The Huskies added 27 new faces to a roster of 98. (they are allowed 105 by the NCAA for training camp) They also subtracted 9 players from last spring’s roster of 83. This is a little higher than a standard attrition rate but the fact is the Huskies are now without OL Nathan Dean, WR James Johnson, WR Jamal Jones, FB Cooper Pelluer, RB Desden Petty, DL Pio Vatuavei, DB Darien Washington, RB Erich Wilson, and LB Evan Zeger who were all scholarship players. Some were lost due to injury, one was fired but others were simply not good enough to play at this level. They join 13 red-shirted freshmen for a total of 40 players we have never seen play. 65 of the 98 are either a freshman or a sophomore in eligibility so this is still a relatively young team with only a third being upperclassmen.
Of the 27 new faces, 21 are on scholarship and 6 are walk-ons. ( 3 freshmen reported early last spring in QB Troy Williams, S Trevor Walker, and K Cameron Van Winkle) bringing the number of new faces to 30 or roughly just under 1/3rd of the team . Of that group of first year players, we can expect that only about 6 to 8 to play this season. I’ve tried to look at every new body and based upon depth (which is improving every year) and position need, I think we will definitely see somewhere around a half dozen or so kids make it into the playing depth.
Washington, under Coach Sarkisian, has finally started to red-shirt the majority of their freshman classes the past two years and that is one of the most positive signs that the program is finally starting to develop its depth. Remember you don’t win with freshmen because they usually make freshmen mistakes. If they’re good enough to play they will get on the field but Coach James always said that the best time to play a freshman was when he was a junior. The majority of the really good teams red-shirt many if not all of their rookies simply due to the fact that they mature so much that first year and believe me there is a big difference when they are 22 rather than when they are 18. A good example is Washington’s first opponent Boise State who on their 80 man roster for the Las Vegas Bowl they had 64 players who had redshirted. Very few come into major college football with the physical strength and understanding of the game to immediately make an impact. Of course, all kids want to play right away so everyone is told in recruiting that they will be given a chance.
For the past decade or so Washington has been forced to play way too many of their true freshmen.
Also returning to the roster depth are seven players who sat out last spring including some who missed all of last season. OG Colin Tanagawa, RB Jesse Callier, RB Deontae Cooper, DE Hau’oli Jamora, LB Travis Feeney, and DL Lawrence Lagafuaina. (Tanagawa and Feeney are starters already and Callier and Cooper are needed at the running back but are still returning from injuries. Eric Kohler, a two year starter on the OL has yet to practice after re-injuring himself over the summer. All of these players will help the team almost immediately in the depth simply because they are older and proven commodities.
So, looking at the new kids on the block (true freshmen), the standouts appear to me to be; WR #1 John Ross, CB #6 Jermaine Kelly, S #20 Kevin King, DE #5 Joe Mathis, #9 WR Damore’ea Stringfellow, #22 RB Lavon Coleman (need) and maybe the freshman kicker #48 Van Winkle and #27 safety Trevor Walker. This of course is based upon the “I” test or “Eye” test and is by no means an accurate assessment or defined evaluation. It represents only my opinion and certainly there are other freshmen who definitely pass the eye test. Most noticeably #36 LB Azeem Victor, #15 WR Darrell Daniels, #23 DE Marcus Farria, #85 TE David Ajamu (position need), and #79 OL Coleman Shelton who are all rangy kids in the 6-4 to 6-5 height area. Ajamu could find the field and Shelton who is listed at 6-5 and 285 and fellow freshmen offensive linemen #73 Andrew Kirkland 6-5 306 and center #55 Dane Crane 6-3 303 all have the frames and physical potential to be good players down the road but freshman offensive linemen rarely are good enough or strong enough to help their first year. All three do impress me with their willingness and effort however and will certainly help down the road.
Freshman running back, Lavon Coleman, sure looks the part but with the return of Callier and Cooper the coaches may be able to red-shirt him but you never have enough running backs so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play as well. The back who continues to catch my eye though is red-shirt freshman, #12 Dwayne Washington, 6-1 and 220, who converted over from receiver just last spring. Despite getting rocked in the first full-pads practice he and red-shirt fullback, Psalm Wooching, who is also an impressive 6-3 and 228, both have an attitude of toughness that will clearly get them on the field this year.
