There is little question that Chris Petersen and his Washington Huskies are looking for a quantum leap forward from where we last saw them as they get through the upcoming Spring Camp. Not since Steve Sarkisian took over from Ty WIllingham in 2009 has there been so much lack of certainty in roles and pecking orders all across the depth chart. We aren't just talking about ones and twos here. We are also talking about matching bodies to positions with such fundamental questions like "which side of the ball will he play" still an issue for certain players.
Needless to say, there is a lot riding on this Spring for many of your Huskies.
Without question, the Husky coaching staff has to rise to the occasion. There is no longer the "everything's new" excuse to contend with. The players on the spring roster are (almost) all experienced in the Petersen way of doing things and shouldn't have to burn valuable time and reps simply learning the routine. This should provide the coaches with an opportunity to quickly move the team past "assimilation" and into the areas of development and advancement that this team must venture into. Everybody is counting on the staff to be organized, efficient and comprehensive in working their program.
However, the fun doesn't stop there. This spring is shaping up as a critical one for many UW players. The list below details my ranking of the players who have the absolute most to gain in the upcoming spring camp. It includes athletes who don't know what side of the ball they'll play on, young guys looking to move into the two-deeps and veterans looking to finally make their mark.
1. John Ross, WR / CB
Hard to believe that for the first third of the season, John Ross was not just considered the preeminent playmaker for the Huskies but also one of the most dangerous homerun hitters in the nation. A rash of injuries across the Huskies young secondary left a desperate Chris Petersen with almost no other choice than to make a midseason position switch for Ross from WR to CB. You all know the rest of the story. While he struggled in run support and with a few misplayed balls, Ross's speed and long arms helped him to become a surprisingly effective fill-in for Jimmy Lake's unit and opened the question as to what position he is destined to play in 2015.
That answer will be reached this spring. The Huskies will boast, at least on paper, a deeper and more experienced defensive secondary this year. This has led many fans to the opinion that Ross is destined to switch back to offense where his speed and elusiveness can be best leveraged in helping to bolster an anemic offense.
The flip side of that argument is that Ross may actually develop into a more complete CB than receiver and that we may just see the results of a full offseason of development translate to results this spring. If that were to come to pass, many fans would argue that you play your players where they contribute the most ... period.
Another possibility is that J-Ross may demonstrate a clear ability to play both ways as a nickelback and slot receiver in certain packages.
However it ends up, this is a pivotal camp for Ross as it will very likely decide how he is likely to be utilized over the remainder of his UW career.
2. Azeem Victor, LB
For two years Husky fans have been salivating over the physical skills that Azeem Victor brings to the football field. Slotted as an inside backer, Victor has had to bide his time behind former captain John Timu while competing with Scott Lawyer for rotational playing time. After redshirting in 2013, Victor was used sparingly last season, much to the disappointment of Husky fans who had been hoping for a break out campaign.
While this is no make-or-break spring for Victor, he has a huge opportunity facing him. With Timu now graduated, Victor has a real opportunity to seize a significant role on this Huskies D whether it be on the inside or potentially as an outside player. The onus is on Victor to demonstrate that there is more to his game than raw physical skills and a well-crafted gameday scowl. He's got to show that he's mastered the kind of discipline and field awareness that DC Pete Kwiatkowski has challenged him with. If he can do that, he can set himself up as a penciled-in starter going into the fall.
3. Shane Brostek, OL
It is hard to think of another Husky offensive linemen in recent history who has garnered so much attention from Husky fans for such a long period of time without actually having contributed much in terms of actual snaps played. Ladies and gentlemen, such is the situation that is Shane Brostek.
Without a doubt, Brostek is a victim of circumstance having been forced to play as a true freshman and then to endure a position switch from offense to defense early in his career. Along the way, Brostek went through some physical issues as well as rumors that he may not be all that committed to the game. Shane survived all of this adversity and was able to get a much-needed redshirt year last season as Chris Strausser switched him back to offensive line.
Brostek, still just a Junior, enters the Spring Camp as a key cog both in the competition at offensive guard and as one of five Husky upper classmen on the line. This is a big spring for Shane to show that he is, in fact, a Pac 12 talent and that he has what it takes to be a factor for Strausser and Petersen. This is less about him setting himself up as a potential starter and more about him demonstrating that he can contribute in some way as a mature, experienced, upperclassmen. If he has a big spring, he'll be in the middle of the conversation going into the fall. If he doesn't, one has to wonder if he is destined for some kind of transition.
4. Travis Feeney, LB
Much has been made about the fact that the Huskies are entering this spring with six of their starting front seven from a season ago. The seventh guy? Hello, Travis Feeney.
You might wonder what Feeney really has to gain this spring given that he's already an established starter and known quantity to both the staff and the fans. It's a fair point.
I would argue that as one of UW's most experienced returners on Defense, Feeney has the opportunity to emerge as a true all-around (tactical and emotional) leader in 2015. I'm talking Mason Foster kind of leadership. The onus is on Feeney to demonstrate that his days of free-wheeling and playing without discipline are past him while his abilities to generate momentum-changing plays while going after it with his hair on fire remain as sharp as ever. The Huskies really need Feeney to become a leader as they break in so many new pieces across the defenese. The question is whether or not Travis can seize that role this spring.
5. Kevin King, DB
Rumors are flying around the blogosphere that Kevin King, fresh off an impressive overall performance at the 2nd annual Husky Combine, might be looking at a position switch from Safety to Corner. If such a move were in the works, one would presume that we'd get a sense as to whether or not it will work out as Spring Camp progresses.
King is one of UW's most athletic players. He posses great length, a good understanding of the game and an excellent work ethic. That said, he's often been viewed as a bit of a weak link at the safety position in part because his game has been more finesse than physical.
But a strong performance at the Combine has me thinking that King might turn some heads this spring. And he needs to. With a number of young players like Ezekiel Turner, Jermaine Kelly and JoJo McIntosh ready to challenge for snaps across that secondary, King - now a Junior - needs to settle questions around his position and cement his role on the team as he moves into "upperclassman" status.
6. Lavon Coleman, RB
I tried hard to keep this a 5-person list, but I knew I would have to make room for Lavon Coleman. Rewind back one year ago and recall what was happening with Coleman at the time. He was coming off a redshirt season in which the previous coaching staff all boasted about what a special player Coleman was on the scout team. Chris Petersen was talking openly about how Coleman had impressed him and the new staff in their short time together. As the spring practices went on, injuries and roster imbalance created a ton of reps for Coleman which, by all accounts, he handled very well.
Then the season started and things began to unravel. Showing a distinct lack of speed and very little of the power game that Husky fans had heard so much about, Coleman struggled to make much of an impact early in the season. Injuries took the middle of the season away from him and, by the time he was healthy again, Dwayne Washington had seized the job and was blowing up against the softer part of the Huskies schedule.
Coleman still has a lot of football ahead of him and he has a great opportunity to put himself right back into the RB competition if he can produce a big spring. The Huskies don't really have another player with the power rushing potential that Coleman possesses. If he can demonstrate that he has improved his quickness to the hole and an ability to drop his pads, he will absolutely become a factor for Keith Bhonopha and Jonathan Smith. If he doesn't take hold of that opportunity now, he'll find the competition much stiffer once Myles Gaskin (and Austin Joyner?) arrive in the fall.
Others Considered: Dante Pettis, Siosifa Tufunga, Taniela Tupou, Psalm Wooching, Scott Lawyer, Jeff Lindquist