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Offseason Lists: Top Questions Needing Answers This Spring

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Every spring camp brings it's own intrigue. 2015 is no different.

The role of RB Deontae Cooper is one of many questions to be answered this spring.
The role of RB Deontae Cooper is one of many questions to be answered this spring.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't very long ago that the UW football team was going through the "young" and "nature of change" cycle under a new coach in Steve Sarkisian.  The spring of 2010 - one year after Sark had been installed as the new head coach at UW - was a big time for Husky fans who were curious to see what the new coach could get done after one full offseason with the program run "his way".

Questions like "Can the OL mess get straightened out?" and "Can Chris Polk build on his breakout freshman year?" and "Can Jake really turn the corner as a passer and become the Heisman candidate everybody is thinks he can be" were all questions at the top of our minds.  We couldn't wait to see the answers.

Fast forward just five years and the cycle is repeating itself.  Change is in the air as Chris Petersen and his staff enter their second seasons in charge at Montlake and having completed their first offseason under their rules.  Husky fans are eager to see what the full offseason program plus a year of experience in the Petersen system translates into in terms of cohesion, competition and execution.

Questions abound as this iteration of UW Football prepares to take the field.  There are jobs up for grabs and new stars waiting to emerge.  Here are the top questions that we need to get answers to in this spring.

6.  How will the secondary logjam sort out?

Fans were given a bit of a clue last week when John Ross was listed at WR on the updated team roster.  Still, the Huskies and position coach Jimmy Lake have their hands full in determining what roles various players are going to take on as we go into fall.  While Lake now has the luxury of having a lot of players with playing experience, he still has a number of young players on his hands.  Many of whom were derailed a year ago due to injury or other factors.

The first order of business is determining positions.  Some guys - like Brandon Beaver and Kevin King - are more experienced guys who might benefit from a change in roles.  The second task is to begin the competition and see who makes a strong case for playing time.  In particular, the CB competition will be crazy in the fall with guy like Sidney Jones, Jermaine Kelly, Naijiel Hale, Darren Gardenhire, Austin Joyner, Ross and - probably - King all looking for some kind of roles.  The early pecking order needs to get established this spring.

5.  Are the young QBs real candidates to contend for the starting job?

Like many of you, I'm under no illusion that the QB situation will get decided this spring.  However, what must get answered this spring is whether or not either (or both) of the young QBs are ready to become serious contenders to lead the Huskies into Boise in Week 1.

We know a lot about Jeff Lindquist already.  His floor is pretty well defined and he's had plenty of time in practices to give the Coaches a sense of his ceiling.  KJ Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning, on the other hand, have played no college football in plain view of the fans and have a combined ten months of total college experience between the two of them.  Needless to say, they are an unknown commodity.

I think Husky fans need to brace themselves for a wide-range of possible outcomes coming from this spring.  We could definitely see both young QBs show that they have an "it" factor, are mature beyond their years and are ready to wage battle throughout the fall.  Or, we could just as easily learn that neither is remotely ready for Pac12 play and that Lindquist will go into the fall as the clear favorite.  It's a clear unknown that even the coaches aren't placing bets on.

4.  How is the RB pecking order going to flesh out?

One thing that we can all agree on is that the Huskies are in good shape at the RB position going into spring camp.  We have a nice mix between youth and experience and a good variety of running styles across the roster.  We also have some relief coming in the fall as well as a few guys like Budda Baker and Joyner who could play a few snaps there if ever needed.  Figuring out a clear cut starter is not necessarily a requirement this spring.

What remains a key question is whether or not the Huskies are going to rely on a "feature back" as they have in years past with players like Chris Polk and Bishop Sankey.  Petersen has a track record of leaning on individuals to carry big loads in the rushing attack and he talked openly last spring about his preferences in that regard.  However, we also saw Petersen and OC Jonathan Smith hedge on the idea of a feature back as recently as last fall when it became clear that no leader was emerging from the Dwayne Washington - Lavon Coleman - Shaq Thompson competition.