The freshman quarterback, Troy Williams, like Walker and Van Winkle, has the advantage of being in spring ball but with three upper classmen ahead of him on the depth chart, he is probably going to be red-shirted as well. I might note that he appears to be the fastest quarterback and has probably the tightest spiral on his passes of any of the four QB’s but it is obvious that red-shirt freshman, Cyler Myles, is clearly the back-up at this point and appears to be one of the best young quarterback prospects we have had at Washington since Jake Locker and Marques Tuiasosopo, who just happens to be Myles’ coach. Myles really impresses me and that means the Huskies could still be successful even if Keith Price is injured or struggles as he did last year. Myles is a classic example of how valuable a red-shirt year can be in the development of any kid much less a quarterback. Fellow redshirt quarterback, Jeff Lindquist, showed well in the last scrimmage but it appears that Myles is clearly the backup for starter Keith Price.
Red-shirt running back Ryan McDaniels has shown well to this point in camp and losing 20 pounds and getting stronger and faster has made him a contender to play as well. Likewise redshirt defensive backs Brandon Beaver and Cleveland Wallace are challenging for playing time.
An already impressive linebacker group on defense only got even bigger and rangier with the addition of three really good looking true freshmen in Keishawn Bierra 6-1 208, Sean Constantine 6-2 229, and particularly Connor O’Brien who is already 6-3 235. Although linebackers are used all over special teams, it would be great if these three could be red-shirted and allowed to develop. Just as impressive from the physical standpoint are defensive backs, Kelly who is 6-2 and Kevin King who is also 6-2. Both show great skills and I would not be surprised to see either or both play their first years. This is extremely rare for a defensive back to be so tall but both represent the recruiting emphasis of going after longer and rangier players. Kelly inherits number 6 worn by Desmond Trufant who was taken in the first round of the NFL draft and looks like he could follow that same route. King shows a real knack for understanding the coverages and both will certainly challenge for playing time.
Freshman Defensive linemen Elijah Qualls is stout and strong looking but not nearly as impressive as Joe Mathis simply because he is an interior defender while Mathis is a defensive end. Both will play it just depends on the development of those above them on the depth chart.
Missing last spring but returning this fall is long snapper, Ryan Masel, who along with freshman, Luke Hutchison, will compete for the snapper position. (both are walk-ons) Freshman kicker Van Winkle should compete for the kick off job and is challenging returning kicker Travis Koons for field goals and extra points but throughout this camp Koons was clearly the best punter and kicker in the drills I have watched.
The Huskies look to have really addressed their lack of depth which was so apparent when Coach Sarkisian inherited the program five years ago. Of course he took over a team that had fallen almost off the face of college football with an 0-for 12 season the year before he arrived. This has been a slow process of rebuilding but considering he barely added 10 players in his first recruiting class the team is finally turning the corner with a depth that features both speed and size and if they can avoid the injury bug then they have a chance to be really competitive with the players they have assembled.
Strictly from the numbers standpoint however, the Huskies are still the smallest roster in the conference by a considerable amount. In the glory days of the 80’s and 90’s we always had the biggest team in terms of numbers. Some years we actually had a roster of over 150 kids and enjoyed one of the largest walk-ons programs in the west. (as many as 60 walk-on kids at times)This allowed us to red-shirt almost all of our freshmen and we produced depth by numbers, meaning quality through quantity. Unfortunately, due mostly to gender equity and restrictive admissions the University of Washington no longer enjoys this advantage. Now the team with one of the largest rosters in the conference is Oregon. Coincidence? I think not.
Regardless, the process of recruiting is endless and ideally you end up with team that is four to five deep at every position including your specialists. Coach Sarkisian has finally gotten close to this position and every kid on this year’s team has been brought in under his watch. This is finally his own team and it includes some excellent skill position players. The new faces show unbelievable potential for growth and development. Hopefully he can red-shirt the majority of them so he still has them 5 years from now.
Breaking down a season before it begins is almost impossible, but this year’s schedule will certainly present a challenge for Coach Sarkisian’s fifth team. Although the pre-season has a balance of one really good “A” caliber team (Boise State), one Big Ten “B level” team (Illinois, a 2-10 team last season), and one lower division “C” opponent, (Idaho State), they will be played in that order. Ideally you would want to play in reverse order and progressively improve along with the level of your opponent.
