MLB John Timu, Jr.
SLB Travis Feeney, RS-So./Princeton Fuimaono, Sr.
WLB Shaq Thompson, So.
What a difference a year makes. Last year around this time we were gnashing our teeth wondering who might step up in this group; we had been spoiled by seeing the likes of Donald Butler, Mason Foster and Cort Dennison manning the ranks and providing quality experience. Heading into 2012 we had a couple of youngsters that had seen action but not really impressed in Timu, Fuimaono, Tutogi and Kearse and other youngsters with no experience that were being converted from safety in Feeney, Lawyer, Taz Stevenson, Evan Zeger and incoming über-frosh Thompson.
This year? All three returning starters (Timu, Feeney, Thompson) are honors-candidates (all three were All Pac-12 Honorable Mentions in 2012). Even better, the depth is quality - in fact, with Feeney nursing a surgically repaired shoulder this past Spring, Fuimaono took full advantage of the 1st team reps and has challenged Feeney for the starting spot. Tutogi has proven himself a reliable option at MLB, especially when the staff wants to go bigger and/or sell-out to stop the run. He would probably start on a number of other Pac-12 defenses, but Timu has improved by leaps and bounds and is the leader in the middle.
With other returning vets in Lawyer and Kearse, it seems likely that most - if not all - of the incoming frosh LB's will have the opportunity to redshirt. That will mainly depend on how the coaches are feeling about the special teams units and how many plays the starters and backups are likely to see.
It's a physically impressive unit; whereas under Holt the Huskies signed primarily smaller, safety-sized guys and hoped to bulk them up, the new staff targeted and landed a group of guys that, outside of maybe Keishawn Bierra, already look the part. Check out the measurements:
Azeem Victor - 6'4", 232 lbs
Connor O'Brien - 6'3", 235 lbs
Sean Constantine - 6'2", 225 lbs
Bierra is the exception to this new rule at 6'1", 208 lbs, but he may be targeted for a more hybrid role similar to what Shaq filled last year.
Overall, this is probably the best unit on the team, and the good news is each of the starters return - with Peter Sirmon coaching this group, they should be a strength of the team through next year and potentially beyond.