Spring football is now past its mid point and most observers who have seen the Huskies in action have christened them to be bowl contenders with the ability to finish in the upper division of the conference. Those same observers also still believe that Oregon is the team to beat for the Pac 10 Championship with USC right on their heels.
The one school out there that the experts have watched and they feel who has a chance to make a big upward move is Washington. The biggest reason for optimism at Washington has been the performance of the offense under Jake Locker. Washington is clicking offensively right now as well as any other team in the conference and that includes the so called front runners.
The offensive line seems to have transformed itself after 18 months of hard work. This still isn't the best line we have ever seen at Washington but it lives up to the motto of being the best you can be. These guys will move from being simply adequate in 2009 to being one of the better units in the conference in 2010. The addition of seven frosh to the unit this summer will give the coaches the numbers, depth, and talent they need to work with going forward.
The receiving positions are now made up of veterans who represent one of the better units in the nation. The trio of Kearse, Aguilar and Johnson may be the best in the Pac 10. Behind them there is plenty of quality depth waiting to take over if one of them goes down.
Johnson has made a lot of progress over the winter. He is bigger and stronger and that will go a a long way towards preventing burn out. He also has had a year to get used to the speed and contact of the college game. I expect big things out of him in 2010.
D'Andre Goodwin is having another tough spring because of a hamstring injury. UW's leading reciever in 2008 is fighting for playing time in 2010. Being out all spring isn't helping his cause.
Everyone knows what Chris Polk is capable of at running back but the the Huskies have added two potential stars in Deontae Cooper and Jessie Callier. Stewart Mandel thinks that Callier is going to be a star. Chris Fetters of Dawgman commented recently that he thinks Cooper has the makings of a second Erik Dickerson. Johri Fogerson is still the #2 RB but he is definitely feeling the push. Demetrius Bronson felt the push and it pushed him all the way to FB.
Washington has two talented and experienced tight ends in Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki. Both look like they have spent time in the weight room and will contribute more as blockers this season. Middleton could be on the verge of breaking out as a pass catcher. Marlion Bennett has shined as a potential H-Back which will give the Husky offense a different sort of wrinkle.
Washington is depth challenged at QB but so it is very important that Jake Locker stays healthy in 2010. He continues to impress this spring as he becomes more comfortable with the pro style offense. His passing and decision making have taken a quantum leap in the 18 months he has studied under Sark and Nuss. You won't see much of his feet this spring but when that facet is added during games this fall you could be looking at Washington's first Heisman Trophy winner.
Nick Montana and Keith Price have been fighting it out for the backup job. The coaches would like to RS Montana but if Locker goes down for a considerable amount of time he may be the first guy off the bench. What Montana really needs is a year in the weight room and some time to get comfortable in the offense.
Heisman, Locker, and Washington sound very nice together in the same sentence but it won't happen unless the Huskies can mount a strong enough defense to hold opposing squads out of the end zone. If it was all about the offense I would be tempted to rank the 2010 Huskies near the very top of the conference.
While this offense has the potential to score over 30 points per game next year the defense will have to come up with some serious answers in 2010. Nick Holt has done a marvelous job with these guys so far but he starts 2010 with his top two players graduating and an alarming lack of depth at defensive end.
The interior of the defensive looks as good as it has in years. Alameda Ta'amu had a solid off season and spring. His weight is down to the 330 range and that should help keep him on the field more in 2010. I am predicting bigger things for the big man from Rainier Beach this season. Conditioning has always been a problem for Ta'amu but you can't expect a 330 lb man to stay fresh for every snap. Semisi Tokolahi and incoming frosh Lawrence Lagafuina are exected to fill that role this season.
Cameron Elisara who was supposed to man the other tackle spot has been seeing a lot of duty out at DE. His performance this spring will make him a starter out there even though he will rotate inside around half the time. Behind him Tyrone Duncan, and Chris Robinson have shown some good things so far. Sione Potoae arrives this summer and seems ticketed for immediate playing time.
Defensive End is a huge concern but Washington has developed the solid duo of Chrichton and Elisara this spring. Help arrives at fall camp when Kelani Aldrich and Everette Thompson come back from injuries. If both arrive healthy Washington should be to do get by.
In the meantime Deshon Matthews who arrived at Washington as a four star recruit is finally out there competing for playing time in his senior year. The play of Matthews this spring is encouraging. Depth arrives in the fall in the form of three frosh who better be ready to play. Andru Pulu is still in limbo due to problems with the law and it is doubtful that he will rejoin the team.
At linebacker Cort Dennison and Mason Foster have been solid all spring. The duo play well together and both have the ability to be a couple of the better LB's in the league next season. Converted safety Alvin Logan has done a solid job and has held off Matt Houston at SLB.
The key for this unit will be finding that third player to mesh with Foster and Dennison not to mention finding adequate depth behind them. Is it Logan or will somebody else emerge in the fall? Vic Aiyewa will be tried at WLB and SLB in the fall. He has been held out of contact this spring but he has been there every day running through non contact drills. Holt expects Aiyewa to play quite a bit in his new role.
Victor Burnett and Tim Tucker have been the backups at MLB. Burnett the true frosh has moved ahead of Tucker this spring. Jordan Wallace has been playing behind Foster over at WLB. He has been solid but he hasn't shown enough yet to make the coaches consider moving Foster back to SLB. Washington will bring in up to five new LB's this summer which will refresh the depth.
The secondary has been a sore spot at Washington for a decade but the coaches finally have the numbers and the talent at the positions to feel confident going into 2010. Nate Fellner has done nothing other than nail down the starting spot next to Nate Williams at safety. Behind them the depth is solid. Will Shaumburger in particular has had a great spring which will lead to playing time in the fall. Justin Glenn has been held out of contact but should be 100% by summer.
Desmond Trufant has been out all spring with a groin injury but the coaches aren't too concerned. Veterans Quinton Richardson and Vonzell McDowell are both having great springs at CB. Adam Long is holding on to his starting job but look for all four of these guys to spend time rotating to keep fresh in 2010. Anthony Boyles who has shown a knack for intercepting the ball and Anthony Gobern fill out the depth. Boyles is making a move to see the field this season.
The kicking has been nothing to cheer about this spring but we have a pretty good idea what Folk and Mahan can do in crunch time. Kick off and punt returns which have been non factors for most of the decade get a major shot in the arm with the addition of Callier and Cooper. Cody Bruns has taken over the holder job.
So where is Washington right now in comparison to the rest of the conference?
We will begin to answer that question by taking a close look at what is happening around the conference this week.