CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple’s Notebook: Latest from UW Huskies spring practice

Apr 25, 2024, 10:40 AM | Updated: 10:41 am

UW Huskies Cameron Davis...

UW Huskies running back Cameron Davis plays against Colorado on Nov. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

SEATTLE — While Cam Davis stayed put, the UW Huskies reloaded around him, a ceaseless parade of newcomers arriving via the transfer portal.

Ranked: Brock’s top 5 UW Huskies in 2024 NFL Draft

Since coach Kalen DeBoer took over for Jimmy Lake ahead of the 2022 season, the following transfer running backs wound up on the Huskies’ roster: Aaron Dumas … Wayne Taulapapa … Will Nixon … Daniyel Ngata … Dillon Johnson … and, most recently, Jonah Coleman, the Arizona Wildcats’ top rusher a year ago, and someone whom new coach Jedd Fisch described in February as “one of the best running backs in the country.”

As if that weren’t competition enough, Davis also has battled injury, including a season-ender to his lower body (likely a knee) sustained in August, just as he was preparing to begin the year as UW’s lead back (though Johnson wound up a 1,000-yard rusher). Yet after another coaching change — and the arrival of another tailback considered starter material — Davis is still here, biding his time as a limited participant this spring before, he says, he’ll be full go for preseason camp.

Rather than enter the portal himself, Davis has instead withstood the remaking of UW’s tailback room. Will he enter his sixth-year senior season as a starter? We’ll see. But he could be among the offense’s most important players, regardless, potentially teaming with Coleman to form a talented, experienced 1-2 backfield duo for an offense that otherwise lacks established Power 4 (sigh) production.

“You don’t see it too often nowadays, with the whole transfer portal and NIL,” Davis said after Wednesday’s practice. “But I’m just loyal to Washington. Washington has given me a home, given me a chance, so I just want to stick it out and get some more wins in my last year here.”

While Coleman’s 2023 production (871 yards, 6.8 per rush) and stout build (5-foot-9, 225 pounds) make him one of Washington’s most interesting players to watch this spring, it’s also apparent that the Huskies need Davis, who split tailback duties with Taulapapa in 2022 (and led the team with 13 rushing touchdowns) before a scrimmage injury derailed his junior year.

Tybo Rogers is suspended indefinitely. Sam Adams II has been limited by injury. True freshman Adam Mohammed, a former Arizona signee, is taking a lot of reps — at 17 years old, running backs coach Scottie Graham noted — as is Ngata. But the UW Huskies’ supply of healthy scholarship tailbacks ends there, and even with Davis expected to return at full health in August, the Huskies might actually need to dip back into the portal to build out their depth.

“(I’m) not all the way 100 percent yet,” Davis said, “but I’m moving pretty good.”

Davis hasn’t participated in 11-on-11 periods, but he has been able to do some drills and spent time Wednesday working out with the strength staff on the side. And Graham says his veteran presence is proving valuable, regardless.

“He’s been outstanding, helping,” Graham said. “Any time I need help with the guys, he’ll go talk to them first — Adam, in particular. He’s embraced him, he’s embraced Jonah. Being a leader and coming to his room, really, because we came into the room, and he’s been a developed running back. He’s been a leader from the jump.”

Watching from the sidelines last season wasn’t easy — UW could have used Davis all year, but particularly so in the national championship game, with Johnson hobbled by three different injuries — but Davis has always appeared naturally upbeat, always intent on rehabbing and overcoming his various ailments.

His favorite memory from last season aligns with one many of his teammates might also name: the Pac-12 championship game victory over Oregon. It was Davis’ first time traveling for a game last year.

“I was able to live through my teammates, just taking their joy with it,” Davis said. “Also, I have my own joy, watching them get wins and go to the national championship. It was a great feeling, seeing all that hard work pay off.”

Come September, he might be able to say the same about his own journey back to the field.

“I for sure have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “It’s hard to sit out for a whole year, but I’ve used that energy to funnel it back into my rehab and just attack every day 100 percent.”

Graham is a bit of a character — he wears a headband at practice, either white or black, and if it’s the latter, “bring your mouthpiece, because it’s going to be a physical practice” — and also is a unique figure in college football. He grew up in Long Beach, N.Y., starred as a running back at Ohio State and spent six seasons in the NFL with the Jets, Vikings and Bengals. Also, he worked for the NFLPA and as a college administrator at Arizona State.

