Steve Sarkisian doesn't have to replace running back Chris Polk. He has to replace Polk's production -- or at least a good chunk of Polk's 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
It could be one guy -- and that one guy might be Jesse Callier. But early returns are pointing to a by-committee-approach to replace the man who accounted for 64 percent of the Huskies carries and 74 percent of their yards on the ground in 2011.
"Honestly, I would say as a group, we're not great right now," Callier said. "We're good. And we're on the rise. We're all getting better as a group. I think we'll all play. I'm excited to see how the rotation is going to go. But I'm loving what our running back group is bringing to the table right now. It's exciting."
Callier figures to be the first guy up based on his experience. He's got two years of the offense under his belt, has appeared in all 26 games so far, plus he graduated from high school early to join the team in the spring of 2010. During that time, he learned a lot from watching Polk carry the load for three straight years.
"When I was a freshman, I played like a freshman," Callier said. "I was playing on excitement and adrenaline. I was playing too fast. This year, I really want to slow it down, be patient and hit holes the way they are designed.
"If I could narrow down everything that Chris taught me, it would be that he taught me to be a more patient runner."
Callier was Polk's primary backup last season, rushing for 260 yards and a touchdown on 47 carries. That feels like a fraction of Polk's 293 carries last year (not to mention his four receiving touchdowns and 31 catches). The three-time team MVP is off to the NFL, leaving a talented but untested stable in his wake.
"All we know is that it's wide open," said sophomore Bishop Sankey. "There hasn't been too much talk yet about what the rotation will be. We're all just out here working and competing. We all do good things. I feel like I'm explosive and elusive. Jesse is a great runner who never seems to go down on the first tackle."
For those who don't know Callier's credentials, they are impressive. He was one of California's most celebrated running backs, totaling 3,010 yards on the ground and 43 touchdowns in his senior year at Warren High School in Downey, Calif. (just south of Los Angeles).
He's about 20 pounds lighter than Polk, but craves contact. A good and bad thing for a running back.
"When I was eight, my dad signed me up for football, but tricked me and said it was flag," Callier said. "I was so mad at him. But he was just kidding. I love to hit. And I always wanted to have the ball and that's how I became a running back."
Before Callier could even play, he was putting on his older brother's oversized pads and running around the yard. Now he's one of several players in line to replace a future NFL back.
"I really want to elevate my game in all aspects," he said. "I want to be that student of the game -- learning the line assignments and learning the defenses and reading players. Really the next step is to raise the level of my football IQ."
Whether he does that with 25 carries per game, or 10, remains to be seen.
"I'm not opposed, by any means, to going back to having multiple backs back there," Sarkisian said after practice last week. "But we have to see what these guys can really do. Can Jesse Callier carry the ball 25 times? Or is it Jesse and Bishop? Or can Antavious Sims really be a tailback? We have to figure a lot of things out. That's kind of the excitement. What is this really going to look like?"
And Callier also has his kick return duties to consider. Does he lose that gig should he become the every-down, or almost-every-down back?
"I'm kind of wondering about that myself," Callier said. "I like returning kicks. But I'll do whatever the team needs me to do. If they need me to be an every-down back. I can do it. We'll see how it all shakes out."