It's been a couple of weeks now since Coach Sark concluded his 5th Spring practice session at the UW, enough time to reflect on where the program is currently, what we learned from Spring and what questions we still have heading into the Fall.
What we learned:
- KP is still the man at QB
As much as some folks were ready to write off Keith Price in the wake of his disappointing 2012 season and look ahead to the promising youngsters behind him (Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist, Troy Williams), the reality is that KP is still the best QB on the roster right now. His experience level gives him a huge leg up on the youngsters, as he has 3 more years in the system on Miles & Lindquist and 4 on Williams. Rather than take it easy this Spring to rest his knees, he and the staff have gone the other direction - they've ditched the knee brace on his left (non-planting) leg and he's been working hard on his lower body in the weight room, and the returns so far are encouraging - he's looked quicker and more agile this Spring than he did last year when his mobility was clearly impaired.
The up-tempo experiment has also favored Price, as it plays right into his edge in experience. While the other QB's had their moments, Price was better and more consistent. According to the beat writers that covered the entire Spring, the official scrimmage was not indicative of how Price has looked (in part because Sark opted to go very vanilla due it being televised).
While Sark has opted not to define the pecking order behind Price, it would appear that Miles is running #2. He's displayed good mobility and nice touch on the deep ball. Surprisingly, despite his size (he's nearly 6'5" and over 220 pounds) he may have the weakest arm of the bunch, due largely to a funky delivery that doesn't take full advantage of his size. He does appear to have that "it" factor though, and as he continues to gain experience in this offense and develop confidence and a rapport with his receivers, he would seem to have the early inside track to take over when KP graduates.
Lindquist has all the physical gifts you'd want - a very strong arm, great size (6'3", 230 pounds), very good speed. He looks a lot like a young Jake Locker in fact, but a little more experienced as a passer. But he's struggled with consistency and accuracy; it would appear that he needs to calm his nerves a bit and continue working the film room to fully digest and be comfortable with the offense.
Nipping at his heels is Troy Williams, the true frosh who graduated early so he could take part in Spring practices - an excellent move on his part as he gets 15 additional practice sessions that he would have missed out on had he enrolled this Fall. Williams might have the best arm of the group, throwing tight spirals with good velocity. He also displays good mobility. He still needs to get a little bigger to withstand the rigors of being a Pac-12 QB, but early returns suggest Sark got a really good one in Williams and he'll be a major factor in the race to succeed Price in 2014.
Derrick Brown would appear to be the odd man out. He got very few reps at QB as the Spring progressed and took some turns showing off his leg (he punted in High School) as well as some carries in the Oklahoma drill, looking like he might have a future as a FB/H-Back/TE. It'll be interesting to see what happens with Brown - he sure seems out of the QB depth, but he's got enough intriguing physical gifts that he might stick at another position. Given the looming roster crunch, I'm sure he knows he's fighting for his scholarship.
- The OL might be ready to turn the corner
Last year the OL couldn't catch a break; heading into Spring 2012, they figured to have 4 of 5 starters returning. Instead, one by one injuries took their toll and by game 3, only one of those four returning starters was still left (Drew Schaefer) as Colin Porter had to retire due to a chronic shoulder problem, Erik Kohler had to redshirt the year due to a kneecap issue and Colin Tanigawa was lost for the 2nd straight year to a knee injury. In addition, starting RT Ben Riva missed several games with a broken forearm. The line predictably struggled as a result, and their failures in pass-blocking were undoubtedly a major factor in KP's decline. But there were signs of hope - when Riva returned, the line improved and in the latter part of the year their run-blocking changed from a liability to a plus.
This Spring the starting five has basically been intact the whole way through, featuring Micah Hatchie, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, James Atoe and Riva. Kohler has been working his way back in to the rotation as he recovers and is currently working as a backup at C, RG & RT. There is hope that Tanigawa can recover from his 2nd ACL tear, and the staff has seen some flashes from Jake Eldrenkamp at LT. Shane Brostek has also been building himself back up after a stomach issue sapped him of nearly 20 pounds last Fall.
If the OL can provide improved pass-blocking and build on the work they were doing as a run-blocking unit, they could turn from being a liability into a moderate advantage. Knock-on-wood, but they've avoided the injury bug so far and are developing some chemistry as a unit.
