Note: This is the fourth of eight position previews of Washington State University’s 2010 football team. Today: Running backs. Wednesday: Special teams.
PULLMAN – If you wanted to put together a highlight DVD of last season’s Washington State University running attack, you wouldn’t have to burn many pixels.
A couple of 37-yard runs each from Dwight Tardy and Carl Winston, maybe James Montgomery’s 118-yard effort against Hawaii, and possibly Kevin Lopina’s 4-yard touchdown run in the same game – the longest scoring run of the season.
That’s about it. The Cougars rushed for just 848 yards last season, averaged 2.4 yards a carry and didn’t exceed 73 yards in any of their final four games.
Gone is Tardy, who left with 2,241 career yards and led WSU in rushing four consecutive seasons, including 417 last year.
Back is a handful of backs that bring different skills, a group headlined by Montgomery, already the comeback player of the year. The senior suffered a major lower leg injury against SMU, one that nearly cost him his leg but did take away the season’s final nine games.
“He’s the No. 1 guy,” said first-year running backs coach Dave Ungerer. “We’re just trying to knock the rust off a little bit, get him back into the flow.
“Physically, he’s not in that playing-type of shape. Not that he’s out of shape, but to play in the full intensity of a game, that takes a little while.”
Luckily for Montgomery, he can ease into it. There is depth behind him.
“It’s a really good problem to have right now,” Ungerer said. “We’ve got quality depth. It’s one thing to have depth, it’s another thing to have quality depth.”
Behind Montgomery, who transferred from Cal two years ago and rushed for 167 yards last season prior to the injury, each of the others have found their niche.
Junior Logwone Mitz is the power back, senior Chantz Staden the third-down receiving threat, sophomore Carl Winston the stocky cut-back runner and freshman Ricky Galvin, he’s the X-factor.
“They’re all different, but they all will contribute this year,” Ungerer said. “They all bring a little something to the table.”
And they’re all fighting for playing time.
“The competition back there, since January really, has been pushing us all to be our best,” said Staden, who, like Montgomery, is coming off a leg injury, his costing him the entire 2009 season. “Right now, any one of us could play on Saturday. That’s a good thing to have.
“Running back’s a tough spot. Not one guy is going to take every single rep.”
If that were the case, that one guy would be Montgomery. But Galvin has shown glimpses of why head coach Paul Wulff was so high on him when the Berkeley, Calif., native signed his letter of intent.
“He’s really an explosive guy,” Ungerer said. “We’re really impressed with what he brings to the table. He’s a little bit different from every body, he’s a little smaller, little quicker, a little faster. And he’s got natural running instincts.”
No matter who plays, WSU will draw from a deep well.
“We all have our (individual) strengths, but in a way we’re all similar, too,” Staden said. “Who ever is having a good week of practice should probably be the guy that weekend.”
“My hardest job is not getting them ready,” Ungerer said. “Really, my hardest job is how they’re all going to get some touches. They all deserve to play. I don’t know if they all will play, but they all deserve to.”