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UW Fall Camp Preview: LB

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The coaching staff will have to plug the holes left in the wake of the departure of John Timu and Shaq Thompson. Check in on the players that will be vying to head a revamped linebacking corps.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Only two major contributors from last year's group will be missing in 2015. Unfortunately those two happen to be the biggest recruit in recent UW history and a three-year starter and team captain. While no obvious star exists entering camp, there is solid past production via Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton as well as several players who seem set to seize major roles for the first time in their careers.

Who's Gone

Name Position Height Weight Tackles INTs TFLs Sacks Passes Defended Forced Fumbles
John Timu ILB 6-1 246 109 2 1.5 -- 10 2
Shaq Thompson OLB 6-1 228 80 1 2.5 1 4 2
Total 189 3 4 1 14 4

To lose Shaq Thompson is to lose the feeling that your defense is capable of scoring a touchdown on any given down regardless of situation, as well as to lose a capable, versatile linebacker. To lose Timu is to lose a dependable, if limited, three-year starter who racked up tackles and, by the end of his career, developed a knack for jumping passing lanes (and then dropping would-be picks, though it's kinder to forget that part now).

It isn't really realistic to view any young player as capable of replacing everything that Shaq brought to the table in terms of pure electricity and versatility, but that is not necessary for one to play as a capable starting outside linebacker. Timu, on the other hand, is the kind of good-but-not-great player that the Huskies should hope to replace under Coach Petersen without feeling the loss too badly.

Returning Players

Name Position Year Height Weight Tackles INTs TFLs Sacks Passes Defended Forced Fumbles
Keishawn Bierria OLB Soph. 6-1 223 35 -- 3 1 -- --
Sean Constantine ILB Soph. 6-2 228 3 -- -- -- -- --
Travis Feeney OLB Sr. 6-4 223 60 -- -- -- -- --
Scott Lawyer OLB Sr. 6-2 230 20 -- 1 -- -- 1
Cory Littleton OLB/BUCK Sr. 6-3 227 37 -- 3.5 1 2 1
Connor O'Brien LB Soph. 6-3 234 12 -- -- -- 2 --
Azeem Victor ILB Soph. 6-3 239 4 1 0.5 -- 3 1
Psalm Wooching BUCK Jr. 6-4 228 2 -- -- -- -- --
Total 173 1 8 2 7 3

Feeney and Littleton are the most recognizable returners. Both have shown flashes of obvious talent leading up to their final year on Montlake, and this is their last chance to put it together for a full season. Feeney seemed to fall in and out of favor with the coaching staff, possibly due to the unpredictable, feast-or-famine nature of his play. The fans remember him for the vicious pile driver tackle for loss, but the staff remembers the blown assignments.

The rest of the position group is mostly made up of relative unknowns, players that played sparingly as redshirt freshmen or toiled as veteran backups and who will now be called upon to replicate the production of the players that kept them off the field in 2014.

Newcomers

Name Position Year Height Weight Star rating (Scout.com) Expected to Redshirt?
Tevis Bartlett LB Fr. 6-2 218 3 Yes
D.J. Beavers LB Fr. 6-0 202 3 Yes
Gerran Brown LB Fr. 6-2 210 N/A Yes
Ben Burr-Kirven LB Fr. 6-1 202 3 Yes
Manu Kyler LB Fr. 6-1 224 3 Yes
Matt Preston LB RFr. 6-2 214 2 Yes
Jake Wambaugh LB RFr. 6-1 220 N/A Yes
Justiss Warren LB Fr. 6-2 226 3 No

Players to Watch

Aside from Feeney, who I just mentioned above, you'll want to keep an eye on the following players:

  • Azeem Victor has put in his time, redshirting his first year on campus and carving out a key special teams role in 2014. He boasts ideal size for a middle linebacker, and based on last year's depth chart and word out of spring practices, he seems to be the favorite to follow in Timu's footsteps. 
  • Cory Littleton is a fantastic athlete who managed to pick up five sacks back in 2013. With Kikaha (who, was discussed with the defensive line because the BUCK position is confusing) holding down the BUCK spot, Littleton instead played as a more traditional outside linebacker, and consequently his sack total dropped to only 1. One of the big questions in camp will be whether or not the coaching staff sees Littleton as a pass-rushing specialist capable of helping fill the void left by Kikaha's departure, or if he will spend another year at OLB, competing with Feeney, Bierria, and perhaps Jusstin Warren for snaps.
  • Scott Lawyer occupied a lot more of the conversation in the spring than one might imagine from a three-year backup that recorded 20 total tackles last year. I will be watching intently to see if this narrative keeps up in the fall, or if younger players began to steal away a share of the staff's praise. Here's hoping Lawyer has just taken a step forward, and that his status as a possible starter says more about him than it says about the development of younger players like Bierria.

Predicted Depth Chart

Position First String Second String Third String
BUCK Cory Littleton Joe Mathis Psalm Wooching
MLB Azeem Victor Sean Constantine Connor O'Brien
OLB Scott Lawyer Travis Feeney Jusstis Warren
OLB Kieshawn Bierria Jusstis Warren Travis Feeney


Closing Thoughts

To predict the depth chart down to the specific backups at each linebacker position is obviously to make an educated guess. The hybrid nature of the BUCK position doesn't help, as we may see more defensive line types try their hand at the position, and we may see players that fit more in the linebacker mold, like Littleton, end up starting as an outside linebacker.

I would really love to see Feeney starting, as it would mean some sort of understanding had been reached with the coaching staff as to his role and responsibilities. Still, it strikes me as a Petersen move to go with a younger, more moldable player like Bierria.

Warren is basically an unknown quantity to me as I never watched him play in high school, but it looks like at least one linebacker will need to play, and he is both hyped up enough and physically mature enough to seem like the logical pick.

On paper it would be irresponsible to rate this unit as any better than middling in the Pac-12. There are far too many unknowns, even concerning the veteran players. The aforementioned BUCK situation and the pass-rush in general will be a huge question mark for this defense, and the linebackers will have to provide at least part of the answer.

I'd love to hear how you all feel about this pool of players and how things may shake out in the fall.