- Depth at RB may be better than we thought
Bishop Sankey was able to take advantage of the injury to Jesse Callier last year to establish himself as a high-level RB capable of carrying a full load as a feature back, and reports are he's looked even better this Spring. He had some minor dings that were enough for the coaching staff to hold him out for a few practices though, and a number of other RB's got chances to show their stuff. There's a serious competition behind him to be the guy (or guys) to get carries when Sankey needs a breather.
Erich Wilson flashed good speed and quickness, and while he's still on the thin side, he's shown enough that he's right in the mix. Dwayne Washington was moved from WR to RB during practices for the Las Vegas Bowl last year, and he's physically very impressive as he's filled out to close to 220 pounds on a 6'1" frame and has good speed and hands. He's still learning the nuances of the position, but he's got the combination of size and physical ability to really intrigue the staff and has impressed. Ryan McDaniel has recovered from his knee injury and has been given a lot of looks. He's got the size and physical style to fill the "big-back" role that Sark has been looking for since he arrived, but he's still shaking off the rust.
In addition, while Kendyl Taylor saw most of his time during the Spring as a slot WR, he ended up getting the most carries in the Spring scrimmage, showing that the staff still likes what he brings as a ball-carrier. He ended up the #2 RB last year after injuries took their toll on the position and he looked good, and I'd expect he'll continue operating in a hybrid RB/slotback role this season.
And before we forget, Callier is expected to recover from his ACL injury, and if he's close to 100% he would be expected to be the main complement to Sankey. His classmate Deontae Cooper is also still hanging in there, trying to come back from his 3rd ACL tear. He's a great kid and it would make an amazing story if he could come back, but with the scholarship numbers what they are, it wouldn't surprise me to see him take a medical retirement and work with the team as a student assistant.
Still, even with the transfer of Dezden Petty and the uncertainty around Cooper & Callier, there appears to be enough quality depth here to supplement Sankey and allow the staff to redshirt highly regarded incoming RB Lavon Coleman.
Those are some of the positive developments from the Spring. Not everything was rosy and not all questions were answered however - here are a few areas of concern heading into Fall:
- Can anyone help out Danny Shelton in the middle?
Danny Shelton is a prototypical NT with NFL potential, much like Alameda Ta'amu before him. He's a wide-body with terrific strength and surprising athleticism for a man his size. While he's had some issues keeping himself under control on the field and he's still working on putting forth consistent effort, he's a kid with All Pac-12 potential. The problem? What happens if (God forbid) he went down with an injury or was otherwise prevented from playing?
Finding big bodies that can also move and hold up to the demands of BCS level football is difficult - those kids are always among the most highly recruited. The only other true NT body on the roster is Lawrence Lagafuaina, and he's coming off a knee injury and wasn't able to participate in Spring practices. The rest of the guys vying to play the interior are more 3-tech or 5-tech types of guys - Sione Potoa'e, Josh Banks, Taniela Tupou and Damion Turpin. And there are strongside DE types that they've also looked at for interior spots on passing downs like Andrew Hudson, Pio Vatuvei, Connor Cree and Jarrett Finau. Cree has impressed folks and has the frame to continue getting bigger, but he's still not a true gap-plugger. And none of them have clearly won a job as 3-tech or 5-techs either. It would be great to see Potoa'e - a highly regarded DT recruit when he arrived - close out his Sr. season by grabbing a hold of that job and proving he wasn't a bust. Guys like Tupou and Finau have to be aware that numbers are tight, and if they don't impress, they may find themselves on the outside looking in, especially with so many highly regarded recruits arriving later this year.
It's one of the reasons the incoming frosh DL are so important - while ideally they'd all redshirt, the reality is that there are jobs waiting to be won alongside and backing-up Shelton, and Elijah Qualls and Andrew Basham have the physical traits that could enable them to earn playing time right away if they are able to qualify.
- Can anyone step up while ASJ is out?
We still don't know when/if, and if so, for how long Austin Sefarian-Jenkins will be suspended from games this Fall. He's still suspended from the team per Sark's discretion (University rules would allow him to return to the team), and while it's widely assumed he'll be reinstated for Fall camp, it's also expected he'll probably sit out a game or two.