Right out of the blocks the Dawgs will host a pre-season ranked team in Boise State. This time they will be playing at home though in the remodeled Husky Stadium and there is no bigger game on your schedule than your first one. The Huskies know they could’ve beaten and many think they should’ve beaten the Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl, but they do have that game to learn from and one thing they know is Boise coach, Chris Peterson, will hit you with a trick play once he gets the momentum. This time around the Huskies will be looking for the fake punts or surprise plays in the kicking or passing game. They also know if they can run the ball like they did last year they will give themselves a great chance of winning. (Boise State only returns 5 starters on defense.) The Broncos also will have new kicking specialists playing in a very loud atmosphere. It promises to be a great opening game and if Washington can find a victory it will represent a huge win on their resume come Bowl time selections.
Then the schedule gives the Huskies a bit of a break with an early season bye before traveling to Soldiers Field in Chicago to play Illinois. The two weeks of preparation will allow the Dawgs to make adjustments from their first game and to make that all important step into their first road trip of the year. Sark’s Dawgs have not been particularly good on the road winning 2 and losing 8 the past two years and winning only 6 while losing 16 over the past 4 years. With two weeks to prepare and Illinois, who will be playing and hosting Southern Illinois and Cincinnati before Washington arrives, will be giving up an extra scout to the visiting Dawgs. If somehow the Huskies can be 2-0 it will set them up for a chance to go 3-0 while hosting Idaho State who they should beat handily.
Then the heat hits the fan the following four weeks when they open conference play with Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon followed by ASU who went 8-4 last year. Considering Arizona ran the Huskies off the field last year by a score of 52-17, and Stanford is ranked as one of the best programs in the country and is dying for revenge after losing to the Huskies last year, and an Oregon team who probably represents the elite team in the whole west and whom the Huskies haven’t beaten in 9 years, this conference start will really test this Husky team. Should they go 3-1 to open league they will probably play in the league championship with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line. If they are 2-2 then they will have beaten two pretty good teams and if one of them is the Ducks then that in itself would be a monsterous victory for the program. To finish that mid-stretch with win over ASU on the road will certainly be a great way to start the conference play.
After the second month of the season the Huskies will have already have played some of the best teams in the Pac-12. Although each game could mean a championship in itself, the first league game is always the most critical in any season. If Washington can answer Arizona’s no-huddle hurry-up offense with their own version it will prove the program has made a turnabout and should help them against the next three. The Arizona game is the most important of the season simply because it is their league opener. Worry about the Cardinal and the Ducks when it becomes their turn. Winning your league opener is an absolute must in Pac-12 football and playing the Wildcats in Husky Stadium should be the difference. Besides I personably felt like Arizona ran it up on the Huskies last year and the Dawgs owe them one. The difference in the two teams is at quarterback position and I believe Keith Price will have to have a banner year for the Huskies and he will win the Arizona game and it will set them up for the next 3.
It’s not as though the conference schedule gets easier following Murderer’s row but the Huskies play Cal at home to end the month of October before benefiting from yet another bye the first weekend in November. Considering the Huskies struggled coming down the stretch last year this should help them get healthy before hosting Colorado, a team picked to finish last in their division. They then hit the road for a clash with UCLA who many consider the favorite to win the Southern Division and then travel to Corvallis to play the Beavers of Oregon State who they have struggled with over the past few years. These two road games may decide the fate of the Huskies in terms of a bowl selection and winning both may set them up for an opportunity to play the Cougars with a chance for pay back after last year’s Apple Cup debacle.
Along the way the Huskies will need to learn how to win on the road but if they can hold home court serve then they stand an excellent chance of winning all their key games.(The Huskies benefit from playing seven home games and only 5 on the road) To be successful in this conference you want to win your season opener, your conference opener, then beat the Ducks for the first time in ten years and then finish the season by beating your cross state rival. All four of those critical games will be played in Husky Stadium and a home sweep just may set the Huskies up for their first Rose Bowl in over a decade. The Rose Bowl has always been the standard for the Washington Huskies and it’s about time for the program to finally return and win that prestigious game.