In an earlier article I took a look at grading Steve Sarkisian and his staff's recruiting abilities based on the rankings of the recruiting classes when he signed them, so I thought it would be interesting to do almost the flip side and grade Sarkisian and the staff on how they have actually developed players. For as much hype as recruiting gets - especially at the time that classes are signed - this is actually maybe the most important part of a coach's job, and usually what ends up making or breaking their career.
To be completely fair, I am also factoring players that were signed under Tyrone Willingham who Sarkisian coached. Even though he didn't sign them, he played a big part in their development as players. Also, note that a lot of these grades reflect his assistants just as much as they do him.
Quarterback - B
Sark has, for the most part, lived up the quarterback guru tag that followed him up to Seattle when he was named head coach. He groomed Jake Locker from a purely athletic playmaker into a Top 10 NFL Draft pick and Keith Price from a borderline Pac-12 recruit to a record-breaking, three-year starter in the conference.
The only thing that holds Sark back from being an A here is the fact that Price appeared to regress in his junior year and that the second quarterback he signed, Nick Montana, transferred from Washington while looking like he wasn't a Pac-12 level quarterback. Much of Sark's abilities here going forward rely on whether or not he can help Price bounce back or quickly develop a younger quarterback to step in.
Running back A
Biggest success: Chris Polk Biggest struggle: Demetrius Bronson
I can't think of two more impressive developments that the Huskies have had under Sark than Chris Polk and Bishop Sankey. Even though we only saw a tiny glimpse of Polk in 2008, he looked like a completely different player from the opening snap of Sark's tenure, running strong like a man possessed. This was amplified each year too as Polk followed up a solid 2009 season by becoming one of the best backs in the country in 2010 and then developed incredible pass-catching skills in 2011, turning him into a complete weapon.
In part due to an injury to Jesse Callier, Sankey was required to step into Polk's huge shoes in 2012 and immediately filled them as much as you could expect anyone to. Sankey looked like a slightly smaller, but slightly faster version of Polk all through 2012 and it looks like he could make the backfield a serious one-man show like Polk did for a few years.
The only knock here could be that he has never had great depth here, but a lot of that has simply had to do with injuries and when you develop guys like Polk and Sankey into guys that can shoulder the load like they have, it might simply be the case of it not even being necessary.
Wide receiver B
Biggest success: Jermaine Kearse Biggest struggle: James Johnson
Much like recruiting, Sark seems to do best developing with skill position players. Kearse and Devin Aguilar are the two big success stories here, as he took Kearse from solid recruit and freshman and turned him into an all-conference player and Aguilar from a little-known recruit and freshman into about as good as a number two receiver the Huskies have maybe ever seen.
Some other good successes for Sark have been Kasen Williams living up to his hype for the most part for his first two seasons and the late emergence of D'Andre Goodwin. Goodwin had simply been a fast guy with no hands until his senior year, but became one of the team's best receivers during the 2010 season.
There are a few legitimate knocks here though that prevents it from being an A. Kearse struggled with drops all through his career and had an underwhelming senior season, and for as good as he had been, Williams was expected to be an All-American level talent and he hasn't yet accomplished that. A couple of other factors include the up and down developments of James Johnson and Kevin Smith who both have flashed ability but seem to always be hurt or just not playing, and the inability to get one of the young receivers to be a solid contributor in 2012.
Tight end: B-
Biggest success: Austin Seferian-Jenkins Biggest struggle: Kavario Middleton
This one was tough as the position was such a struggle in Sark's first two seasons that it was an F before the Seferian-Jenkins five-star life raft arrived.
Middleton was actually one of the most talented guys on the team when Sark arrived on campus, but it sounds like he simply didn't have the mental strength to succeed. While there is no way for Sark to not have to take some grief for not being able to get him to work it out, his post-Husky career at Montana suggests that he may have been a lost cause. The failure here was severely compounded in 2010 when Middleton's departure basically left the Huskies without a usable tight end, though I will give Sark some credit for taking walk-on lineman Daniel Kanczugowski and turning him into an effective blocking tight end late in 2010.
As easy as it is to say that you don't really need to develop a talent like Seferian-Jenkins, you have to give Sark credit for developing a game plan that has turned the talented tight end into the most productive tight end in school history in only two years.
Offensive line - D+
Biggest success: Senio Kelemete Biggest struggle: Micah Hatchie (Thus far)
I broke up the recruiting grades for the offensive line by offensive line position, but with how much guys shift around the line over the course of their career, that would be nearly impossible to do that here. Overall though, it hasn't been that good, and though some of that has had to do with injuries, there have been plenty of relatively healthy guys here who just didn't develop well.
Of the success, I would say Kelemete is the only real success story as he was wisely moved from the defensive line and then guard until they slotted him at left tackle where he played well and became an NFL Draft pick. With that said, Kelemete was a four-star level recruit, so he was expected to succeed and he still struggled with pass protection even in his senior year.