With his absence, there was a golden opportunity for Michael Hartvigson, Evan Hudson and Josh Perkins to step into the void and really impress coaches. Unfortunately, none of them did so. They all had flashes, but none showed the consistency hoped-for to gain the confidence of the staff and the QB's. Hartvigson has the tools to be a good one, but he hasn't put it all together yet. Hudson is a hard worker, but the former walk-on is still mostly a blocker. Perkins might be the best receiving option of the three, but the former WR lacks the size to be a true TE and is really more of an H-Back type.
David Ajamu arrives this Fall, but while he has good size, he's still a true frosh and not considered anywhere near as advanced as ASJ was at a similar stage. Still, given the uncertainty of the position, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he might see action this year if he impresses this Fall.
- Who will fill to two open spots in the secondary?
The Huskies didn't lose many impact players to graduation this year, but the two biggest losses were CB Desmond Trufant (1st round pick to Atlanta) and FS Justin Glenn (UDFA to Kansas City). While there are a number of bodies competing to fill those two open spots, DC Justin Wilcox is still looking for guys to stake a definitive claim on them.
At CB, returning RS-So Marcus Peters has one side locked up, and was impressive enough as a starter last year to think that he might ultimately have a similar upside as Trufant. There are a number of candidates for the other spot - Sr Greg Ducre, RS-Jr Travell Dixon, RS-Fr Cleveland Wallace & RS-Fr Darien Washington - but none of them clearly won the job. Ducre has the most experience and is the fastest, and there's some hope that his strong results this Spring as a sprinter on the Track & Field team will help his confidence level, but he has to show more consistency. Dixon has a terrific pedigree, as the JC transfer started off his career at Alabama before deciding it wasn't the best "fit", and brings great size to the position. Wallace impressed observers last year with his work in practices and on the scout team, and Washington has had his moments as well, though both are on the smaller side still and could use another year or two with Ivan to continue building up their bodies.
Arriving in the Fall is a highly regarded recruit in Jermaine Kelly out of L.A., a kid that rose rapidly up recruiting evaluations as more folks got a look at him (he had transferred for his Sr. season and was under the radar previously), and is someone that noted recruiting analyst Greg Biggins was extremely high on. Also arriving is Kevin King, a long and lanky kid out of Oakland that has the frame to be the kind of bigger CB that everyone is looking for now.
At Safety, Sr. Sean Parker has the SS spot locked down, and Parker looks to be an awards candidate and possible draft pick. But the FS spot is even more wide open than the open CB spot, with RS-Sr Will Shamburger battling former walk-on Sr. Tre Watson, RS-Sr Taz Stevenson (moved back to S from OLB), RS-Fr Brandon Beaver and true Fr. Trevor Walker, an early enrollee.
Shamburger has starting experience and the inside track on the spot, but he's battled various nicks & dings over his career and was unable to clearly claim the job this Spring. Watson is a heady player that started at CB early last year, but is undersized. Stevenson has great size and is a really good athlete, but he's been unable to stick at a position so far in his career. Beaver was a pretty highly regarded CB recruit last year, but the staff opted to redshirt the lanky frosh and he's been given more reps over at FS now as they look to improve the coverage abilities of their safety unit to combat the spread teams in the conference. Walker was thought of as more of a run-stuffing SS type coming in, but he's shown big-play ability in practices with a lot of takeaways, and he's been a workhorse in the film room.
Arriving this Fall is another bigger CB type in Patrick Enewallly that many think will move over to FS, and with his combination of size and athleticism, he could be a factor in the FS competition too if none of the vets can stake a firm claim on the job.
- How will the staff solve the numbers crunch?
With few players graduating from the 2012 team and a full 2013 class signed, it's been clear for quite a while that a higher than normal amount of attrition was going to be necessary to allow the roster to meet the 85-man limit this Summer and Fall as the new recruits arrive and enroll.
Some of that attrition has happened already, as we've seen S James Sample, OLB Corey Waller, RB Dezden Petty, LB Blake Rodgers & LB Evan Zeger opt to transfer since the end of the 2012 season.
If my math is correct, the roster would still be five over if all of the incoming frosh make it in (and that includes news that OL/DL Jamie Bryant will be greyshirting, or delaying his enrollment until 2014). Now, it's entirely possible that not all of the incoming frosh gain entry - a number of recruits in this class have been considered academic risks, and while the latest rumors on them is quite positive, you can't know for sure until the NCAA Clearinghouse has actually processed and approved all of the applications.
