When Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett joined the Husky football program three years ago, the two solid recruits went largely unnoticed. Neither was in the top 10 of a 2015 class featuring first-year stars Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Trey Adams, and Chico McClatcher, and both were rated well below blue-chip prospects Austin Joyner, Benning Potoa’e, and Henry Roberts.
Burr-Kirven and Bartlett saw the field early and often during their true-freshman seasons, both playing in the season opener at Boise State and seeing increased time on special teams and in the defensive rotation as the season progressed. Burr-Kirven racked up 34 tackles, playing in all but one game. Bartlett played in every game and splashed his athleticism when called on in a reserve role.
You could say these two Husky linebackers’ careers have somewhat mirrored one another. Burr-Kirven attended tiny Sacred Heart High School in San Mateo County, CA (600 enrollment) and Bartlett’s high school—while not small (East HS, 1500 enrollment)—is a bit off the normal recruiting trail in Cheyenne, WY.
Burr-Kirven has played in 39 of the Huskies’ 40 games since 2015, Bartlett has played in 38. Both have been two-time Pac-12 All-Academic selections, and both have spent their three seasons at Washington as guys who probably don’t get all the credit they deserve from fans and the media.
Now entering their senior seasons, I’m not sure there are two players on the entire football team in whom I have more faith to always be sound in their assignments. Much like a year ago when Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria made up a talented and experienced duo at inside linebacker, the Huskies’ coaching staff has the benefit of leaning on a pair of defensive quarterbacks who know the system inside and out; two outstanding players ready to lay it all on the line in their final seasons as Huskies.
Looking ahead to the fall, the UW linebacking corps is seemingly set in stone in the middle, and features experienced depth behind Burr-Kirven and Bartlett. The outside positions are a bit more fluid, with a number of players battling for playing time at the Buck and SAM positions.
Here’s how the depth chart looked to the Seattle Times’ Adam Jude this spring:
Outside Linebacker (Buck)
|Ryan Bowman||55||6'0"||258 lbs||SO|
|Benning Potoa'e||8||6'3"||275 lbs||JR|
|Joe Tryon||9||6'5"||262 lbs||R-FR|
|Ariel Ngata||52||6'2"||213 lbs||R-FR|
|Ben Burr-Kirven||25||6'0"||221 lbs||SR|
|DJ Beavers||15||6'1"||220 lbs||JR|
|Jake Wambaugh*||53||6'2"||220 lbs||SR|
Inside Linebacker (Weakside)
|Tevis Bartlett||17||6'2"||238 lbs||SR|
|Brandon Wellington||13||6'0"||224 lbs||JR|
|Kyler Manu||30||6'1"||232 lbs||JR|
|Matt Preston*||54||6'2"||235 lbs||SR|
Outside Linebacker (Strongside)
|Amandre Williams||16||6'2"||234 lbs||SO|
|Myles Rice||41||6'3"||246 lbs||SO|
As I detailed above, the inside linebacking group is pretty much set, and the two seniors BBK and Bartlett will be on the field for most of Washington’s meaningful snaps this season. If healthy, D.J. Beavers will spell Burr-Kirven at MLB and Brandon Wellington is firmly situated as Bartlett’s backup. Both of these juniors are coming off injuries, and if they are unable to practice in full this fall it will open the door for some of the youngsters.
Forecasting the outside linebacking positions gets considerably more cloudy, and if you’re an optimist like me, this is where it gets kind of fun. Right now, the two players listed as battling for the SAM position (outside, strongside LB) are Amandre Williams and Myles Rice. So far in their Husky careers these two redshirt sophomores have seen the field only in mop-up duty. Both were recruited as pass-rushing defensive ends and have great length and burst.
At the Buck position, you have a stark contrast with the highly decorated local product Benning Potoa’e and the “where the hell did this guy come from” walk-on Ryan Bowman. Bowman is now a scholarship player, and if you just watched tape of last season without regard for pedigree, he was the better player. His 5.5 sacks led the Huskies, and the 9.5 tackles for loss recorded by Bowman were second only to Bartlett’s 12.
If you want to talk about “ceiling” for a player (and I know we all do), Potoa’e has the edge. He’s shown flashes of what he can be, but for whatever reason he seems to get stuck on blocks and has never been the pass rushing threat we all hoped he would be. At 275 pounds, could Potoa’e be leaned on to fill part of the “beef” void that Vita Vea left behind?
On the subject of size, redshirt frosh Joe Tryon has added 30 pounds to his 6’5” frame since arriving at UW from Hazen High School in Renton. Tryon has a ton of raw ability. Ariel Ngata is another long DE/LB in the Travis Feeney mold who boasted sub-4.7 speed and a 33” vertical jump coming out of Jake Browning’s alma mater Folsom High School. I’m excited to see how these two redshirt freshman look this fall.
The depth chart above is merely a guide, and will be shuffled considerably during fall camp as the coaching staff figures out where these newcomers fit it in:
Incoming Freshman Linebackers
|Ale Kaho||10||6'1"||218 lbs||FR|
|Jackson Sirmon||43||6'2"||224 lbs||FR|
|MJ Tafisi||50||6'2"||224 lbs||FR|
|Zion Tupuola-Fetui||58||6'2"||250 lbs||FR|
|Ben Hines*||35||5'9"||224 lbs||FR|
|Jeffrey Ulofoshio*||48||6'0"||222 lbs||FR|
Lots of fuss about Ale Kaho (formerly Brandon Kaho) receiving a fifth-star as a recruiting prospect. There is no question this guy came on strong during his junior and senior seasons after committing early to Kalani Sitake at BYU back in 2016. Exceptional quickness is his claim to fame, and certainly he will be in the mix for playing time.
But with Kaho getting so many headlines for being Chris Petersen’s first 5-star, the other three linebackers in this year’s class have gotten the BBK/Bartlett treatment and arrive without the fanfare. Don’t sleep on the ‘other’ linebackers that Petersen and LB coach Bob Gregory were able to reel in. UW added the top LB in Tennessee (Jackson Sirmon), the #1 LB in Hawaii (Zion Tupuola-Fetui), and the top ILB from Utah (M.J. Tafisi). The linebacker position is strong now, and looks to be getting even better.