It's Tuesday of game week, folks. Last heavy practice before Hawaii on Saturday. Buckle 'em up and let's get to it.
Year One of the Chris Petersen era kicks off in less than a hundred ours. I can't remember the last time that Husky fans have been this universally optimistic heading into a season. Even with the loss of three record-setting offensive weapons and 3/4's of a secondary that helped produce one of the best pass defenses in the country in 2013, the roster looks as good as it has in recent memory. There's experience, depth, and a fair amount of talent on the offensive line. Led by one of the most solid linebacking corps in the conference and The Eighth Continent in Danny Shelton plugging up the middle of the line, the front 7 can be mentioned as one of the best in the conference. The one returning member of the secondary has All-American potential.
But all is not perfect, and there's no need to pretend it is. Even if there aren't any true "holes" on the team, there are lots of unknowns, and a few places the team could stand to improve. So, the question is, if you could add any one player from a team in the South Division of the Pac 12 to bolster the Huskies roster in 2014 (and perhaps beyond), who would it be and why? Here are my three choices:
Option #1 - DE Leonard Williams, USC
At 6' 5" and 300 pounds, Williams is a force to be reckoned with. Even though he played much of the second half of the 2013 season with a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery and kept him out of spring practices, the true sophomore had 74 tackles with 13.5 tackles for loss, including 6 sacks. Much of the season he was simply dominant. For his efforts, he made numerous All-American honors following the season. Heading in to 2014, he's nearly universally lauded as the best defensive lineman in the Pac 12, and one of, it not the best, in the country. After this, his junior season, at USC, you can count on hearing his name called in the first few picks of the 2015 NFL draft. Maybe eve the first.
Reasons for: Immediately bolsters the run defense, adds a playmaker to the defensive interior
Reasons against: Injury history, not necessarily the biggest need on the team
Option #2 - WR Jaelen Strong, ASU
Strong was a fairly highly regarded junior college receiver when he signed with ASU in 2013. But I don't think anyone predicted he'd make the impact he did in his first season at Tempe. Quickly becoming QB Taylor Kelly's favorite target, Strong led the Sun Devils with 75 catches for 1,122 yards and 7 TD's. 47 of those catches led to first downs. At 6' 3" and 215 pounds, Strong is a physical wide receiver that has the ability to use his strength and size to simply outmuscle smaller defensive backs. Strong also showed a willingness and ability to be a dominant blocker in the run game at times. With the graduation of RB Marion Grice, ASU's rushing attack, especially in the red zone, won't be the same. After posting just the 7 TD's in 2013, Strong may well end up doubling that number in 2014. There's certainly competition, but Strong might finish 2014 as the best receiver in the Pac 12.
Reasons for: Red zone weapon, adds a big body on the outside
Reasons against: Maybe not the greatest need, impact might be lessened playing with other quality receivers
Option #3 - S Su'a Cravens, USC
One of the top recruits overall in the 2013 class, Cravens enrolled early at USC and was almost immediately named a starter. He recorded 52 tackles and 4 interceptions in his first year, and was named first team Freshman All-American by virtually every publication that produces such a list. He was also an honorable mention All Pac 12. At 6' 1" and 225 pounds, Cravens has near-linebacker size, and is more than willing to offer physical support in the run game. A season-ending injury to one of USC's starting outside linebackers has the Trojan coaching staff looking to use Cravens in much the way the Huskies use Shaq Thompson - at least in certain situations. Cravens is already considered one of the leaders of the USC defense, and will look to become even more of a playmaker in 2014. By the end of the 2014 season, Cravens could very well be at the top of the heap of all Pac 12 safeties.
Reasons for: Fills a huge need for a physical strong safety, here for at least two seasons
Reasons against: Can't really come up with one....
Su'a Cravens fills the most obvious need the Huskies have on defense, and he'd be on Montlake for at least two seasons. Should Thompson leave after the 2014 season, Cravens could easily slide up to fill that role. But that being said, my choice is Leonard Williams. The difference between Cravens and the guy he'd replace isn't nearly as big as the difference between Williams and the guy he'd replace.
Husky fans haven't seen a dominant playmaking interior defensive lineman since Larry Triplett, and it's been long enough that I think a lot of us forget what that really looks like. While I'm a fan of what Evan Hudson has done in his time, the fact is that Williams is a massive upgrade, and the front 7 with Williams is in the conversation for the best in the country. While the line certainly played its part in helping the Huskies post one of the best pass defenses in the country last season, it was also the primary reason that the run defense was very mediocre. Williams would fix that almost single-handedly, as well as upgrading the interior pass rush. The downside is that Williams will be in the NFL for 2015, so he'd be a one-year rent-a-player, but what a year that could be...
So, what do you think, Husky fans? If you could add any one player from a South Division team, who would it be, and why?