What makes things tough is that many (if not most) of the frosh will be attempting to enroll this Summer for the LEAP program to give them a headstart on getting acclimated to college life, and there are a number of current players attempting to return from injury that were unable to participate in Spring practices: Ha'oli Jamora, Lagafuaina, Vatuvei, Cooper, Callier, Tanigawa, Travis Feeney. Given the repeat nature of the injuries to Cooper, Jamora and Tanigawa, it wouldn't be surprising if any of those three were strong candidates for a medical scholarship and had to "retire", but the coaches will have to base that off of reports from the training staff of how they look this Summer during conditioning.
If you pore over the roster and the depth charts, it's not hard to find a number of guys that are candidates for further attrition; while I won't speculate publicly on names, I'm sure you could all find 5 (or more) guys that are on the hot seat. It's an increasingly common fact of life at big-time football schools, and while on a big-picture level it may look a bit unseemly, it's also the harsh reality for coaches that face a "win now or get fired" environment.
With Spring practices finished, coaches now are not allowed any on-field instruction with the team until the Fall, leaving them in the hands of the Strength & Conditioning staff (and is it any wonder then that these staffs feature so many recent former players?)
As mentioned above, expect to see news in the next few months of additional transfers and/or medical retirements as the staff gets the roster down to 85.
The other thing to keep an eye on is recruiting. This is an important time for coaches, as recruits hit the Summer camp circuits hoping to get noticed. The Huskies already have 3 commitments for the 2014 class: WR Rahshead Johnson, JC DE Tui Talia, and as of Friday, DE Don Hill. There is also another kid that has reportedly committed but is opting to keep it under wraps for now, and so far the various recruiting sites have respected his wishes.
The UW staff will be hosting camps this Summer, with their 7 on 7 Passing Camp and Football Fundamentals Camp the weekend of June 21-22, and their Rising Stars camp the following weekend from June 27-30. While it's probably not realistic to expect another "St. Tosh Day" haul similar to last year around the Rising Stars camp, I'd expect at least a few commitments to happen. In particular, keep an eye on which QB's elect to attend the UW camps - if the Huskies take a QB for 2014, it's likely going to be a kid they've had in camp and worked with in-person.
Some additional odds & ends:
- As mentioned above, the latest word on the incoming recruits with grade issues is very positive, and it's possible all of them end up qualifying. This would be a huge coup, as the staff gambled a bit by going after a number of very talented 2013 kids that other schools like USC and UCLA slow-played due to academic concerns. Most of the risks are DL recruits, an area of particular need, so if most (or all) are able to qualify, that will be a big win for Tosh.
- It's been over a week now since UNLV transfer Mike Moser concluded his 3 official visits to Oregon, Washington and Gonzaga. It was thought that he might make a decision this past week, but that hasn't happened and it's been tough to get info about him. Initially considered a lock to Washington, he's more recently been considered likely to choose the home-state Ducks, as there's a lot of pressure for him to "stay home" and sign on with the rising program under Altman. It might then be a good sign for the Huskies the longer this draws out, and considering the close relationship he has with Nigel Williams-Goss, the needle might end up pointing back in Washington's direction when he makes his decision.
- The UW Diamond Dawgs have struggled under coach Lindsay Meggs, posting a 26-55 record in conference heading into this season and never finishing higher than 7th. They then got off to a terrible start this year, sitting at 9-25 overall and 3-9 in conference on April 19th. Since then though they've picked things up, going 7-4 over that stretch (5-4 in conference) including taking 2 of 3 this weekend from the defending NCAA Champion Arizona Wildcats. One of those wins was a 23-1 laugher that featured 30 hits by the Huskies. There are still major question marks about the health of the program as they head towards opening the new Husky Ballpark in 2014, but it's good to see signs of life.
- Finally, this couldn't have been a better weekend for the Seattle boating community as we've enjoyed unseasonably amazing weather to accompany the traditional boating Opening Day festivities, and the crew teams didn't disappoint, very nearly sweeping all races (only the women's College Open Eights failed to win their race). As much as we all love Husky football here, we have to tip our caps to the most dominating program in Washington Husky sports history - the crew teams are at the top of their game and have a legitimate claim to being the best in the sport.