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Jaylen Jenkins making noise early in WSU fall camp

Meet the freshman poised for immediate time at running back.

Stanford v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

One of the positions a bit up for grabs during Washington State’s fall camp has been running back, where the Cougs return just one player with game experience, which leaves plenty of opportunities for newcomers to make a positive impression.

One name that keeps coming up? True freshman Jaylen Jenkins.

Jenkins — a late commit right before signing day out of powerhouse Allen High School in Texas — has been mentioned in Spokesman-Review reporter Colton Clark’s practice reports more than any of the other backfield runners, probably because he’s been the most prone to ripping off highlight-reel runs so far.

“You see it when he hits that hole – it’s different,” coach Jake Dickert said. “He’s been a real good spark plug. He can bring a little thunder and lightning to that room, which I think is really needed.”

Here’s an example from Clark’s practice report on Monday:

Jenkins, a lightning-quick true freshman from Texas, has supplied an explosive element to WSU’s ground game throughout fall camp. Jenkins made another flashy play Monday during the 11-on-11 period of practice. The 5-foot-8, 177-pounder burst through a narrow gap between the tackles and whizzed downfield at a rapid pace, blowing past every defender – no one got a hand on Jenkins – for a 50-yard touchdown.

It’s unlikely Jenkins, who stands just 5-foot-8 and 177 pounds, will be relied upon as anything more than a change of pace for the unit. But having a legitimate home run threat in the backfield can tilt the calculus a little bit for a defense while giving offensive coordinator Eric Morris a fun player to toy around with in his play calling.

Here’s what Jenkins looked like in high school:

It’s a great story, but ... this also speaks a bit to the iffy situation in that position group. Nakia Watson is presumed to be the starter after holding down the No. 3 role last season, but he hasn’t really distinguished himself this fall, and he’s banged up at the moment. This comes on the heels of a thoroughly mediocre performance in his first shot as the lead back in last season’s Sun Bowl.

Djouvensky Schlenbaker is the other true freshman vying for time. Similar in stature to Watson, he also hasn’t really set himself apart, causing Dickert to invoke names like Kannon Katzer and Dylan Paine — redshirt freshmen who came to WSU as walk-ons — when talking about the standing of the group. And Jouvensly Bazil, entering his fourth year on campus with just one career carry, doesn’t even appear to be in the mix.

“I don’t even know who No. 1 is, let alone No. 2,” he said of the RB depth chart. “I think those guys need to come out here and prove it.”

Dickert expects it to be a “by-committee” approach this season for the Cougars’ backfield. Watson is probably still the favorite to start, but the job won’t be all his. That’s “not a knock on Nakia,” Dickert said. ...

“I don’t think there’s an established No. 1, 2 or 3 right now,” Dickert said of the RB depth chart.

And then this, from yesterday’s practice report ...

Paine, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Tumwater, Washington, was the Cougars’ first running back on the field. True freshmen RBs Djouvensky Schlenbaker and Jaylen Jenkins contributed with the first team and redshirt freshman Kannon Katzer played with the backups

I’m not sure it’s anything to be super worried about yet, but I do wonder how it affects Dickert’s desire to be a physical team that runs the ball a significant amount (by college football/Air Raid standards, anyway.)


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