Editor's note - please give a warm welcome to Greg who has joined our writing staff. We're very happy to have him contributing here!
As the 2015 edition of the Washington Huskies football team takes shape there are the oft-asked questions surrounding the team; what will the quarterback situation look like? How will the defensive front seven perform? The strengths and weaknesses leading into the Huskies season are obvious at the surface level. Beyond the surface, however, a drill down into the Huskies roster can provide a deeper look at what fans can expect from Chris Petersen's squad.
In this installment of the 30 day countdown we take a deeper look at the Huskies roster and pick out some players who could have a surprise impact on the upcoming season, or could be downright overlooked by fans and media. We look at players from each side of the ball and decide which Husky will have the most surprising impact for Washington in 2015.
Option #1- WR Dante Pettis
On special teams in 2014 Pettis showed flashes of the speed and athleticism that runs in his family. His father Gary was a speedy MLB outfielder, and cousin Austin currently plays for the St. Louis Rams in the NFL. The loss of junior quarterback Cyler Miles in June thrust the Huskies quarterback situation into an uncertain, three player competition for the starting gig. Whichever player emerges from the race as Huskies signal caller will need a secondary target to compliment 2014 leading receiver Jaydon Mickens. Enter Dante Pettis.
The loss of junior John Ross to injury left the Huskies with out their top explosive threat on the receiving corps. Overlooked with the loss of Ross is the big play potential in the speedy Pettis. In 2014 as a freshman, Pettis started five games and converted 17 receptions into 259 yards and one receiving touchdown. Pettis special teams play obviously overshadowed his limited receiving play. However, a year of experience and the loss of Ross could pave the way for a breakout receiving season for the overlooked sophomore in 2015.
Option #2- RB Deontae Cooper
How can a player that has spent half a decade as a Husky still be considered underrated? Well, the truth is many fans and perhaps Washington itself still doesn't know what it truly has in Cooper. The redshirt senior running back suffered three ACL injuries (2010, '11 and '12), missing all three seasons and now earning him eligibility through 2016. His career at Washington has no doubt been crippled by the rash of knee injuries, but he hopes to push incumbents Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman in the backfield. Cooper only rushed for 285 yards on 63 carries through 14 games a season ago, but did lead the running backs with 155 receiving yards and a touchdown.
There lies the potential within the extremely gifted Cooper; he is the most well-rounded player in the Washington backfield, able to combine speed and elusiveness with sure hands on the catch more than any other Husky back. Any lingering doubts about the toll the injuries may have taken on Cooper were answered by running a 4.49 40-yard dash this spring -- the same mark he ran five years ago as a freshman, With the uncertainty at quarterback, and injuries at receiver, Cooper could bring a much needed degree of stability and production to the Washington offense -- once again, if healthy.
Option #3- DT Elijah Qualls
The best effort by any Huskies defensive line in over two decades was a welcome surprise in 2014. However, many of these players including national sack leader Hau'oli Kikaha and team leader Danny Shelton will now play on Sundays. leaving the Washington front seven in a state of flux. The rebuild could be lead by redshirt sophomore nose tackle Elijah Qualls, a former four-star recruit, whose talent was often hidden behind the veteran Shelton. Qualls saw action in all 14 of the Huskies contests a season ago, recording eight solo tackles with five assisted. With Shelton now a Cleveland Brown the spotlight now shines on Qualls and more can be expected in 2015.
At 305 pounds Qualls has the size of a lineman, but his underrated athleticism makes him a dual-threat to opposing quarterbacks. This versatility will come in handy for the Huskies, giving a multitude of options, depending on the defensive formation on any given play. If the Washington defense is to keep on pace with their 2014 results Qualls will be at the center of it. His blend of size and underrated athleticism have Qualls could be poised to take over the mantle of sack leader on the 2015 Huskies.
The Verdict- DT Elijah Qualls
With the uncertainty on offense, a breakout season from Pettis or Cooper would obviously be a welcome sight to Huskies fans. However, Qualls enters this season as the most underrated threat on either side of the ball for Washington, perhaps with the highest ceiling. Last years solid effort from the defensive unit, specifically the front seven, buried some talent on the bench for much of the season. Expect Qualls to emerge from the shadows and take his place as both a high-end talent on the field, and a vital locker room presence to a rebuilding Huskies defense.
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