Kalen DeBoer says the gap between the top two guys in the running back room and the rest of the group is smaller now than it was a year ago.

During the 2022 campaign, it became obvious that DeBoer and the rest of his Washington coaching staff trusted Wayne Taulapapa and Cameron Davis a bit more than anyone else. They consistently produced and the rotation reflected that as the year went on.

Taulapapa has graduated and Davis has been lost for the season with an injury. The Husky backfield is wide open in 2023.

On Monday, UW released its first depth chart of the new season. Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson earned the starting spot. Will Nixon was the only other back on the two-deep.

“That group, it won’t just be two,” DeBoer said Monday when he met with reporters. “I think we’re going to find opportunities to give everyone their shot, very similar to how we did it a year ago. As the season goes along, you kinda become a little more focused on the guys who consistently are getting the job done.”

But DeBoer has seen continued progress from the other backs on the roster — a group that includes Richard Newton, Sam Adams II, Daniyal Ngata, and Tybo Rogers.

Of course, Johnson and Nixon occupied the top spots on the two-deep for a reason.

DeBoer says the 6-foot, 218-pound Johnson has just been steadily growing in his command of the offense.

“We brought him in for a reason,” DeBoer said.

And then there’s Nixon.

Boy, did DeBoer have glowing comments on the work Nixon has put in this offseason.

“We’ve been talking about Will Nixon a lot, going back to the winter when he put on some really good weight,” DeBoer said. “Has just stayed the course and kept the faith that his time’s coming. He’s gonna get those opportunities. I even see improvement in the last two weeks, since CD has gone down.”

The Waco, Texas, product transferred from Nebraska to UW last season. He played receiver for the Huskers but spent more time in the backfield for the Huskies. In 11 appearances, he ran the ball 21 times for 89 yards and two scores while catching seven passes for another 66 yards.

If there’s a player on the roster who has improved the most, it seems like Nixon might be it.

“Will has improved a lot. He really has,” DeBoer said. “He’s much more comfortable as a running back. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. He’s confident in the offense. He’s really improved in pass protection a lot.”

The group gets rolling on Saturday against Boise State, with kickoff set for 12:30 p.m. PT on ABC.