It’s been over a decade (12 seasons to be exact) since the Huskies have had an All-Conference lineman much less an All-American one. That includes either offensive or defensive line and probably explains why Washington has struggled as a program since their last Rose Bowl victory in 2001. Considering that games are won “up-front” that pretty much sums it up right there. That and five different coaches and systems have simply made it difficult for the Huskies to contend.
Finally, it looks like the lines are going to be the strength for this year’s team. The complete starting lines on both sides of the ball return and are all backed up by veterans who are eager to fill in when called upon. Most are seniors and juniors and that means there is experience even if it is another new system. The running back position, both lines, and the starting linebackers and corners would appear to be the strengths for this years’ Husky team.
The running-back position (there is no fullback in Coach Peterson’s system) is deep and experienced and even though the roster loses Bishop Sankey, who was the first back taken in the NFL draft, they still have at least 7 to 8 players and that makes the position one of the deepest on the team.
Deontae Cooper, Jesse Callier, and Dwayne Washington are all returning lettermen. All three have had 100 plus yards games to their credit and all have experience and appear to be sure handed.(at least it’s obvious they are concentrating on ball security.)
Washington is the biggest at 6-2 and 220 and is improving rapidly since being converted from receiver, Cooper is the inspirational award winner from last year and Callier blocks well, catches well and carries the ball well, but it is redshirt freshmen, Lavon Coleman, who was impressive in the spring and on scout team last year and picked it right up again in fall camp. Like Washington, Coleman is a bigger back who really impresses me. Walk-on Ralph Kinne got lots of carries in spring due to injuries to Callier and Washington. Those 5 are also joined by in-coming freshmen Jomon Dotson and Gavin Mc Daniels, but probably the best of all of them might be Shaq Thompson, who was an absolute beast whenever he carried the ball in spring. Although primarily a linebacker, Shaq adds a totally different dimension to the position.
The Offensive line features senior starters in tackles, Micah Hatchie and Ben Riva, plus guards, Dexter Charles, Colin Tanagawa, and James Atoe, and center Mike Criste. (Tanagawa is also battling Criste for the starting center position)They are backed up by lettermen Jake Eldrenkamp, Shane Brostek, and Siosifa Tufunga. Atoe, who is 6-7 and 381, is the biggest Husky on the team. Red-shirted linemen Dane Crane, Coleman Shelton, and Andrew Kirkland all showed potential to help last year on scout team and all appear to have adapted well to new offensive line coach, Chris Strausser. (At Boise State, Strausser’s lines were amongst the best in the nation in giving up the least number of sacks).
The development of tight end, Michael Hartvigson in the spring along with hybrid tight ends, Josh Perkins, Darrell Daniels and red-shirted David Ajamu give the Huskies plenty of options at tight end and are joined by in-coming frosh, Drew Sample and ex-quarterback Derek Brown, who also improve greatly in the spring. There will end up to be at least 6 tight ends on the roster and even though the team lost Austin Serferian-Jenkins, the development of these players should prove to offset his departure. Although Hartvigson has been slowed by injury in fall camp the two youngsters, Ajamu and Sample, both have made some nice plays and showed they could help this year.
The biggest position concern on the whole team would have to be at the quarterback position, if for no other reason than it is the most important position on the team. The Huskies will be one of the only teams in the conference who do not return a starter at quarterback. The back-up from last year, Cyler Miles, will need to close ground on sophomore, Jeff Lindquist and red-shirted freshman, Troy Williams, who both benefited from taking all the snaps in spring. Miles also faces a team suspension for the first game and those three are joined by true freshman, K J Carta-Samuels, although he is liable to be red-shirted. Regardless, because of how critical the quarterback is, this is by far the biggest concern on the whole team. Miles appears to be the best but there is great competition between Lindquist and Williams to see who will start against Hawaii.( I don’t see Coach Peterson naming a starter until the week of the game). There are only four of them so if someone goes down then everyone simply moves up. Not a lot of depth, a new system for all of them, and Miles’ suspension makes this position the major concern.
