The title of this article is not meant to be a form of reporting, it’s seriously just a question I’ve been asking myself these past few hours. I have no reason to believe that Coach Sarkisian is actually considering having his five star freshman safety play on both sides of the football, and I’m not ready to say that he should be. It’s just an intriguing concept to consider as we sit around and wait to watch the Huskies play in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
Though Shaq Thompson was very clearly recruited as a safety, and listed as a safety by all of the major recruiting services, his high school career was not so one dimensional. He played all over the defense, served as the starting running back, assumed the role of quarterback after injury left Grant High School thin at the position, and even contributed as a punter from time to time. Versatile may be the word you’re looking for.
His experience as a quarterback came more out of necessity, and outside of possibly including some wild cat looks (when’s the last time anyone mentioned the wild cat, 2009?) it is not likely to be a part of his future.
At running back, however, Shaq was a complete monster. During his senior season, he rushed for 1134 yards and 15 touchdowns on only 120 carries, good for an otherwordly average yards per attempt of 9.45. Obviously high school stats do not equal Pac-12 stats, but all it takes is a few minutes of high school game tape to realize that Shaq is a natural at the position. He trucks through people like nothing else, never being brought down by the first defender, keeping his legs churning for extra yardage.
While the first impression I got from the footage was that Shaq runs with power, he also has breakaway speed and a natural feel for the position. He’s already a grown man as a freshman, his 6’1″, 230 pound frame more indicative of a linebacker than a safety at the college level, and that size coupled with transcendent athleticism, the same traits that make him so valuable as a safety, also make him an ideal running back.
I am not a scout, and I’m much more sports fan with the ability to write and a load of opinions than I am an inventive football mind. So I can’t say with any confidence that Shaq has the capibilities to instantly be a great player on the offensive side of the ball. Logically, it seems that if his potential on offense were greater than his potential as a safety, than someone would have recruited him as a back.
I also understand that division one athletes playing both ways is rare for a reason. Injury is an issue, and the lack of focus on one position may hinder development at both spots. Still, with a player ranked fourth in the nation in his class, with extensive experience and talent playing multiple positions, in a time of specific need, I don’t see why it can’t happen.
Jesse Callier is out for the season. Bishop Sankey will now be the starter and get his chance to step up, but what if he proves unable or unprepared to rise to the occasion? He is an unproven sophomore. He may need another year to develop before he’s ready for a starting role. It may become clear in a few years that he was an all around bust who never became ready.
Even if he racks up yardage and touchdowns over the next few weeks, he could very well get injured, a concern I’ve written about a lot in the past few days. Then, we would have Erich Wilson II, a true freshman, as the starter, with sophomore Willis Wilson and redshirt freshman Dezden Petty backing him up. If the names don’t sound familiar, that should probably tell you something.
I really do hope that all of this proves to be a lot of worrying over nothing, that Sankey emerges as a durable star, and that Shaq has a great freshman year at nickelback. But if my worries prove prophetic, and what is already a position of vulnerability transforms in to a full on crisis, it is worth giving Shaq a look.
There, I said it, I think it’s a good idea. No more waffling. If there are any more injuries at halfback, I want Shaq getting at least a few carries. He’s already returning kicks, so we know Sark is aware of his talent with the football in his hands. Even if he is injured, which would be bad, safety is perhaps the deepest position on the team, and I think the benefits of having Thompson help the run game make it through the year outweigh the costs of a possible injury.
I’m not saying Price should be handing him the ball twenty-five times a game, but giving him five to ten carries to throw off the defense, give relief to the other backs, and possibly break off a few big gains doesn’t seem half bad. We all know he’s athletic enough, and hopefully well conditioned enough, to get right back on defense.
Chances are it will not happen, especially not with Sankey healthy. But just remember, if problems with the run game continue past week one, Shaq Thompson is an option at halfback.