Despite inheriting a significantly imbalanced roster from the previous regime, UW Football head coach Chris Petersen was able to redshirt 14 players from his inaugural recruiting class. Petersen and many other coaches have made reference to players that "you haven't seen yet" all being pretty good and that their confidence level in some of those players making standout contributions in the year ahead is high.
Here are the top 5 redshirt freshmen that we are anxious to see contribute in 2015.
5. Drew Sample, TE
The former Newport High School standout projects to be a key contributor as a blocking TE and special teams player in 2015. Although the Dawgs have pretty good balance across their TE position with Joshua Perkins, Darrell Daniels and David Ajamu ahead of him, Sample may already be the best run blocker amongst them. In that regard, his 6'4" 245 lb frame will be very useful as the Huskies break in two new starting offensive tackles.
Beyond the run blocking and special teams, we are also very interested to see what Sample can do as a relief valve in the passing game. Despite having only 21 catches in his three year high school career, Sample came to UW as the 16th ranked TE in the nation in 2014. Scouts think that his hands are pretty good and the fact that he had 11 TD receptions of those 21 career catches speaks to his abilities as a red zone target. This is the kind of true TE that gives a QB options and the kind that UW made tremendous use of until Austin Seferian-Jenkins moved on to the NFL.
4. JoJo McIntosh, S
Some of you may be surprised to see JoJo's name on this list given that there are already so many young players in that UW safety competition. With the arrival of JC transfer Ezekiel Turner, many fans expect that the Strong Safety position may come down to a battle between Turner and incumbent Kevin King.
I'm here to tell you, don't sleep on McIntosh.
By all accounts, McIntosh - a one-time UCLA commit - has added an inch in height and a phenomenal 15 pounds in good weight. That puts him at a solid 6'1" and 205 lbs. He comes into the program as a highly ranked recruit out of Chaminade in Southern California and is a good student. A classic OKG story who I can see being a factor on special teams and making some noise in the position battle at safety.
3. Jaylen Johnson, DE
Johnson is another one of those recruits that flipped his commitment from Boise State to UW after Chris Petersen made the switch a year ago. Johnson came to UW as a highly ranked defensive line recruit out of Centennial in southern California. At 6'2" and 250 lbs, he's a thick kid who, by all reports, is pretty strong.
It isn't clear exactly how Johnson will be used in 2015 - whether as a BUCK linebacker and pass rush specialist similar to Hau'oli Kikaha was used or as more of a true 5T defensive end like how Andrew Hudson was used. Some people have projected Johnson as more of a true linebacker - he often played middle linebacker in high school. Regardless, he is a football player with a game ready body and a high-level motor. He'll be counted on in both special teams and as a rotational player on defense no matter what position he ends up playing.
2. Kaleb McGary, OT
Of all the redshirt freshmen on the roster, Husky fans might be most excited to see what the 6'8" man-child from Fife can bring to the field in 2015. Listed in the media guide at 291 lbs, it is a pretty good bet that McGary, now that he has made the switch full-time to Offensive Tackle, has probably already passed the 300lb mark under Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim Socha's tutelage.
McGary came to UW as a TE/DE prospect coming out of Fife. Given his athletic accomplishments (keep in mind that McGary was also a stud basketball athlete in high school) and his own interests, the staff let McGary start the season as a defensive lineman. He was switched to offense somewhere around mid-season and has been busy studying up on his new position.
Because he has never played offensive line previously in his career, it may be too much to expect McGary to immediately threaten for a starting role in 2015. However, his dimensions and his raw athleticism make him an intriguing prospect as a potential 3rd tackle / tackle-eligible kind of role player in 2015. There simply isn't anybody else quite like him on the roster and it will be exceptionally interesting to see how Jonathan Smith and Chris Strausser work him into the mix.
1. Vita Vea, DT / Greg Gaines, DT
If you got this far, then you were probably expecting a certain young QB to make the list. Instead, I'm going to cheat and highlight the twin tower defensive tackles that both must step forward if the UW has any designs on avoiding the cellar of the Pac 12 North in 2015.
Both Vita Vea and Greg Gaines are monstrous men who will be key rotational players for defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. Vea is generally considered a bit more ready than Gaines given that he has a more field-ready 6'4" 340 lb frame and that he is a little older. Even at his size, Vea is a tremendous athlete who played two ways (DL and running back) for his alma mater Milpitas High School. He was a late add to the Huskies recruiting class from a year ago after having gone unsigned in 2013 due to eligibility issues. Interestingly, he was a teammate of current UW DL recruit Jason Scrempos while at Milpitas.
Gaines is another guy that has been on the Petersen OKG radar for some time. The 6'1" 320 lb standout from La Habra was a target for Petersen while he was still at Boise State and followed him when he made the move to UW. Gaines was probably closer than people realized to having his redshirt pulled early last season when he was showing up on UW depth charts. Still, the Huskies were able to keep him stashed away and will be rewarded with an extra year of eligibility as a result.
The pair of nose tackles will be critical cogs in Kwiatkowski's DL rotation in 2015. Not only will they help UW shut down opponent rushing attacks, but they could help UW create some unique looks when one or both end up on the field at the same time as the athletic Elijah Qualls. Under ideal circumstance, it would be great to give each of these guys another year to learn and develop, but the future is now at Montlake.
Others Considered: QB KJ Carta-Samuels, OG Jesse Sosebee, OT Matt James
I'm sure that most of you were expecting KJ Carta-Samuels to show up on this list. It would have been pretty easy to put him in here. However, I rationalized this list by focusing on guys that we all expect will have to be significant contributors in 2015, even if they play in a reserve role. If you assume that Jeff Lindquist will maintain his current "wildcat" style role in the Jonathan Smith offense, it is conceivable that KJCS may not see the field at all if he doesn't manage to win the QB job outright this offseason.
Some other guys that I think will be interesting to watch out for as redshirt freshmen include a pair offensive linemen in Jesse Sosebee and Matt James. Sosebee has created a ton of buzz as an under-the-radar style recruit who has come into the program bringing with him a bit of a tough-guy nasty streak. James is one of those OKG, 4.0 students who is an easy kid to root for. He also comes somewhat unheralded out of Couer D'Alene, ID where he was a volunteer firefighter and a rescuer of abandoned kittens. Oh, and listed at 6'4" 260 lbs, he plays with long limbs and a very high level of athleticism for a man his size. I'm eager to see how a year in the weight room has affected both players.
That's all I have for you on this list. Who are you most interested in seeing from this group of redshirt freshmen?