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30 Day Countdown - Day 29: Weakest Position Group

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The Huskies are Pac-12 favorites, but what is the weakest link?

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

Fortunately for Huskies fans, the list of Strongest Position Groups is much easier to put together than the list of Weakest Position Groups. With that said, there are still plenty of questions on the depth chart. Some of those questions are lingering from weaknesses on last year’s team, while others are new problems that have arisen due to predictable roster attrition. Which group has the most questions? Let’s take a look at a few of the candidates.

Receiver/Tight End

Projected Starters: Aaron Fuller, jr.; Chico McClatcher, rs-jr.; Andre Baccellia, jr.; Drew Sample, sr.

Others: Ty Jones, so.; Jordan Chin, so.; Quinten Pounds, jr.; Terrell Bynum, rs-fr.; Austin Osborne, fr.; Marquis Spiker, fr.; Jacob Kizer, so.; Cade Otton, rs-fr.; DeShon Williams, sr.

The receiver position was a significant problem for the Huskies in 2017. Receivers struggled to get separation against single coverage and Jake Browning’s numbers dipped as a result. Three of the top four receivers from last season are either gone to the pros (Dante Pettis, Will Dissly) or injured (Hunter Bryant). Were the remaining options too inexperienced to succeed, or do they lack the talent to excel in the Pac-12?

In spring practice, Fuller, Baccellia, and Jones got most of the reps with the first team. McClatcher will be a crucial threat when he rejoins the lineup after his injury recovery. Regardless of who is listed as a starter, you can expect significant rotation among those four, Pounds, Bynum, and Osborne. Spiker and Chin are likely to see snaps, as well, but a regular rotation of nine players is unlikely until players start to get injured. Osborne gets the nod over Spiker for now because he graduated high school early enough to attend spring practice, though all of these slots on the depth chart are up in the air.

And if you thought wide receiver was tumultuous, avert your eyes from the tight end situation. With Bryant on the shelf for an unknown length of time, Sample will carry the load. To date, he and Kizer have done more blocking than receiving, so it remains to be seen whether this position will provide the sort of threat that it did last year when Bryant was available.

Specialists

Projected Starters: Peyton Henry, rs-fr., or Van Soderberg, so. (K); Joel Whitford, jr. (P); Salvon Ahmed, so. (KR); Aaron Fuller, jr. (PR)

If there’s one position group that kept Husky fans awake at night in the 2017 season, it was the kicking game. Tristan Vizcaino missed two FGs and a PAT in a blowout win over Colorado. He missed another FG against Oregon St, which forced the coaches to give his job to Van Soderberg. Vizcaino failed to regain the job with another miss against Cal. Those three games were all one-sided wins, so the misses didn’t amount to much. The following week, Soderberg missed two more attempts against Arizona State in a crucial 13-7 loss. For the year, Vizcaino finished 12-19 and Soderberg was 1-3. In one stretch, they combined to miss seven of nine attempts over six games. Suffice to say, the kicking game was awful and the consequences were significant.

Henry provides some reason for optimism. Even without any in-game experience for UW, his kicking has drawn positive reviews dating back to his early practices last fall. Soderberg is back; take that for what it is worth. Joel Whitford punted solidly as a sophomore and showed a propensity to pin opponents inside their own 20. Jake Browning will obviously reprise his role as pooch punter extraordinaire.

Another cause for concern among the specialists is inevitable decline of the punt return game. No matter how well Fuller or another candidate performs, the odds of matching Pettis’s 20 YPR average and 4 TDs from last season are slim and none.

Linebacker

Projected Starters: Ryan Bowman, so. (Buck); Ben Burr-Kirven, sr. (MIKE); Tevis Bartlett, sr. (WILL); Amandre Williams, so. (SAM)

Others: Benning Potoa’e, jr.; Joe Tryon, rs-fr.; Ariel Ngata, rs-fr.; Kyler Manu, jr.; Ale Kaho, fr.; DJ Beavers, jr.; Myles Rice, so.; Brandon Wellington, jr.

The middle of the unit should be strong. Burr-Kirven and Bartlett both played in every game last season and BBK even led the team in tackles by a wide margin. Bowman showed flashes of becoming the pass rusher that the defense has needed since Joe Mathis graduated, but he did not play enough snaps to run up big statistics. Williams and Rice both played sparingly. They shared the SAM duties in spring practice, and the reviews have been solid, if unspectacular.

The reserves at the Buck position offer some intrigue. Potoa’e looks like a DT trying to rush off the edge at over 275 pounds. He failed to show the agility or technique to get to the QB last year, and will have to show progress or he will lose his shot at his preferred position. Tryon and Ngata are both promising athletes. Tryon, in particular, has the combination of size and athleticism that makes it easy to dream of double-digit sacks.

The problem with the linebacker unit is the utter lack of depth at the other positions. Camilo Eifler transferred to Illinois after spring ball, which left precious little experience on the bench. Beavers is one very good option. Unfortunately, he has struggled to stay on the field and continues to work through injuries. Otherwise, he would be interchangeable with Bartlett as a starter. Kaho, Petersen’s first five-star recruit, offers excitement for the future, and he might need to show previews of it right away given the lack of bodies in the unit.

(Update: The late-breaking story about Kaho’s request to be released from his Letter of Intent takes him out of the equation and takes another bite out of the LB depth.)

Conclusion

Each unit has its own problems. The lack of bench strength at linebacker is scary enough that I don’t want to even contemplate an injury to BBK or Bartlett. I still have a bad taste in my mouth over the kicking game from 2017 and what could have been if Vizcaino or Soderberg could have put us over the hump against ASU.

In total, though, I’m choosing the receivers as the weakest position group. The pedigree is there for several players to prove me wrong, but I have to wait to see it to believe it. Perhaps a healthy Hunter Bryant would make me feel more optimistic about a reliable, established playmaker for Browning. As it stands, the upside of the group comes more from HUDL film and star ratings than on-field performance.

What do you think? Which group is UW’s weakest going into 2018? Vote in the poll and comment below.

Poll

What will be the weakest Husky position group in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Wide Receiver/TE
    (250 votes)
  • 41%
    Specialists
    (333 votes)
  • 23%
    Linebacker
    (187 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (26 votes)
796 votes total Vote Now