Even if you’re not a big believer in recruiting rankings, you can see that the last couple recruiting classes to enter Husky Stadium have largely featured bigger, faster, stronger, and more accomplished freshmen than those who have donned the purple and gold in many years.
That improvement doesn’t mean the Huskies are invulnerable, but it changes the calculation in the weakest parts of the team. Instead of hoping to win the day with veteran guile, craftiness, or other things that probably don’t exist, the main challenge will be to identify with talented young players will be able to step up to the plate while making the fewest mistakes. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the position groups that have upside, but must also must overcome inexperience.
If this post were strictly backward looking, ILB would be the easy choice for weakest carry-over position group. Brandon Wellington and Kyler Manu opened 2019 as veteran starters. They struggled from the start and the inability to shut down the middle of the field- particularly in the run game- was a persistent problem for an otherwise stout defense. As the year went on, former walk-on Edefuan Ulofoshio upgraded from special teams ace to an effective patch. He had the speed that Manu lacked and the instincts that never quite clicked for Wellington. The introduction of Ulofoshio wasn’t a 180-degree turn, but it quickly moved the unit from poor to adequate, and there’s every reason to think he can hold down one of the starting spots in 2020.
After Ulofoshio, the Huskies feature a hoard of talented-yet-unproven options at ILB. MJ Tafisi showed glimpses of solidity before a stinger against Arizona ended his RS-Fr season. Jackson Sirmon is also a RS-So this fall. While he appeared to trail Tafisi on the depth chart last fall, he also had a strong recruiting pedigree. A year behind them, Josh Calvert and Daniel Heimuli were highly-rated recruits who didn’t see action. Calvert tore his ACL in fall camp and Heimuli’s schedule did not allow him the head start of an early enrollment. Will one of this group do enough to join Ulofoshio in turning a weakness into a strength this season?
As I mentioned in the intro, many of these positions are more uncertain than they are “weak.” The QB battle might best exemplify the weirdness and uncertainty of this season. Jacob Sirmon would seem to be the most natural choice to step up from being Jacob Eason’s backup last year to the starter spot this season. But if he was the presumptive choice, would Jimmy Lake have been in the mix for graduate transfers like K.J. Costello and Jamie Newman? Would the Dawgs have ultimately taken an FCS transfer in Kevin Thomson? In addition to the transfer confusion, the team has a new head coach and a new OC who hasn’t called plays since the Obama administration.
While neither Lake nor John Donovan has given any indication about their QB preferences, Sirmon’s big arm and relative inexperience provide a stark contrast with Thomson’s fleet feet and savvy. RS-Fr Dylan Morris would strike a balance between the two if a compromise is in order. And don’t forget true freshman Ethan Garbers, whose reputation improved markedly due to a big senior high school season. Ultimately, either Sirmon or Thomson appears most likely to line up under center in Berkeley. Given what little we know about the offense and their fit in it, it’s hard to feel overly confident until we can see the unit put points on the board.
Odds are, all five spots on the offensive line will have a new starter from week one last year to week one this year. That phrasing is a bit misleading because starting guards Jaxson Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg appear destined for left tackle and center, respectively. The departures of Trey Adams, Nick Harris, and Jake Hilbers still leaves a lot of opportunity for new players. Those spots will probably be filled by some combination of Henry Bainivalu, Matteo Mele, Victor Curne, Ulumoo Ale, and even freshman Myles Murao. That’s a lot of change for an offensive line that struggled at times, especially with overloaded blitzes in pass protection. Will a less experienced, higher pedigree group be able to improve its results with a new offense and little time to learn it? Given the struggles with Cal’s defense the last two seasons, the offensive line will have to learn quickly and put it into action immediately.
Defensive Line- the early departure of Levi Onwuzurike puts added pressure on still-developing standouts like Tuli Letuligasenoa, Jacob Bandes, and Taki Taimani.
OLB- Joe Tryon looked poised to elevate to another level this season, but chose to prep for the draft. Ryan Bowman returns experience on one side, but the depth is very young. If Sav’ell Smalls plays to his reputation, it answers a lot of the questions about this unit.
TE- While Cade Otton is tremendous, any two TE or TE/H-Back sets are going to require continued development from Jack Westover, Devin Culp, or freshmen Mark Redman and Jack Yary. The position is even thinner with the opt-out from Jacob Kizer.
What is Washington’s weakest position group for 2020?
This poll is closed