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Spring Preview: Husky tight ends will be asked to do it all

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Whether it means big wide receiver or small offensive lineman, the tight end position is the utility knife of the Chris Petersen offense

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Probably the biggest advantage the Husky offense seizes regularly in terms of winning matchup battles is the use of tight end position. Chris Petersen loves to employ his three tight end set, usually two of the pile-moving variety, and an athletic receiver-type whom you dare not cover with a small DB. Suddenly, the defense is facing essentially seven offensive linemen, and they only have eight run stoppers on the field, one a safety who really needs to cover the receiving tight end. That’s a good matchup for Myles Gaskin.

It’s the Huskies’ not-really-so-secret weapon, and it has opposing defensive coordinators up at night, drinking black coffee and massaging their temples in agony. Now, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes a team (Penn St.) has enough talented, physically imposing players (Alabama), that a 7-on-7 battle at the line of scrimmage is not something you are regularly going to win (USC). But usually —with the talent Petersen has infused into the UW program— it’s enough to break down opponents. What the Huskies would love to see is their athletic receiver-type (Hunter Bryant) blossom into that eighth great run blocker.

2018 Washington Huskies Tight Ends

Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Hunter Bryant 19 6'2" 245 lbs SO
Jusstis Warren 45 6'2" 258 lbs JR
Michael Neal 84 6'4" 237 lbs JR
Jacob Kizer 86 6'4" 261 lbs SO
Cade Otton 87 6'5" 244 lbs R-FR
Drew Sample 88 6'5" 261 lbs SR
DeShon Williams* 23 6'2" 228 lbs SR
Delvin Culp** NA 6'3" 235 lbs FR
*Walk On ** Arriving in Fall

The Maulers

First, let’s address who won’t be back at the tight end position. Will Dissly is a huge loss. Remember that one positive running play the Huskies had against Alabama in the CFB Playoff? Check out below this 3rd and 1 conversion that was followed by their only TD on the very next play. It’s vintage Dissly.

The whole OL actually holds up for a bit before Jonathan Allan throws Trey Adams away, but by then Dissly (#98) has bullied the strongside ‘backer two yards downfield.

Someone will take the high percentage of snaps Dissly played last year, and it wont be Drew Sample, because he was on the field constantly too. The new player (or players) will often pair with Sample to form the Huskies strong-side stack of TEs.

How good of a blocker is Sample? Watch the play below; he’s is #88 lined up to Jake Browning’s left:

Blocking is about recognition as much as it is about physicality. Sample crosses the formation to stop the weakside LB from being able to crash the play. Before he gets there, however, he sees the stunting nose tackle coming through the hole. A quick adjustment of his path and Sample is able to stop both of the oncoming defenders, and stand his ground remarkably well against two defenders.

Sample is one of Washington’s most important players, and it’s not only his blocking. He is a more-than-capable pass receiver as well. The 5th year senior has only 21 receptions during his Husky career, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him eclipse that total this season alone. Sample was honorable mention All Pac-12 in 2016, and if not for injuries costing him a few games, he would have repeated that feat last season. He is a two-time Pac-12 All-Academic selection as well.

NCAA Football: Montana at Washington
Junior Jusstis Warren recorded a sack, a forced fumble, and a receiving touchdown last season.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Jusstis Warren loves hitting people on the football field, and it makes sense to replace the defensive end turned TE Dissly with the linebacker turned TE Warren. Chris Petersen got a little grin on his face when asked about Warren last week, and said “He’s kind of a linebacker, he’s kind of a tight end...I think he’s really a fullback.” Personally, I think he’s a blocker who plays a ton of snaps, no matter what you call him. And don’t sleep on him as a pass catcher, he’ll make some plays there as well.

True sophomore Jacob Kizer is very much in the mix for those blocking tight end snaps. Kizer “started” (one of the tight ends in a multiple TE set) four games last season and played in all but one game. The 261-pounder from Salem was a three-star recruit reeled in with the 2016 class, but delayed his enrollment until 2017 while he recovered from an injury suffered in high school. He’s a physical player. Nearly half of Kizer’s high school highlights are of him destroying people as a defensive end. With the 25 pounds he’s added since arriving on campus, he certainly fits the mold of a mauler. A big athletic frame, good hands, and decent speed (4.7/40) make Kizer a threat in the passing game as well.

Another young tight end who has added weight and strength since joining the Dawgs is Tumwater’s Cade Otton. Ranked as one of the top 25 tight ends in the 2017 recruiting class, Otton is exactly what Petersen loves in his tight ends: Smart, athletic, strong, and versatile. I’m not sure if I’m more impressed with his 3.94 high school GPA, the way he drives defenders 20 yards downfield before flattening them, or his ability to go up and catch the football in traffic. He’s a really complete looking player.

The Pass Catchers

What kind of a crappy tight end preview article takes this long to talk about one of the Huskies’ best offensive players? I guess it’s this one.

Fresno State v Washington
Hunter Bryant was second on the team in receiving yards, despite missing four games.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Hunter Bryant burst onto the scene last year and drew raves from pretty much the first day of camp. Bryant just makes tough catches. 3rd and 4, he’ll go five yards turn around, and as long as it’s close, he’ll catch the football. He’s also tough to bring down once he has it. He’s someone Jake Browning has a lot of confidence in, and it was a such a killer injury for the Huskies last season when he went down in the UCLA game. Bryant had multiple receptions in the five games leading up to that, and was developing into UWs most dependable receiving alternative to Dante Pettis. He obviously wasn’t completely healthy for the bowl game, but he has been nearing a full-go status this spring.

Michael Neal enters his fourth season as a Husky, and has yet to see any game action. Neal was a top-40 TE recruit coming out of Fontana, CA and I always viewed him as another Josh Perkins. Not really a blocker, but an athletic pass catcher who could make those twisting grabs under duress that Perkins hauled in. Neal has had bad luck with injuries during his time at UW, and enters his junior season battling for a spot in the rotation.

Turning a few heads this spring has been senior walk-on DeShon Williams, the older brother of outside linebacker Amandre Williams. DeShon is a transfer from Colorado State-Pueblo, where he played wide receiver. Last season he played on kickoff coverage in the Apple Cup, and the 6’2” 228 pounder from Maple Valley was singled out recently by tight ends coach Jordan Paopao. “The guy who’s shown up big time is DeShon Williams,” Paopao said. “He’s done some really unbelievable things, especially in space catching the football.”

The lone tight end in the 2018 recruiting class is Spokane’s Delvin Culp, and man does this dude look promising. Listed on every recruiting site as a wide receiver, the Huskies see him in the hybrid role ala Hunter Bryant. This is an explosive man at 235 pounds, and since the Dawgs should be able to redshirt him, he probably enters next spring as even more of a physical specimen, ready to challenge for significant snaps.

The Huskies lost a key piece of the tight end group with Will Dissly’s departure, but return a 5th year senior and are stacked with young talent up and down the position; plenty of both maulers and pass catchers. How well this unit performs will factor hugely in what kind of senior seasons Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin have.