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Roundtable: Starting Eleven

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In which the gang throws out their ideas for the defense’s first snap. (Ten DTs and a punter, anyone?)

Fresno State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In our offseason depresh, from time to time one of the UWDP writers will throw a question out there that turns into a bunch of us blithering on about whatever thoughts pop into our brains. This is one of those times.

It is also a discussion that started in early April, took a bit of a nap, and then was revitalized approximately, oh, one full Earthly season later. Here it is:

April 11th (mid-spring practice)

Andrew Berg: Here’s a fun projection question: Who will be the 11 Huskies on the field on the team’s first defensive snap of the season?

Gabey Lucas: I’m gonna go with them in a 2-4-5, so here goes my pick: Bryant and McKinney at safety, Molden at Nickel, Taylor at CB and Kyler Gordon opposite him. Then for ILBs let’s go with Wellington and Sirmon, OLBs Joe Tryon and Ryan Bowman, and DL Tuli and Levi.

I’m not taking any risks with those picks but meh *shrug emoji*.

Lucas Shannon: Interesting picks Gabey. I think I’m with you (assuming it’s a 2-4-5 like you said) with the partial exception of Tuli. I know Benning moving inside is a big switch, but I’d be moderately surprised if he beat out Benning just given how much experience he has on the field.

But Tuli has been playing the position longer than Benning as far as I know, so it’s possible they feel more comfortable with Tuli because of that experience playing the position

Gabey: My thoughts is that even though they’re both on the DL, Benning would rotate in with Levi and not Tuli. His body type realistically isn’t gonna be at 0 /1 Tech like Tuli unless something weird happens.

On the other hand if they’re doing 3-3-5 I think the front three would be Benning, Tuli, and Levi.

I suppose you’re right though that if they’re gonna have two down linemen where neither is aligned that far inside, then yah probably it’d be Benning and Levi.

Andrew: I have had a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to see more formations with three down linemen without an experienced planet-eater like Vea or Gaines. Could be Benning, Levi, and one of the younger guys together.

Gabey: Yeah that actually is a very legit thought.

In which case Lucas and I are both right woo!

Andrew: If that is true, we probably see one fewer OLB because I doubt they would want to give up the matchup flexibility of five DBs against the many spread offenses we see.

Kirk DeGrasse: With bigger edge guys like Tryon and Bowman that may be true. But I wouldn’t count out Taimani and/or Letuligasenoa getting a lot of run at NT.

Could we see a lot of Onwuzurike and Potoa’e inside with Tryon and Bowman flanking them? Yeah, could be. But there have been some signs early on that the two RS-Fr NT are starting to click.

Andrew: Any reckless speculation (outside of what has been reported) about who starts at ILB next to Wellington?

Kirk: I’ll throw out Calvert as reckless speculation. Seems like he’s a guy with a lot of football smarts (gotta love those guys that played QB in H.S.) and he played for a high level program at Oaks Christian, and he’s getting the head start over Heimuli with spring practices. I would guess Sirmon over Calvert given more time in the program, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Calvert win the job.

And obviously you can’t rule out Heimuli given his talent level.

Just as interesting to me as the DL and LB battles is how the DB lineup shakes out. There’s just so many plausible scenarios.

Andrew: Lake talked recently about how he likes being able to mix and match based on situation and need. You notice that when you think about the chain reaction that one injury would cause.

Say Taylor misses a few games. Does Bryant or Molden slide outside? Then does the other go to nickel? Who would fill in at Bryant’s safety spot? Or would someone else like Hampton get the start? So many variables.

Kirk: Before Gordon was getting reps with the 1st unit I would have figured Hampton would be there. I think he’s been dealing with a minor injury issue. Wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up being right in the mix.

Gabey: Yeah I’m stoked on Hampton whether he contributes this year or otherwise

...And then we dropped this topic for, like... six weeks, and now have some new thoughts.

Gabey: Going through and realizing I disagree with some of the answers I put there now that spring practice is over, so new roundtable question for now: Has your answer to “Who will be UW’s starting 11 for first defensive snap?” changed? How so and why?

Kirk: I’ll walk back my Calvert enthusiasm just a bit. That’s not to say that he couldn’t show a lot in fall camp to put himself right back in the mix to start, but after a strong first day of spring camp he wasn’t really a big factor. Wellington is pretty much a lock to start inside if healthy, and at this point I’d guess Sirmon, Manu and Tafisi are probably ahead of Calvert. Plus Heimuli will be joining the fray.

Andrew: Along those same lines, spring camp made me feel pretty confident that Manu is going to get lots of playing time at the start of the year. I would put money on him starting at ILB at the start of the first game. His size and experience seem to be important factors for the coaching staff.

Based on reports from spring, what we knew before, and what we have seen on film, it seems like that the five best DBs will be Taylor, Bryant, Molden, Hampton, and Gordon. Gilchrist has shown flashes, but he has not been consistent enough. I need to see more of Irvin before making any judgment on him. If those are the top five guys, I think the coaches will find a way to get them all on the field a lot in some configuration.

Gabey: I don’t think Calvert will start but I definitely think he’ll play. Whether it’s more or less than four games is a different question though.

That being said, I wouldn’t be totally mind-blown if Ulofoshio nabbed that spot. I’m less convinced than you that Manu will be starting — or at least that if he does start, that it will be for the whole season. The spring reports to me read more like Manu was given the benefit of the doubt with the ones due to his experience and familiarity with the playbook, but like other players were more dynamic and made that clear.

Andrew: This calls for a finger bet. Loser chops a digit

Gabey: Fantastic, didn’t know we’re the Yakuza now. You’re on.

*Spongebob Narrator Voice* Three Hours Later

Gabey: Oh also! I’m changing my starting safeties — think it’ll be Bryant, and Williams will usurp McKinney, with Gilchrist and McKinney rotating in. What do you think ends up the sitch at safety?

Andrew: It does seem like Williams has earned his way in quickly. Given the talent that has come through the DB room without playing much/at all early on, that’s a huge accomplishment.

And by now everyone was kinda over this discussion, so we ended it there...

Thoughts on who might be on the field first? Personally I’m crossing my fingers for only linemen with Joel Whitford at single high safety, but we’ll see.

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.