This spring, many of the same contestants are here.  We've already discussed what a big spring this is going to be for Coleman if he hopes to make himself a factor for this season.  The key question in my mind, however, is whether or not the staff wants to anoint a grand poobah tailback of if they will go into the fall preparing the team for another "by committee" campaign.

3.  Do we have a LT candidate ready to play Pac 12 Football?

Last season, the Pac 12 led all football conferences in sack rate and total sacks.  With bull rush specialists like Danny Shelton and Leonard Williams, pass rush specialists like Nate Orchard and Hau'oli Kikaha and "blitz with your hair on fire" types of defenses  like Arizona State, Oregon and Arizona, QB pressure was a way of life across both divisions of the Pac.

It will be again this season.

The role of a blind-side protecting LT has never been more vital in the Pac 12 than it is right now.  It just so happens that UW, who saw three-year starter Micah Hatchie graduate, doesn't have one established.  Finding a starting caliber Left Tackle will be a critical order of business this spring.

RS Jr Jake Eldrenkamp looks like the odds-on favorite here.  Once a young, bright-eyed, local prospect, Jake is now a fully grown man with a ton of banked practice reps and a few years in the weight room.  At 6'5" and 300lbs, he's got the dimensions that OL Chris Strausser seems to prefer and he's been seemingly groomed as LT by two different coaching staffs.  If ever there were a time, it would be now.

But he's no slam dunk.  This spring will bring with it other contenders who will be forcing the issue.  Younger linemen with some experience like Coleman Shelton and Andrew Kirkland may well make a case for themselves at LT.  Even younger players who may lack some of that experience but possess some unique capabilities - like Kaleb McGary and Matt James - could get into the mix.

It would be ideal if the spring could end with a clear pecking order established so that the gelling of a young and green offensive line can get underway in earnest.

2.  Will the TEs become a factor in UW's passing game?

By any measure, the Huskies TE corps has to be considered along with Stanford's as the deepest in the Pac.  It is well-balanced both in age and in playing styles.  In particular, both Joshua Perkins and Darrell Daniels look like big men who can make very meaningful contributions in the passing game given their speed (Daniels) and their hands (Perkins).

The question facing Jordan Paopao's group this spring is less about personnel and more about philosophy.  The Huskies happen to be very thin in the WR group and, as a result, they may elect to more aggressively leverage their pass-catching TEs in playmaking roles while simultaneously utilizing more physical players like David Ajamu and Drew Sample as inline blockers.  Or they may not.

Therein lies the question.

Chris Petersen knows that he's going to have to create more pass-catching threats in his offense if he wants to give his new QB and his young rushing attack a chance to grow.  Whether or not the TE unit will play a meaningful role in that strategy should be a question that gets answered over the next month.

1.  Who is going to step up along the DL?

The Huskies in 2015 face the daunting task of replacing every single starter on its defensive line.  We detailed this situation in our excellent Spring Preview article on the subject.  It goes without saying that establishing a "seating chart" (as Coach Petersen likes to say) is a top priority for DC Pete Kwiatkowski this spring.

But it the question is complicated due to schemes that aren't locked down and position fits that remain to be established.  Is the unit going to straight 3-4 as has been rumored?  Is Elijah Qualls best positioned as a NT or does his athleticism (which belies his height) lend to him to more of a 3T role?  Is Will Dissly an inside or outside guy?  Is Jaylen Johnson a more natural linebacker?  Is Joe Mathis a more natural defensive end?  Are either of Vita Vea or Greg Gaines, as RS freshmen, ready to contribute meaningful snaps?

While depth isn't a major concern, there is not a single unit anywhere on the team in as much tumult as the defensive line.  Settling down that situation and defining fits and roles has to be a top priority this spring.

Other Key Questions:

  • Who will fill key roles in punt and kick return units?
  • How will two-way players like John Ross and, perhaps, Budda Baker get reps?
  • What changes in scheme (alignment and blitzing) will Pete Kwiatkowski install?
  • Can the early enrollees like Kyler Manu and Jusstis Warren carve out meaningful roles?