By Tim Booth Associated Press
SEATTLE — Shaq Thompson knows the question is coming. It’s asked any time his role with Washington is discussed.
So before the debate about whether Thompson is about to become the next two-way player in the Pac-12 Conference, he shoots down any notion that splitting between being a linebacker and running back would be a full-time deal.
“It’s not really a big deal to me. I came here to play linebacker so that’s what I’m going to do,” Thompson said. “Until he calls my name and wants me to play offense, I’m a defensive player.”
Thompson could be the best all-around player on the roster head coach Chris Petersen inherited when he took over at Washington. So it made sense that when the Huskies’ depth at running back took a hit because of injuries during spring practice that Thompson was given a shot at occasionally getting carries.
Besides, who would really want to tackle a 6-foot-1, 228-pound load running at full speed?
“I have my day where I hope I get a couple of reps here and there,” Thompson said. “But I’m a full-time linebacker.”
Thompson could be one of the top linebackers in the Pac-12. Some publications have already listed Thompson as a potential All-America candidate. He was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection as a sophomore when he had 78 tackles and returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown against Oregon State. He remains one of the top recruits landed by Steve Sarkisian in his time at Washington and has all the measurable skills that give him the ability to play either inside or outside linebacker.
Washington linebackers coach Bob Gregory had known about Thompson long before either arrived in Seattle. Gregory coached Thompson’s brother, Syd’Quan, at California.
“He’s really got great dimensions for a linebacker. … He’s got good range, he can cover ground quickly from Point A to Point B. He’s got good football instincts. He’s a natural football player,” Gregory said.
When word first trickled out about Thompson getting time at running back, the comparison was instantly made to UCLA’s Myles Jack. Last season, Jack bounced between linebacker and running back late in the season, including rushing for 120 yards against Arizona and a week later scoring four touchdowns rushing against Washington.
Gregory doesn’t see a problem with giving Thompson time in the backfield.
“If that makes our team better, then I’m all for it,” he said. “We have a bunch of low-ego coaches around here. We’re not trying to hoard guys. If that makes us better we are all for it and I think it does. He’s a naturally gifted athlete who can play running back.”
Moving players around was a hallmark of Petersen’s teams at Boise State. It wasn’t done often, but defensive ends would occasionally get snaps at tight end, or defensive tackles would line up at fullback in short-yardage situations.
Thompson wasn’t isolated in being moved around during the spring. Wide receiver John Ross also saw time at defensive back during the spring, again in part because of injuries.
“I like doing that. We’ve done that with tight ends and (defensive) ends and moved them around in short-yardage goal line packages,” Petersen said. “I think it’s really fun for those guys and they really lock in and we’ve had success doing that. If somebody can help us in a way, we’ll do that.”