It was early August, 2014. Chris Petersen hadn't yet coached a game for the Huskies and was putting together his second recruiting class. Cue the commitment of Andre Baccellia, a smaller WR out of Westlake Village, CA. Husky Nation erupted with passion and jubilation, full well knowing the future 2016 spring practice breakout star had just verbally pledged to be a Dawg. Okay, so maybe I exaggerated that a tad. In fact, most Husky fans were less than thrilled with the commitment, hoping for some bigger fish to bite.
While Baccellia has yet to see the field after redshirting last season, he was undoubtedly spring practice's breakout star. The ho-hum nature of his recruitment and commitment made his bursting onto the scene all the more surprising, and he could very well continue his stellar play into fall camp. So could other stars from this spring: Chico McClacther, Jordan Miller, and Jomon Dotson come to mind.
With that, who will be this fall's Andre Baccellia? Someone who we don't see coming, who announces his presence with aplomb. I won't count players who I consider had standout springs (like Miller, McClatcher, and Dotson) and will continue their play into fall camp - that's too easy and isn't really breaking out. That's also not to say the players noted below did not have good springs. Okay, enough caveats.
Freshman, SS, 6'0" 206 lbs.
When looking over the roster, I tried to find positions where there isn't a sure thing -- a proven starter in place. Here, that would be the safety spot opposite Budda Baker. As of now, it'll likely be JoJo McIntosh starting the season there, but how secure is his position? He's a big hitter and played well in short spurts last season, but how much better is he there than players like Brandon Beaver and Trevor Walker, two players who have more experience, but are coming off injuries? What about Ezekiel Turner, a big, physical, JUCO transfer now in his second year? As far as this defense is concerned, I would say SS is the biggest question mark in terms of a sure-thing starter, so Rapp will get his reps this fall.
Rapp enrolled early and participated in spring ball, albeit with a cast around his hand. The added comfort and familiarity will aid him this fall, and provided the hand is healed up, he should be ready to stick his nose in things. He's a smart, physical, and tough player who shows a great eye for the ball, and good instincts tracking down ball carriers. Generally speaking, spring practice is about teaching fundamentals, while fall is about installation and running more plays. Getting in that coaching and extra time studying the playbook should position him well to break out this fall.
Senior, TE, 6'3" 244 lbs.
Jeff Lindquist is a tight end. Jeff Lindquist is a tight end. Jeff Lindquist is a tight end. No matter how many times I say it, it still feels weird. Not that Lindquist ever put his mark on the QB position, but it is strange to be without his presence holding the clipboard and being a leader in the QB room. But, credit the coaches for being honest with themselves, and Jeff for making a position switch to try and get his athleticism onto the field.
It's a lot to ask to make a position switch in your last year, but Jeff always had a lot of talent as a runner (Lind-cat offensive package aside), and never was afraid to lower his shoulder and take a hit. He's also a very smart player, and in addition to his role as backup QB, he played on the punt and field goal units. And for what it's worth, he's 1-0 as a starting QB at the University of Washington.
What did he do this spring? From reading the tea leaves and coach quotes, he definitely surprised some with how quickly he picked things up. As experienced and hardworking as he is, he should take a big leap in comfort and understanding of the position between spring (his first time playing TE) and this fall. By all accounts he's embracing his chance and has the opportunity to be a real asset to the offense.
Sophomore, OLB, 6'2" 229 lbs
I'm applying the same logic here I did with Taylor Rapp. While I expect Psalm Wooching to start, how secure is he in that position? Tevis Bartlett is nipping at his heels, sitting right behind him on the depth chart. The opportunity is there for him: Psalm is a senior who wasn't recruited by Petersen, and is playing a new position he only assumed 2 years ago. Like Wooching, Bartlett played in all 13 games last year, and had his moments, though still playing like a freshman.
Chris Petersen has repeatedly praised Bartlett for his wrestling background, never missing a chance to chime in on how tough wrestlers are. He showed his toughness this spring always being in the middle of things and displayed the physical play required to be a linebacker. He's a no-nonsense, steady, and heady player, just like Chris Petersen wants. I think Bartlett knows he has a chance to make some noise this fall, and he'll do just that.
Husky fans, who's going to take us by surprise when fall camp starts?