has as many career ACL-repair surgeries as touchdowns (three), is temporarily the leader, but the competition in the last week was missing Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington, out with reportedly minor injuries. Saturday, Cooper had 68 yards in nine carries, including a nifty cut on one run that did not appear as if it was made by a man whose knees must look like a map of the Amazon River basin drainage.

The other healthy RB, redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman, cocked a few eyebrows with 99 yards in 18 carries, including a 47-yard reversal-of-field sprint that was the big-play highlight of the soggy 11-on-11 exercise.

For the millionty-millionth time since his return to the field prior to the 2013 season — he was voted the team’s most inspirational player at year’s end — Cooper was asked how he was feeling.

“I feel stronger,” he said, polite as ever. ” I’m doing the weights I used to do. The more I do in the weight room, the better I feel out here.”

A sculpted 200-pounder from Perris, CA., Cooper is solid in every way as a candidate to start, particularly after a breakthrough game last season at Oregon State, when he went for 166 yards, including carries of 68 and 70. The coaching change, after Steve Sarkisian decamped to USC, seems as if it has benefited him.

“What was exciting for me was the new coaching staff,” he said. “With Sark and his staff, it was always, ‘He’s had three knee injuries.’ With this staff, they gave me a fresh start. They knew about it, but they weren’t worried about it.

“And definitely there’s a lot more teaching going on. I don’t know if that’s because it’s spring ball, but there’s definitely a lot.”

He is in position to absorb a lot of education. Because of his repeated injuries, Cooper, a senior, was granted by the NCAA an additional three years of eligibility, meaning he could stay at Washington until, say, the viaduct-replacement project starts up again.

Not that he would, exactly.

Asked to look into his future, he said, “I can see myself being at camp with coach Pete, but I can’t predict (staying three years) because I couldn’t predict three injuries. We’re gonna take it one step at a time.”

If anyone is entitled to take each day as it comes, it is Cooper.

“He’s making hard cuts and splitting defenders, step in the right directions,” Petersen said. “Days like today are really good for him, to be ‘live’ and realize his knee is good, and he can go. He’ll get there with another few months of training.”

At least at running back, having no clear No. 1 is not crucial yet, because all likely will see some action without a huge falloff. That’s particularly true given the schedule. Fans will have to go to Baskin & Robbins to find more flavors of ice cream than the Huskies have in their first four games: Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State.

When a college team is managing the mess of a coaching transition, having dessert first apparently is considered acceptable etiquette.

Speaking of managing the transition, Petersen was asked what the biggest accomplishment was to date.

“I think we got the structure down,” he said. “The system has been introduced. Everything from how we lift to how we practice, has been established. Now we have to get better —  tightening up the details on everything.

“We’re not detailed enough.”

Details like finding a starting quarterback. Fortunately, the schedule makes it seem as if spring practice will get four extra weeks in September. And details like finding a different hat for Miles after the Seahawks-Broncos rematch.


  • Kim

    Art you keep using the term knucklehead to describe these two. Have you ever been on the receiving end of an physical attack by someone much stronger than you because they thought it would be fun?

    • art thiel

      Haven’t most of us? The term I use is a pejorative conveying bad judgment without dealing with legal definitions of whether specific crimes have been committed or abetted.

      Both players either did, or failed to do, something that easily could have been avoided. That’s being knuckleheads. Regarding Stringfellow, there’s no excuse for hitting a woman.

      Also, I would like to have both of them publicly answer the question: WTF?

      • Kim

        Honestly I’m not trying to get into a semantics argument, it’s just when I think of knucklehead I think of something like a teenager who throws a party while the folk are away, it gets out of hand, things are broken. Or a ball player who breaks their hand punching a wall after a strike out … These two went looking for trouble. I’m not advocating labeling them with some sinister word, I’m just saying these are not actions that should be shaded with a word that for me conjures a “kids will be kids” aura. A small side note too, I am a 50 year old who works in the Greek System here at the UW & have spoken to a few people present that night. I’m not going to print second hand information that is unsubstantiated by the police but the general consensus is the punishment did not fit the crime & most students would rather they were gone for the simple fact they went out looking to fight with their own fans.

        • art thiel

          I get your meaning, Kim, but in journalism there’s a caution about tossing around harsh characterizations of people and their behaviors. “Knucklehead” may be mild for you, but it conveys for me disapproval without parsing the details of the incident every time, especially since we’ve yet to hear from either. I don’t think there’s much they can say that will excuse them, but even the condemned get to explain themselves.

          I appreciate you not spreading unconfirmed info, but I have heard similar things. You’re right — the apparent intent to commit mayhem is why they deserve more punishment.

  • Jamo57

    As nebulous as the RB situation seems, it was equally so after Chris Polk graduated and moved on to the NFL. It looked like it would be RB by committee, and looked even more dire when Callier was lost for the year. Of course Sankey stepped up and became one of the all time greats.

    That uncertainty always seems to be part of college ball, unless a program is one of the elites. As much as the purple glasses wearing boosters at Montlake want to think UW is at that level, we haven’t been able to ‘reload’ since the mid 90s. But here’s hoping another Sankey is in the wings. Should be fun to watch.

    • art thiel

      My recollection was that Sankey was highly regarded by the coaches, although I agree the degree of his success was a surprise to many.

      Seems to me the degree of uncertainty is higher this time. That may be compounded by the newness of the staff to the playing talent.

      • Eric K

        Your memory if off, Callier was the starter and Sankey came in when he got hurt in the first game.

        Also remember, Price wasn’t named the starter over Montana until Fall camp.

    • mcdawg

      This could be said for this year’s preseason QB dilemma as well IMHO.

  • Coach Pete McPetersen

    Any discussion of new QBs and RBs on this team should also mention the fact that our Oline is probably stronger and deeper than it’s been in a loooong time. That makes finding the next Price and Sankey much more manageable. While future guys might not be as purely accurate as Price and might not have the elite vision of Sankey, they very well might be close to as productive thanks to what is expected to be a very good Oline.