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Washington Huskies Roster Recap: Inside Linebackers

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Husky fans grew accustomed to great play from the ILB position, but the Dawgs lacked the bullets to reload in 2019

Eastern Washington v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The week following every Husky football game the past few seasons, fellow UWDP contributor Brad Johnson and I exchange emails choosing plays to feature in our Film Study series. In order to explain the play, a time reference is made, along with a brief description of the action.

Far too often in 2019, significant plays were singled out with a time code, and something along the lines of “Wellington, what are you DOING?!?” or “Wellington where are you GOING?!?”

Brandon Wellington had a rough year. He over-pursued, got lost in the shuffle constantly, and was often too weak at the point of attack. He should have been benched, and he would have. Except he was the best the Huskies had.

Max wrote a great piece last September detailing how the Huskies became so thin at the inside linebacker position.

In short:

  • A guy changed his mind too late, but left for Alabama anyway.
  • DJ Beavers was forced to medically retire
  • Freshman Josh Calvert (who was pushing hard for playing time in camp) went down with a season ending injury
  • UW missed on a few guys like Cal’s Evan Weaver
  • Ben Burr Kirven was denied a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA, despite an appeal by fans who think he should have redshirted in 2015

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Husky Inside Linebackers

Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Miki Ah You 10 6'1" 218 RS-FR
Josh Calvert 14 6'1" 218 RS-FR
Daniel Heimuli 15 6'0" 225 RS-FR
Ben Hines* 35 5'10" 221 SO
Alphonzo Tuputala 40 6'2" 231 RS-FR
Cooper McDonald 41 6'2" 215 FR
Carson Bruener 42 6'2" 201 FR
Jackson Sirmon 43 6'3" 237 SO
Edefuan Ulofoshio 48 6'0" 234 SO
MJ Tafisi 53 6'0" 241 SO
Drew Fowler* 54 6'1" 218 RS-FR
Ruperake Fuavai* 56 6'0" 239 RS-FR
Anthony Ward* 57 6'1" 195 FR
* Denotes Walk-on

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Key Losses

Besides Wellington, the Huskies lose fellow starter Kyler Manu, who’s play was also underwhelming. Manu displayed a combination of average instincts, below average tackling, and well below average foot speed. Again, he was the best the Huskies had, especially early in the season. Later in the year, Manu would see his playing time decrease, and he would play only seven snaps in the final two games combined.

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Key Additions

At 6’2” and just over 200 lbs, Redmond high school 3-star (.8538) Carson Bruener has the kind of frame that’s easy to add weight to. The son of former UW tight end Mark Bruener, Carson is lauded by scouts for his knowledge of the linebacker position and overall football IQ.

In Cooper McDonald, the Huskies landed a prototype inside linebacker. The 3-star (.8498) from Justin, TX is long and lean, and —like Bruener— is built to add weight and muscle to his frame. Scouts like his hard, to-the-whistle playing style, as well as his sure tackling and ability to lay hard hits.

These two incoming freshman are the future of the inside linebacker position, but more bulk will need to be added in both cases.

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Key Returners

Former walkon Edefuan Ulofoshio earned a scholarship from the Huskies, announced in January. Before earning the scholarship, “Eddie U” earned defensive player of the week honors in his first start vs Oregon State, and a starting spot for Washington at middle linebacker the rest of the way. He finished the season with 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks and a forced fumble while playing in all 13 games. One of the inside spots appears to be Ulofoshio’s to lose.

Sometimes, when I watch Jackson Sirmon out there, I wonder if it’s just the 90’s neck roll that makes him look slow. I don’t think that’s it. It seems more to be the poor angles he took, and the fact that he is just not fast. But, inside linebackers can be a little slower if they are sure tacklers and read plays correctly. While Manu was not particularly good in any of these areas, Sirmon is a solid tackler and his instincts are not bad at all, especially for a freshman. Pass coverage is something he will need to work on. Since he lacks the speed to keep up with shallow crossers, he will need to recognize plays and never let himself get out of position, and never, ever miss a tackle when he is there to make it.

MJ Tafisi was making an impact as a redshirt freshman —mostly by laying some violent hits— when his season was cut short with a neck stinger suffered in the Arizona game. Tafisi missed a few more tackles than the coaches would have liked, but could have overtaken Manu or Wellington at one of the inside linebacker positions permanently last season. Now he will have to battle a good crop of redshirt freshmen to try to regain his standing in the depth chart.

Daniel Heimuli, Josh Calvert, Miki Ah You, and Alfonzo Tuputala all redshirted in 2019.

Calvert was touted as a player who could impact right away, and reports were coming out that he was on track to do just that. But then he injured his knee in fall camp, and the requisite surgery cost him the entire 2019 season. A four-star (.9144) out of Oaks Christian high school (west of Los Angeles), Calvert chose the Huskies over UCLA and Michigan State. He enrolled early and took part in spring drills last year. Calvert was ranked No. 15 among the nation’s inside linebackers in the 2019 class, and UW loves his wide-ranging athleticism.

Heimuli, Ah You and Tuputala are all similar sized linebackers in the 6-foot, 220 range. Heimuli comes with the most fanfare, including an Alabama offer and a .9187 composite ranking. He can really run, but needed to add some strength; probably why he did not see any game action in 2019.

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Position Battle to Watch

We were all getting excited about Josh Calvert around this time last season. But one year ago, only Manu was thought to be a weak link and Wellington was largely expected to step right in and produce. We were somewhat worried, but optimistic.

Now the cupboard is bare, and Husky fans will be rooting for speed to win out at the position. Can Calvert win one of the jobs? Is Eddie U for real as an every down ‘backer?

I like a scenario where Heimuli emerges to play in a rotation with Eddie and Calvert, with Tafisi and Sirmon subbing in as a reserve pair the way they did a season ago. With not a single upperclassman at the inside linebacker position (including four walkons), the future is looking good. Plenty of players to develop, and tons of depth going forward.

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