With 4 pre-season or non-conference games, there should be plenty of time to develop and determine who the starter will be by the all-important league opener against Stanford.
The other offensive position for which there has to be a small concern is at a big wide receiver where the return of Kasen Williams from injury is still being assessed although it appears he will be 100% by kickoff vs Hawaii. John Ross and Jaydon Mickens are electric small receivers who rely on quickness and speed. Both are proven commodities and there is no doubt if Williams is healthy that trio will be really good. Marvin Hall, Kendyl Taylor, and 6-1, DiAndre Campbell, are all returning veterans who at least provide some back-up experience but none are very big and physical with Ross, Mickens, Hall and Taylor all under 6 foot. There are two new freshmen in, 6-1, Dante Pettis and 6-5”, Brayden Lenius, and either could possibly help as a bigger target but as freshmen these are still unknowns. Williams is the key and if he returns to full form then this position should work itself out but going in it still has to be a concern.
The defensive position of most strength is up front on the defensive line where all 4 starters return as well as a complete set of lettermen back-ups although this group was thinned with the departure of Josh Shirley and dismissal of Marcus Farria. Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton should be two of the best defensive linemen the Dawgs have had in years and along with the Hudson boys (Andrew and Evan, no relation) are all seniors.
Additionally the Huskies added 4 new freshmen DL and all four have shown some good things in camp. One in particular stands out and that is 6-05, 330 lb Vita Vea. He will have to sit out this season due to academics but he looks to be the next great Husky lineman. For a man his size he is really quick and was rated as a 5 star recruit coming out of high school two years ago and headed to Notre Dame. He is a Husky and will be eligible next fall which is good having 4 senior starters. He is joined by three other freshmen, Will Dissly, Jaylen Johnson, and Greg Gaines and all four represent the best group of frosh the Huskies have brought in on the defensive line in over ten years. A couple may be asked to contribute this year but as a group they are really good looking kids.
The linebacker group was thinned due to injuries in the spring but the three veteran starters, Shaq Thompson, Travis Feeney, and Johnny Timu are all looking really good in fall camp and should be a solid unit as the year develops. Thompson is already touted as one of the premier linebackers in the country. Feeney has tremendous upside and Timu is obviously one of the leaders on the team. It’s the depth behind them that is of a concern in that 3 players missed the entire spring with injury rehabs. Red-shirt freshmen, Keyshawn Bieria and Azeem Victor, Connor O’Brien, and Sean Constantine all appear to be working hard but depth is still unproven in this group. They have added almost a half dozen true freshmen to the mix but none appear ready to hit the field this year.
Corner back Marcus Peters returns as the one experienced player in the defensive backfield and he will likely be joined by Jermaine Kelly, who might be the best red-shirted defender on the team, at the other corner. Kelly is battling Alabama transfer, Travell Dixon, for the other corner position. The Huskies also signed 4 freshmen corners and will look for one or two to help in the depth but it is the safety positions where there are no returning starters consequently those positions have to be a concern. Although hurt much of the spring, Kevin King, a 6-3 defender, should be a real player and fellow sophomores Trevor Walker and Brandon Beaver at least have been on the field but again one or two of the three true freshmen safeties will also have to contribute. Budda Baker, a 5-10 dynamic player out of Bellevue should be one of those to help and he could even start as he is simply that good. There are two other freshmen safeties and between them and the 4 frosh corners, at least there is depth although none of it is proven.
Finally it is at the kicking specialists where the Huskies also have a major concern. Who will be the kicker and who will be the punter are two of the major concerns as the Fall camp progresses. Returning punter Korey Durkee was the backup last year and has been holder for PAT/Field goals. Durkee has a strong leg but has been plagued with inconsistency since he arrived three years ago. He can boom punts but is being challenged by true-freshman,Tristan Vizcaino, who is also competing with Cameron Van Sickle for the field goal and kick off jobs. It appears as though both spots in the kicking game will be contested through out camp but veterans Durkee and Van Sickle are liable to be the starters. Long snapper Ryan Masel is a proven commodity but who will be doing the kicking has to rank with quarterback as the positions of biggest concern.