That crunching sound that he heard didn't come from his lower appendage as Cal Bears CB Cameron Walker broke his leg on a short pass thrown his way by Keith Price in the 2nd quarter of last year's homecoming game.
It was, in fact, the collective groan of Kasen Williams fans all throughout Husky Nation.
As Mason Kelly details in this excellent feature over at GoHuskies.com, Kasen Williams was planning on 2013, his
sophomore junior season, to be a true breakout campaign. Coach Steve Sarkisian had installed a new up-tempo offense that promised to create offensive plays and his QB, senior Keith Price, had earned a new level of freedom to direct the offense on the fly. The bottom line for Kasen was more opportunities for the one receiver who could be relied upon as an "every down" player in the Sarkisian offense.
The injury suffered against Cal changed the trajectory of a season that had started off slow - at least as far as receptions were concerned - for Kasen. The emergence of Bishop Sankey and the short passing game that featured Jaydon Mickens turned Kasen into more of a blocker in a scheme that looked to take advantage of the massive mismatches between a physical Kasen Williams and whatever punk CB Pac 12 opponents chose to put opposite of him. It was a role that Kasen embraced, but not one that took full advantage of his capabilities. The play that Kasen was injured on was just his 29th reception of the season. His total yardage was 421 yards. He scored just one TD. While certainly a "vital" player, he was not on the breakout trajectory that he was hoping for.
As we enter into the 2014 season, the Huskies situation has changed. There is a new coaching staff in place. The UW offensive coordinator is relatively green. There will be a new quarterback. Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian Jenkins have both been drafted into the NFL. Demore'ea Stringfellow is now catching balls in Oxford, MS. Things have changed.
The Huskies need Kasen Williams.
Correction: The Huskies desperately need Kasen Williams.
It is hard to understate the importance of Kasen Williams returning the Husky rotation . A healthy Kasen Williams is the difference between a good season and a great season as far as the Husky offense is concerned. Assuming that he returns to full stride by the beginning of Pac 12 play, Kasen will be relied upon to serve a myriad of critical roles for Jonathon Smith and Co.:
- Given his ferocity, he'll be the key downfield and perimeter blocker who will create opportunities for our new RB committee.
- Given his size, he'll become the #1 safety net option for his young QB.
- Given his strength, he'll be the Huskies best YAC performer in Chris Petersen's short-passing attack.
- Given his leaping ability, he'll be the Huskies top option in the red zone.
- Given his experience, he'll be the leader on an offense that features a tremendous amount of youth across the skill positions.
In short, Kasen Williams will be, in my opinion, the most critical player on the Huskies offense in 2014.
The good news is that Kasen has a lot of good things going for him. According to the Kelly article, Kasen is "100% sure" that he'll be fully ready to go in August. Even adjusting for the optimism of youth, this is a promising sentiment. In fact, it should register as a pleasant surprise given the severity of his fracture and the complexity of the rehabilitation - one that required two surgeries. The prospects of a full return to start the season is a great sign.
In addition, while Kasen seems to me to be the critical piece, he's not the only piece. Jaydon Mickens and John Ross have already established themselves as weapons that opposing defenses have to commit significant resources to contain. The Huskies RB corps appears to be amongst the deepest in the Pac 12 with three different individuals all able to claim that they've reached 100 yards in a P12 game before (I rounded up on Jesse Callier!). Finally, the Huskies offensive line promises to take the pressure off of all of the skill players as they return one of the most experienced units in all of college football. While there are serious question marks at TE and at depth of WR beyond the top three players, there is a lot of load-sharing potential for Kasen to lean on.
Finally, there is the logistics of the season. In 2014, the Huskies will enjoy one of the more convenient schedules in recent memory. After a long trip to Hawaii, one that I would expect Kasen to be used sparingly in, the Huskies will benefit from three straight out-of-conference home games before hosting Stanford to open up Pac 12 play. Road trips to Cal and Oregon come right around the time that one would hope Kasen would be getting both his wind and his confidence back. The P12 North could well be in the balance at Oregon if the Huskies are somehow able to handle Stanford and a healthy, confident Kasen going into the back half of the season could be the critical factor in pushing the Huskies over the top.
Of course, that is just one way the season could play out. There are many far less optimistic scenarios that UW could face. No matter how it all ends up going for the Huskies and their offense, expect it all to orbit around Planet Kasen in 2014.