Who fills the void left by Washington RB Chris Polk?

Lost in much of the preseason optimism surrounding this Washington Huskies squad is a 1,500-yard chasm created by the departure of Chris Polk.
The junior tailback left for April’s NFL Draft in which he figures to be an early round selection, leaving the Huskies in the unsavory position of trying to replace his production. Polk rushed for 1,488 yards on 293 carries with 12 touchdowns while starting all 13 games in 2011. The first-team Pac-12 selection also caught 31 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns, but receivers the Huskies have.
Running backs? Perhaps not.
Washington will turn to a solid stable of young backs to fill the considerable void left by Polk. Leading the way entering spring practice could be soon-to-be junior Jesse Callier. Callier finished with 260 yards on 47 carries in a complementary role as a sophomore. His 5.5 yards-per-carry average should be impressive enough to show the coaches that he can be an every down back.
Callier, however, could be seen as more of a change-of-pace back. Most of his carries in 2011 came when he spelled Polk in the lineup for a play or two and were designed to get him on the edge to frustrate defenses with his speed after they had been dealing with Polk’s physicality.
That’s why Callier may have a tough time holding off sophomore Bishop Sankey as his primary competition. Sankey, a freshman last season, had just 28 carries (totaling 187 yards for a 6.7 ypc average) in 12 games as he played behind Polk and Callier. But Sankey was utilized in essentially the same formations and run plays as Polk and showed the same type of toughness, vision and speed that Polk had for his three seasons as a Husky.
Barring any kind of unforeseen happenings (like a transfer, injury or academic issues), expect the Huskies to rely on both Sankey and Callier in more of a running back-by-committee approach in 2012. At least at the outset.
Sankey and Callier, though, are by no means the only horses in this race. A name to watch out for is that of Deontae Cooper.
Cooper will be entering his redshirt-sophomore season after spending the previous two on the sidelines recovering from consecutive ACL tears in his left  knee, both occurring before the season even started.
Horribly snake-bitten thus far, Cooper has shown incredible courage and dedication to return at a higher level than what he was at before the injuries occurred.
That level was one that made Cooper one of the more highly touted recruits in Washington’s 2010 class after finishing his senior season as the second leading rusher in the state of California. His explosiveness and keen vision were on display early in 2010, as he worked his way up the Huskies depth chart during spring practices.
If Cooper can return to form and stay healthy — and yes, that is a big “if” — he will be right in the mix for carries. Although, don’t expect Cooper to be given a lion’s share of the load even if he proves able in fall camp. The Washington staff will most assuredly want to ease him back into the game after he spent so much time on the sidelines.
Callier, Cooper and Sankey are the key three for Washington fans to keep an eye on. Others that could see time are Zach Fogerson, a converted fullback who is also coming off an injury and in-coming freshman Erich Wilson.
Whoever emerges will be a critical factor in the determination of a successful Huskies season.
Right now Washington has an elite passing offense, one that could finish in the top 5 or 10 in the NCAA next year. With junior quarterback Keith Price returning for his second season at the helm and a host of talented receivers — Kasen Williams, James Johnson, Kevin Smith, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and DiAndre Campbell chief among them — at his disposal, defenses will be gearing up to stop Washington’s passing game.
That is why filling Polk’s 1,500-yard void will be absolutely critical for a Washington team that eyes a major step forward in 2012. Finding a running game that keeps defenses honest, could be the difference between winning nine games and going 6-6.


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