The next category of guys that starts to mark down this position are the guys who maybe started well in their career, many under Willingham, who just never improved. This seems to be Sark's biggest development problem of all. Guys like Cody Habben, Ryan Tolar, Drew Schaefer and now Erik Kohler seemed to never improve on the early strengths they showed, seeming to fade more and more as their careers progressed. I have no idea why this is, but it has been a huge problem and it was one that seemed to start with Rick Neuheisel and has never stopped.
Because of this, it is key for Sark to turn the current crop of young linemen that he signed like Ben Riva, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, Micah Hatchie and Shane Brostek into guys that get better and better as opposed to ones that taper off or have their careers ended by injury.
Defensive end D
Biggest success: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim Biggest struggle: De'Shon Matthews
Pressure on an opposing quarterback is something that has kind of become like Bigfoot for the Huskies: ever elusive. Most of that can probably be attributed to their lack of ability to develop standout defensive ends under Sark.
I almost feel like I can't count Te'o-Nesheim here because he only played under Sark for one year and he was pretty much the same player he had been under Willingham, but technically you kind of have to give credit for situations like that if you are going to give them blame too. Sadly, the next closest thing to a success story here is Hau'oli Jamora, who did in fact look like he was been developed into a stud after not being a big time recruit, but it's now unclear if he will ever even have an impact again due to injury.
A couple of the younger defensive ends that Sark has signed like Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson have showed flashes of improvement early in their career, but unfortunately have yet to make progress really from their first good performances. Like almost every position that I have taken a look at, whether or not these guys can improve will be the big ruler here.
Defensive tackle B
Biggest success: Danny Shelton Biggest struggle: Sione Potoa'e (thus far)
Of all the positions up front, Sark has done the best at developing defensive tackles. While it may just be the byproduct of having a couple of 330 pound local guys that chose to stick around, he has seemed to do a good job here. Shelton and Alameda Ta'amu were well-regarded talents coming out of high school, but Sark and crew deserve some kudos for Ta'amu breaking out toward the end of 2010 even if he never really replicated it again, and Danny Shelton has seemed to get better with each game.
The inability to have one of his first big recruits to never emerge in Potoa'e hurts here, but he still has one year to at least turn into a solid contributor. At the same time, his burying in the depth chart might be a testament to the improvement that Sark has brought to the position. There is a chance that Potoa'e could have been playing in recent seasons, but has simply been buried by guys like Ta'amu, Shelton and the well-developed Semisi Tokolahi.
I decided to not break up outside and inside linebackers since so many guys go back and forth throughout their careers. I think this has definitely been the best developed unit of any on the defensive side of the ball, and even though it was pretty bad in 2011, that was primarily just because of a lack of talent and experience.
I actually think that the lack of talent here also plays into the good grade, as Mason Foster, Donald Butler and Cort Dennison were low-star recruits who Sark and his staff helped turn into all-conference level players. You can also start see some good development in guys who struggled a bit early in their career like John Timu who are starting to turn into good players and a guy like Travis Feeney, who was brought in as a project, but has already started to look like a potential star.
Also, throw in moving Victor Aiyewa to linebacker his senior year where he excelled and bringing E.J. Savannah back for his senior and you have a couple of quick, brilliant moves that really helps the grade here.
It hasn't all been rosy here though, as they have failed to develop much depth in recent seasons outside of the stars like Foster and Butler. Some of the more players who signed here with decent expectations have also failed to emerge such as Burnett, Corey Waller and Thomas Tutogi.
Biggest success: Desmond Trufant Biggest struggle: Quentin Richardson
Until Trufant bounced back with a great season in 2012, this position seemed to be nothing but a disappointment under Sark and had to hover around an F grade. Throwing in the emergence of Marcus Peters as a redshirt freshman and it is saved from a D at least though.
Other than Trufant, no one has really been consistent here. Just when it looked like Richardson was going to turn into a steady option in 2010, he had a horrible 2011 and guys like Gregory Ducre, Adam Long and Vonzell McDowell looked good at times, only to completely disappear.
Even with Trufant, it seemed like he was going to follow the same path after having a good freshman year followed by two disappointing seasons before his return to glory. The good news is that I think Sark may have finally developed a consistent option in Peters and he has steadily been bringing in better talent here each year it seems.
Other than Nate Williams and Sean Parker, this position has seemed to kind of be a revolving door of players who never quite excel and while solid starters, Williams and Parker can't quite be considered huge success stories (yet, for Parker).
There seems to be a collection of guys at this position who looked good at certain points of their career, but have never really been consistent - Nate Fellner, Will Shamburger and Justin Glenn (though due to injury) . So with no true playmaker developed and only a couple of consistent starters developed over the course of four years, development here hasn't been great.
Kicker & Punter Satisfactory
Not much to analyze here. Eric Folk came in and was great right away but never really seemed to improve and actually had some of his weaker performances towards the end of his career and the same could probably be said for Travis Coons' first year on the team.
Punter is also kind of a mixed bag as Will Mahan was solid before getting hurt and then walk-on Kiel Rasp was great despite not even being on the team until Mahan's injury so it's a hard situation to really analyze. Freshman Korey Durkee started at the beginning of last season only to be replaced by Coons quickly, but it is probably too early in his career to have any judgment on development.