CORVALLIS — Damien Haskins’ physical tools are unquestioned. The 5-foot-9, 232-pound redshirt freshman, after all, can bench 400 pounds and sprint 40 yards in 4.4 seconds.
His role, though, has been in flux in a crowded Oregon State backfield. With 11 days until the Beavers’ season opener, Haskins is stuck behind sophomore Chris Brown, senior Terron Ward and junior Storm Woods on the depth chart. How many carries can a fourth-string running back expect to earn on a team that ran the ball little more than a third of the time last season?
To earn reps come Saturdays, Haskins likely needs a niche. That’s precisely what he found during the first two weeks of fall camp. Haskins has typically shuffled onto the practice field in goal-line situations. Coaches appreciate how he powers through contact, breaking tackles as he scampers into the end zone.
“He’s really had impressive goal-line scrimmages and practices,” head coach Mike Riley said Tuesday. “He’s a load, and we’ll have him ready for that.”
At one point during goal-line drills last week, Haskins romped less than five yards for a touchdown on five straight carries. His stout frame and rugged running style vexed defensive linemen, forcing a couple of them to shake heads in confusion. They had lost the ball until finally finding the desired object in the end zone.
Haskins grew accustomed to such moments during his senior year at Texas’ New Boston High School. After spending the previous two years as a backup, he was the go-to weapon for an offense built around the run game. Haskins rushed for 3,250 yards and an area-record 53 touchdowns his final season with the Lions.
A large chunk of those scores came when he tucked the ball and charged up the gut. He came to relish the workmanlike ethos of goal-line situations: the way they require decisiveness, fearlessness and power.
“It’s kind of one of those things where it’s a man’s thing,” Haskins said. “There’s no tip-toeing. It’s fun.”
After spending last season on scout team mimicking opponents’ top rushers, Haskins has yet to master the Beavers’ pro-style offense. Balancing running assignments with the passing game’s responsibilities has proven daunting at times.
But goal-line scenarios are simple, he surmises. He just needs to rely on physical tools and keep feet moving.
Haskins’ unique combination of size and speed should be enough to solidify his niche.
“If he continues to show that he can become reliable and dependable there, he’ll certainly have a role,” offensive coordinator John Garrett said. “He can be hard to deal with when he has the ball in his hands.”
— Connor Letourneau | @ConnOregonian