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Day 14: Breakout Upperclassmen

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Welcome to the last Saturday of 2018 without college football.

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

In Chris Petersen’s pre-fall camp press conference he remarked that “how the old guys progress” is usually what makes a good team great. There’s a lot of truth to that. Young players in their first two years, more often than not, rapidly progress as they receive high-level coaching and strength training for the first time in their lives.

Some will then plateau while others take their games to the next level as juniors and seniors. It’s seemingly a yearly tradition under Chris Petersen that certain seniors will put together the best seasons of their career. Looking back on Petersen’s tenure, we’ve had breakouts such as:

  • 2017: Will Dissly and Coleman Shelton
  • 2016: Jake Eldrenkamp, Kevin King, and Joe Mathis
  • 2015: Tani Tupou and Cory Littleton
  • 2014: Andrew Hudson

There are a number of enticing junior and senior candidates that could break out this season, and possibly transform their entire position group in the process. But first, I can’t seem to remember how many days are left until the Huskies play...anyone?

AP

Thanks, JoJo.

Before we dive in, some might be curious why I didn’t include a player like JoJo McIntosh, or Jaylen Johnson, or Shane Bowman. Those are fine candidates, but I do what I want.

On a serious note, JoJo and Jaylen are already fairly established, and I’m not sure Shane Bowman will get enough snaps this year even as senior to truly break out.

OLB Benning Potoa’e, Jr.

2017 by-the-numbers: 3 sacks, 5 TFL

Benning is a player everyone has been eager to see put it all together since he arrived in 2015 as a 4-star recruit blessed with speed and athleticism to match his 6-3, 275 pound frame. That combination allows him to not only play on the edge and rush the passer from the BUCK spot, but also slide inside and play as a DL.

As great as the defense has been, and despite the overall sack numbers, there’s still a sense that reinforcements are needed on the edges. In Washington’s losses to better teams, this has stood out. Benning, entering his redshirt junior year, represents the best chance to add some juice to the edge since Joe Mathis left (Joe Tryon is another obvious candidate, but is just a redshirt freshman).

By all accounts, this has been Potoa’e’s best off season, from spring to now in fall camp. He’s a trendy pick to break out because he is your classic “once he figures out the mental side,” he will be a terror. He’s not only got the strength to set the edge, he’s got the speed to go around it. He flashed some this potential in the Penn State game, especially the second half.

WR Aaron Fuller, Jr.

2017 by-the-numbers: 26 catches, 291 yards, 1 TD

Fuller is another trendy pick to break out as he has seemingly taken the reins as the Huskies #1 receiver. He ended the season strong with 18 catches for 213 yards in his final 5 games, including a TD in the Fiesta Bowl. He also caught 4 balls against Oregon, including two nice grabs back-to-back.

His ascension from being, at best, the second option (more likely third/fourth choice) to the new #1 doesn’t guarantee production, but it does mean more targets. Aaron Fuller probably doesn’t represent every fan’s ideal of a first-choice WR standing at just 5-11, 186 pounds, but he’s a great route runner and has shown the ability to get open and find soft spots in zones. Next to Hunter Bryant he also has some of the best hands on the team.

With the emergence of other offensive weapons like Salvon Ahmed, Ty Jones, and Hunter Bryant (when he’s back healthy), Aaron Fuller should see his numbers make a substantial jump this year. It’s not out of the question to expect a 40 catch, 500 yard, 6 TD season.

OL Henry Roberts, Jr.

2017 by-the-numbers: played in 7 games

Henry Roberts came to Washington as another OL in a long line of highly rated Bellevue linemen. Though he arrived at Montlake with a 4-star rating next to his name, he hasn’t quite broken through yet. Part of that is the offense run at his high school, the Wing-T, does not emphasize pass protection. That’s a technique-heavy skill set that can take time to learn properly. Either way, Henry Roberts has the size and talent to make himself into an all-conference OL.

He started to see some action last season, playing in 7 games, and has started to see his role increase since spring camp. With Trey Adams easing his way back in at LT, Roberts has filled in as the second-team LT. When Adams is playing, he’s been slotted in at RG. He’s also gotten time at LG if Luke Wattenberg is playing LT. Clearly the coaches are still finding the best five, but at worst Henry Roberts makes the top six and will get time in the rotation. His most likely position is starting RG after Trey Adams and Luke Wattenberg return to full health.

Also worth noting that Roberts, along with Potoa’e, were spring camp MVPs, according to Coach Petersen.

LB Tevis Bartlett, Sr.

2017 by-the-numbers: 48 tackles, 12 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions

The one senior here, Bartlett is the old man of the group. And if history tells us anything, it is a senior that will have the biggest breakout season of the upperclassmen. A former state champion wrestler from Wyoming, Bartlett has spent his first three years mostly playing SAM linebacker and operating on the edges. But in the spring he was moved to the middle to pair with Ben Burr-Kirven (also known as BBK), wanting to add to the depth and talent at the position. The move could turn out to be a big one.

Stat-wise, he’s been the best and most consistent player on this list in his career, but this season he has a chance to really bring it up a notch. He’s also got more size than most of the MLBs on the roster, standing at 6-3 weighing at 233 pounds. Petersen has called him one of the smartest players on the team and someone they feel comfortable moving around the defense. Petersen also seemed to say that Bartlett was a better fit inside, both for him and the overall defense. His wrestling background developed his hand-fighting skills and ability to get off blocks, which is absolutely key for a linebacker. How well he can drop back and play in space is more a mystery.

If he can turn his size into stoutness against the run game and continue his ability to make plays behind the LOS (12 tackles for a loss last year) he could play his way onto the all-conference team.

The Verdict

I am going with Tevis here. I think that Benning Potoa’e and Aaron Fuller will see their roles expand and have great seasons, but Tevis Bartlett is entering a position that needs some playmaking ability. I feel fairly “meh” about the middle linebackers overall, especially their ability to generate sacks, picks, and TFLs. Bartlett has grown each year in that regard and there is no reason this season shouldn’t see an even greater leap in his ability. Now playing at the heart of the defense, he’ll get an even greater opportunity to break out.

What say you, Dawg fans?

Poll

Which Husky upperclassmen is poised for a breakout season?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    OLB Benning Potoa’e
    (282 votes)
  • 19%
    WR Aaron Fuller
    (171 votes)
  • 5%
    OL Henry Roberts
    (50 votes)
  • 32%
    LB Tevis Bartlett
    (285 votes)
  • 9%
    Someone else
    (81 votes)
869 votes total Vote Now