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Washington's Shaq Thompson likely to see more time at tailback

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Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Washington's Shaq Thompson continues to excel on both sides of the ball.

Washington needs an offensive spark, and the Huskies might turn to one of the nation's most talented linebackers for help.

Junior Shaq Thompson (6-foot-1, 228 pounds), one of 15 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's best linebacker, spent most of last week's loss to Arizona State at tailback -- the first time in his career he saw more time on offense than defense. That could continue.

Thompson had a career-high 21 carries for a career-high 98 yards, and definitely provided a spark to the rushing attack. Washington ran for 151 yards against the Sun Devils -- its most productive game on the ground in four Pac-12 contests this season. Washington averaged 239.3 rushing yards per game in the non-conference portion of the schedule; that average has dropped to 120.8 in league play.

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Thompson had nine carries on the season, for 84 yards, before last week's game.

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks wrote earlier this week that "Thompson's production as a two-way player in a major conference will enhance his value in the pre-draft process, as coaches covet versatility and athleticism." Brooks also wrote that if Thompson decides to turn pro after this season, he has the "potential to skyrocket during the run up to the draft."

One reason Thompson received more time at tailback is that Lavon Coleman (shoulder) and Dwayne Washington (chest) were injured, but there's no question Thompson's physical running style provides a boost to an offense that needs one.

Washington coach Chris Petersen was asked about his plans at tailback and linebacker going forward.

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"We have some good linebackers, and obviously Shaq is equally as good," Petersen said at his weekly Monday news conference. "We're just trying to maximize our talent and figure out the best way to do that."

Redshirt freshman Keishawn Bierria played well in Thompson's place at linebacker against Arizona State, with six tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.

"He did a real good job," defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski told reporters. "He was where he was supposed to be. He knew what he was doing. He played hard, played physical."

Thompson is listed as the starter at linebacker on this week's depth chart, with Bierria as the second-teamer. Coleman (the team's leading rusher with 438 yards) and Deontae Cooper (fourth on the team with 175 yards) are listed as co-starters at tailback, and Thompson doesn't show up at that position. Then again, Thompson never is listed on the depth chart at tailback.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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