SEATTLE — Shaq Thompson might be Washington’s most versatile player, but the junior linebacker can’t be everywhere.
He’s not in the Huskies’ running backs meetings, even though it’s becoming increasingly obvious that head coach Chris Petersen plans to give him some opportunities to carry the ball in 2014.
Instead, Thompson has been meeting 1-on-1 with running backs coach Keith Bhonapha, who is trying to teach him enough plays to be able to use him on offense, but not so many that he’s loaded down with information while still trying to learn UW’s new defense.
“Me and him try to meet once or twice a week during our off time, so you definitely can’t give him the whole playbook,” Bhonapha said. “But I think eventually he’ll be able to do that. He’s such a natural athlete and such a smart kid, he’ll be fine.”
Thompson has looked more than fine during his limited time as a running back at UW’s spring practices. On Thursday night, during the Huskies’ most extended scrimmage action of the spring, Thompson pulled on Dwayne Washington’s No. 12 offensive jersey, took his first carry about 20 yards, then took his second carry 74 yards up the left sideline for a touchdown.
Petersen joked Saturday that he suspects foul play.
“Each time we get him the ball, he does something good. But I’m starting to sniff that he might be on the buddy system with the defense,” Petersen said. “I don’t think they want to hit one of their own. So we’ll have to see about that.”
Thompson had another handful of carries during 11-on-11 portions of UW’s Saturday practice, though none of them went for 74 yards.
He’s also participating in individual drills with the rest of UW’s running backs a little more often, including a drill Saturday in which he caught passes running out of the backfield.
The back-and-forth is “a little bit tiring,” Thompson admits, “but you’ve got to fight through that. It’s football. Everybody’s going to get tired.”
Bhonapha eagerly awaits the day when he’ll be able to teach Thompson a bigger package of plays, so he can “be a guy that we can throw in there and we don’t have to worry about protection and things like that.”
“We’re just really trying to balance it at this point between defense and offense with spring ball,”
Bhonapha said. “So where this goes, we don’t know. But we think we can do something special with it.”
Linebacker remains the priority. But it’s impossible to ignore how big of a factor Thompson could be with the ball in his hands.
“Our arms are kind of wide open on the whole thing,” Petersen said. “We don’t really have a set plan. The better he does, the more we kind of give him some things. But we know we really need him on defense. That’s his primary role. And how he can help on offense, we’ll see about that.”
‘Spring Preview’ about practice
Because personnel won’t allow for a full-fledged spring game, the Huskies are calling next Saturday’s open practice a “spring preview” instead.
Petersen isn’t yet sure of the format, though he said there will be some scrimmaging involved.
“I think the ideal situation is when you have enough bodies and you can draft teams and divide up,” Petersen said, “and since I’ve been the head coach, I think we’ve had the luxury one time to do that.”
Sophomore receiver John Ross missed his second consecutive practice with what Petersen termed “the sniffles.” Running back Jesse Callier, who has been sidelined by injury, was also not in attendance. Running back Dwayne Washington remains sidelined by a left leg injury. … Still no sign of quarterback Cyler Miles or receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow, who remain suspended indefinitely. … Senior receiver Kasen Williams wore a helmet and caught some passes during a drill early in practice. Williams broke a bone in his leg during a game in November. He has also been doing some light running at practice.