Now that we have out of the way the disruptions of the NFL Draft and the recent news items concerning John Ross and Jermaine Kelly, it seems like the right time to go back and reflect on what we learned - or didn't learn - over the course of 15 practices in Washington's recently concluded Spring Camp.
This spring was Chris Petersen's second one as the head coach of the program. He entered it with many unanswered questions including:
- Who will step up on the offensive line?
- How will we replace three-quarters of our starting defensive line?
- Do I have a quarterback who can play?
- How will I compensate for a lack of depth in the receiving corps?
- How much growth have I had in my secondary?
- Are there any redshirts ready to seize a role?
Not every question found an answer - that will be a subject for another post - but many did. In the spirit of getting us through the offseason one list at a time, here are my top questions answered for the spring.
1. Jake Eldrenkamp is your Left Tackle
In hindsight, this may have been a no-brainer. But, before he took the field at the start of spring, many Husky fans were very curious about how Chris Strausser was going to backfill his three-year starter in Micah Hatchie. For better or for worse, Hatchie provided three years of stability and reliability as the keeper of the blind side for that Husky offensive line. He pretty much played every down and, as such, we never had the chance to see anybody else really fill-in that position. To the average fan, the succession plan wasn't exactly obvious. Could it be the former local high school standout? Could Coleman Shelton switch sides? Could one of the young studs - perhaps even Kaleb McGary - be ready to take over?
From day one, Eldrenkamp was a veritable institution at Left Tackle. He ran with the first unit from end to end and acted like he had already been a multi-year starter in the way that he handled his responsibilities. It wasn't hard for observers to see that Eldrenkamp had taken full advantage of the three years worth of offseasons that he has had to condition his body and hone his skills. Nobody is going to go so far as to say that his name is written in stone, but it is also clear that no single new starter anywhere on the roster is quite as entrenched as Eldrenkamp is at left tackle.
2. The Offensive Line is Surprisingly Stable
Even removing Eldrenkamp from the discussion, the stability of the offensive line throughout the camp was a surprise and surely counts as an answered question. While there were some players who were impacted by health concerns - most notably presumed starting RT Coleman Shelton - the makeup of the offensive line rotation was consistent throughout camp.
Leading the charge here is the statement made by Siosifa Tufunga. Offensive Center was a position that most thought would involve a heated battle that would endure through the fall. Instead, Tufunga pretty much locked that position down from the get-go, never really letting other guys, such as Dane Crane, really get a sniff. Crane did get a lot of run at guard, but the staff seemed to imply that Dexter Charles was still the incumbent there and that his class schedule was impacting his availability in camp. The consistent performance of Shane Brostek at the other guard position was also a good sign.
Taken together, the offensive line seems pretty much set with Coleman, Brostek, Tufunga, Charles and Eldrenkamp as the starters and Crane and tackle Matt James providing the first line depth. Of course, things could still change. That we've gotten this much clarity this early in the process certainly counts as a question answered. The fact that this line is made up of pretty much the most experienced combination that Chris Strausser could assemble is an encouraging sign for Husky fans.
3. The Secondary is Ready to Lead
We could bicker about the quality of the QB play and the lack of WR depth, but the fact of the matter remains that no single position unit had a more impressive spring than the defensive secondary. Sidney Jones played the role of a lockdown corner. Darren Gardenhire emerged out of the shadows as an interception machine. Naijiel Hale, after mysteriously missing the early part of camp, was the best player on the field on more than one occasion. JoJo McIntosh showed that he's ready to be a physical enforcer. Ditto that for incoming JC transfer Ezekiel Turner.
The number of injured players was a concern, to be sure. Key contributors like Kevin King and Trevor Walker were missed. In addition, the move of John Ross back to offense and the transfer of Jermaine Kelly were the wrong kinds of answers to questions about depth and health. Still, the future looks bright for this young core in the secondary and it was down right radiant this spring.
4. The Tight Ends are Ready to Contribute
The Huskies came into the spring boasting a roster of TE talent that rivals the best in the Pac 12, including the excellent unit emerging down in Palo Alto. However, nobody had actually seen any live, tangible signs that this talent was ready to emerge. After a full spring of physical blocking, tough catches and red zone conversions, I think we can consider that question answered.
Each of the Huskies young TEs had their moments this spring. David Ajamu was, perhaps, the most surprising if for no other reason than nobody had actually seen what he could do before. Both of the veterans, Josh Perkins and Darrell Daniels, made their share of plays in the passing game while the other young player, redshirt Drew Sample, showed off his abilities as a blocker and as an occasional play maker.
Of course, it is true that this unit was playing against a bunch of newbies in the UW front seven. Still, coach Jordan Paopao has to be pleased with the work that this unit put in and with the potential it poses going into the fall.
5. There Are Some Stars in the Making in the Defensive Front Seven
The NFL Draft, which saw four of the Huskies starting front seven from a year ago get drafted in the first 44 picks, proved that the Dawgs have quite the challenge in front of them when it comes to filling out the front half of the 2015 defense. Time will tell if the players who are stepping into those boxes will be able to do so at the same high level in 2015 as their counterparts did in 2014. The question that got answered with an emphatic "yes", however, was whether or not there was talent to do so.
Guys like Will Dissly, Joe Mathis, Elijah Qualls, Sean Constantine, and Azeem Victor all had standout moments this past spring. The mix of size and speed that each of these players present has always been tantalizing. What was surprising was both the familiarity that these players showed with the routines put in place during camp and the level of productivity that they displayed even while many of them were shuttled in between multiple position groups.
Nobody knows when it will all come together for these players as a cohesive unit. They are still young and still have yet to face the demanding challenge of facing legit Pac 12 competition. But the individual prowess demonstrated by each of these players this past spring clearly answers the question as to whether or not the potential on the roster exists.
Those are my observations for "key questions answered" coming out of spring camp? What say you? What kinds of questions do you feel were answered and what does it all mean as we look ahead to the fall? Join the conversation in the comments thread below.