Fisch hired him at Arizona in 2021, and so Graham coached his first college season at age 52. Mention his age, though, and you get this: “Who’s old? I’m a young man.”

Also: “I ran nine miles this week. Did you know that?”

He always wanted to get into the profession, he said, but didn’t want to miss out on raising his kids, now aged 31 and 28. “This takes time, and it’s hard,” Graham said. “So for me, I wanted to develop my family first. I always had the chops to do it. Nobody gave me an opportunity. Coach Fisch gave me my first opportunity, and it’s worked out pretty good for both of us.”

Indeed, Graham’s high-school recruiting supplied two of UW’s scholarship tailbacks (Coleman and Mohammed). Similar to how junior cornerback Ephesians Prysock was all-in on following position coach John Richardson wherever he went, it didn’t take long for Coleman to become the first Arizona player to announce his intent to follow the staff to Seattle.

“It was tough,” Coleman said, “just because I committed to them — really the coaches — when we were 1-11 (in 2021), and seeing what we built and coming off the year that we had (10-3), I felt like it was tough to leave. But sometimes, you’ve got to make a business decision.”

Graham’s NFL pedigree appealed to Coleman as a three-star prospect at Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln.

“He’s one of the smartest people I know, and I realized that at 16 years old,” Coleman said. “I’m glad that I did commit to him. I committed to Arizona before I even visited the school.

“The culture came (to UW),” Coleman said. “The coaches built a culture down there, got the right people in the building, and I feel like it’s the same here. Whoever wants to be here will be here, and whoever don’t — the portal’s open.”

Should Fisch succeed at Washington, you get the sense Coleman will have a central role in the telling of how it happened. His high-school coach called him “that guy that the players gravitate toward,” and Graham describes Coleman similarly.

“Great teams mesh,” Graham said, and Coleman “is one of those guys who’ll get along with anybody.”

I wanted to ask Davis: how is Fisch’s offense different from — and similar to — what the Huskies ran under DeBoer?

“It’s very pro-style, very balanced,” he said. “Coach Fisch prides himself on marrying the run with the pass. I feel like that’s how they’re different. Similar-wise, we’re going to take shots. You see we’ve got a great receiving corps.”

You’re going to keep hearing about Mohammed, who is listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds, and does not cut the figure of a freshman. He’s long, with big arms, and Graham said he held off for a while on offering him a scholarship as a relatively lightly-recruited prospect at Glendale (Ariz.) Apollo, because he didn’t want other schools to jump on him (Boston College and California had already offered).

Mohammed turns 18 on Friday.

“Baby,” Graham said. “205. When he gets to 220, it’s going to be lunch money. You know what that means? Remember back in high school? ‘Give me your lunch money.’ ‘No!’ ‘Yes, give me your lunch money.’”

Tristan Dunn made a nice play to intercept a pass from Demond Williams Jr. that was intended for Keith Reynolds during Wednesday’s practice, which commenced with the Huskies wearing full pads. Williams recovered, though, to find Rashid Williams for a 29-yard touchdown pass, and Will Rogers connected with Williams again for a 25-yarder during a 7-on-7 period a bit later.

Dunn also put a big hit on receiver Camden Sirmon, closing quickly to knock him down near the line of scrimmage.

Thaddues Dixon really showed up on Wednesday. The senior cornerback was quick to react on a couple of short screen passes that he sniffed out.

Saw a nice play, too, by Prysock, who ran stride for stride with Audric Harris and broke up a deep shot from Rogers. A few plays later, Prysock smacked Giles Jackson for probably the biggest hit I’ve seen him make so far.

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Kahlee Tafai, who returned to practice this week after missing a few due to injury, had to be helped off the field by trainers during the end of Wednesday’s session. He was seen walking without assistance on the sideline, though.

I didn’t see freshman quarterback Dermaricus Davis at practice.

Practice ended with a forced fumble and recovery by the defense, though the recovering player’s teammates mobbed him and I didn’t get a great look at who it was (Lance Holtzclaw, maybe?).

Moments prior, Grady Gross nailed a 45-yard field goal. He appears to have picked up where he left off from last season.

Graham said offensive analyst Luke Del Rio, son of longtime NFL coach Jack Del Rio, is assisting him with the running backs.

“He’s allowed (me) become a better coach,” Graham said, “so I wanted to make sure I gave him a little dap there, too.”

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

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