Offseasons are like proctology exams. You fret for weeks on end leading up to the appointment and then, once you get there, it’s over before you know it. Kind of.
I can tell my millenial friends have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s fine. It is understandable. Go back to your Pokemon Go. I’m sure there is a metaphor in there somewhere for you.
Whether or not you are old enough to have had the pleasure of humming "Moon River" in the middle of a one finger exam or to know what the fleek a fleek is, there is one thing that all generations of Husky fans can agree. The 2016 version of your Dawgs are not a finished product. "Up and coming?" For sure. Championship material? Not yet.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could reach back in time and pluck a player from Washington’s lore to patch a hole in this iteration of the Huskies? Do you think a guy like Chris Petersen couldn’t do something with a Lincoln Kennedy, a Napoleon Kaufman, or a Steve Emtman? Of course he could.
So, let’s imagine that CCP has access to an Ice Bath Time Machine. The rules of the road are simple: he can use his time machine just one time to bring one player back from the past. To make this game even more focused, let’s imagine that the Ice Bath Time Machine has a 16-year constraint. Only players who played on for UW in the 2000s are eligible for this exercise.
There you have it, Dawg fans. Jump in an ice bath and pick a player from the Huskies’ past. It might cost you your left testicle, but who wouldn’t give one to push UW over the top in 2016? Who should it be?
Hau’oli Kikaha, BUCK (2014)
If there were one critique of the devastating defense that UW unleashed on the nation in 2015 it was that it never quite rediscovered the pass rush magic from 2014.
Of course, to suggest that 2014 could be replicated requires a stretch of the imagination the likes of which Duck fans embark upon every year as they consider their path back to the National Championship. The odds were never that good.
Hau’oli Kikaha was a big reason for that. In 2014, UW’s all-time leader in sacks led the entire nation in that category with 19. He accomplished this despite missing, essentially, an entire game (vs UCLA) due to injury. While he was listed as Chris Petersen’s BUCK, Kikaha’s primary role was to leverage his explosiveness and his hand combat to break down protections and draw extra attention from the opponent’s offensive coordinator. In fact, Kikaha was so good at his job that Andrew Hudson, a journeyman defensive lineman, was able to capitalize on enough opportunities that he would finish third in the PAC in sacks in that same year.
Imagine Kikaha reprising his role as BUCK in the 2016 version of Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense. His presence would stretch an offensive line and create amazing opportunities for young talents like Joe Mathis, Jaylen Johnson, and Shane Bowman in much the same way opportunities were created for Hudson. In addition, Kikaha’s presence would almost entirely obviate the need for blitzing. Imagine a Husky defense that could create pressure on even the best offensive lines in the conference and still be able to drop seven into coverage on every snap. It would be domination.
Reggie Williams, WR (2003)
If there were one glaring hole on the Huskies roster today, few would argue that it is anywhere other than in that dominating "X" receiver role. The X receiver is important in any offense - but in particular the Chris Petersen offense - because it is the one receiver role that operates without the protection of a complementing tight end or slot receiver. The X has to play up on the line of scrimmage and, as such, is often prone to getting knocked off his mark by a pressing defensive back. In order for the X to be a factor, he has to be able to physically dominate the opposing DB while having the unique skill combination of speed and size to be a factor in the deep passing game.
It is no secret that the Huskies have struggled to find a prototypical X receiver since Damore’ea Stringfellow left the program. Any number of big receivers and tight ends have tried to play the role but with little success. Currently, the Huskies have tied their fortunes in this regard to guys like Darrell Daniels, Brayden Lenius, and Nic Little - all guys who have the requisite size but who’ve accomplished very little to date.
There hasn’t been a classic X reciever in UW history quite like the great Reggie Williams. Hailing from Lakes High School, the local product arrived at UW in 2001 as a 6’4" grown man. By the time he had completed his sophomore season, he was All-PAC-10. By the time he finished his junior year, he was an All-American.
Williams could and did score from anywhere on the field. He averaged nearly 1,200 yards receiving each season he wore a UW uniform and almost 15 yards per reception for the entirety of his career. He caught 22 touchdowns and parlayed that productivity into the #9 selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.
There is no doubt that Williams has had to combat some disapppointment in his adult life. Nevertheless, if you could go back in time and pluck out the Williams who put up around 90 catches and 1,200 yards his junior year, who would think twice? At his best, Williams was a tenacious ball hawk who had the ability to not only out-high point the ball but to also truck over DBs as he generated copious yards after catch. An offense like Chris Petersen’s would surely feature the physical Williams and it would be mind-boggling if Jake Browning couldn’t turn him into a receiver that would rival the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darren Carrington for top honors in the PAC.
Mason Foster, OLB (2010)
With the graduations of both Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton, the Huskies find themselves in need of an outside linebacker. Foster, objectively speaking, is one of the best such linebackers to have ever donned the purple and gold.
One of the few recruiting coups that Tyrone Willingham can lay claim to, Foster proved to be a player immediately upon arrival at UW in 2007. He played in every single game - across every linebacker position - his true freshman year. By the time he reached his senior year, Foster was setting records. He averaged 12.5 tackles per game, second in all of CFB, and was named an All-American. While those are impressive achievements, they pale in comparison to the fact that he can perform actual miracles:
If Petersen were to claim Foster from the Ice Bath Time Machine, he’d get a perfect fit to fill the gap on the weakside. While not as natural a pass rusher as Feeney, Foster excelled in playing in space and bringing ball carriers to the ground. With Keishawn Bierria on the strong side and Azeem Victor in the middle, UW would have the most devastating linebacking corps in the PAC-12 if not the entire nation.
Reggie Williams, WR
As much as I’d kill to get that UW pass rush fired back up to elite levels, the question about who will produce tough receptions for an emerging quarterback in Jake Browning continues to dog this team. A talent like Williams would immediately turn that concern on its head and convert a negative into an overwhelming positive.