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Spring Position Preview: Inside Linebackers

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Eddie, Sirmon, and... ?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Utah at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UW allowed an average of 161.25 rushing yards per game and 4.54 yards per carry. Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense surrendered 167 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry against Oregon State, 215 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry against Utah, and 191 yards and 4.8 YPC against Stanford.

Bob Gregory coaches the inside linebacker group, and now steps in as defensive coordinator as well. Jimmy Lake and Gregory will be searching for a rotation of inside guys, and the two players who saw the most action in 2020 will be in the middle of things this fall, as well.

Departures:

NONE; (Cooper McDonald moved outside linebacker)

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2021 Additions:

Will Latu (Arriving for Fall Camp)

Latu was a safety, and a running back. But now he’s 230 pounds, and the Huskies are excited to add him to the inside linebacking corps.

Jimmy Lake on the outstanding athlete from Bethel HS in Tacoma:

“I think the one thing you always look for is an inside linebacker that plays running back. He knows what the running back’s moves are going to try to do as they bounce in behind double-teams and try and hit the open gap. Will, he has the perfect measurables for a person that we’re looking for at that inside linebacker position. Just about 6 foot, over 230 pounds, but he’s athletic and agile just like a running back so he’s going to be able to match those running back moves when those guys try to hit it up inside or try and bounce it, and he’ll be able to go sideline to sideline. He’s a physical football player. He’s going to continue to get stronger.”

Scout Brandon Huffman says Latu is a big hitter, and points to the athleticism as well:

“He is at his best covering tight ends and backs, has the strength to jam bigger receivers and tight ends at the line and knock them off balance. As a running back, could be a short yardage back.”

Returning

Everybody from 2020

The Roster:

Spring 2021 Washington Huskies Inside Linebackers

Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Will Latu 6'2" 230 Fr
Miki Ah You 10 6'1" 210 R-So
Josh Calvert 14 6'1" 235 R-So
Daniel Heimuli 15 6'0" 215 R-So
Ben Hines* 35 5'10" 225 Jr
Alphonzo Tuputala 40 6'2" 225 R-So
Carson Bruener 42 6'2" 215 R-Fr
Jackson Sirmon 43 6'3" 230 Jr
Edefuan Ulofoshio 48 6'0" 230 Jr
MJ Tafisi 53 6'0" 230 Jr
Drew Fowler* 54 6'1" 225 R-So
Ruperake Fuavai* 56 6'0" 215 R-So
Anthony Ward* 57 6'1" 220 R-Fr
* Denotes Walk-on

The Rotation

Edefuan Ulofoshio (6’0” 230, Jr)

Jackson Sirmon (6’3” 230, Jr)

Alfonzo Tuputala (6’2” 225, So)

Before the 2020 season, during camp, Coach Gregory noted two guys who pulled away from the pack early in the inside linebacker battle: Edefuan Ulofoshio and Jackson Sirmon.

“Right now if we played tomorrow, those two would play the most,” Gregory said of the sophomores.

Yeah, they did. They pretty much played all the time.

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Eddie U:

He’s a film junkie, as well as a pre-med student. He shows up before everyone else, even the coaches. Nobody outworks Ulofoshio.

After walking on at UW, Ulofoshio has molded into one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12. Last season he started all four games for the Huskies and led the team in tackles, finishing third in the nation in solo tackles per game. He made 10 tackles in the opener against Oregon State, then recorded a sack and forced a fumble in the victory over Arizona.

14 stops in the win over Utah.

18 total tackles and a fumble recovery against Stanford.

Eddie U was forced to make the tackle too often, but he was rarely the one at fault when the Dawgs were gashed in the run game.

Jackson Sirmon:

“The hardest thing originally was getting used to the fact that everyone is really good athlete,” Sirmon said halfway through the 2020 season.

“It’s a lot faster game, the calls are a lot more complicated, you have a lot more assignments. So just getting the calls and the speed of the game, and speed and size. Everyone’s bigger and stronger and so you’ve got to get used to that for sure.”

You can seen that out there with Sirmon, who enters what will be his first full season as a starting Husky Inside linebacker.

Sirmon clearly impressed the coaches enough to keep himself on the field (193 snaps), playing alongside Ulofoshio (218 snaps) almost exclusively. He finished 3rd on the Husky defense in solo tackles in 2020, and has recorded 3.5 tackles for loss in what has amounted to about half a season of ILB playing time in his UW career.

Alphonzo Tuputala

Utah v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

I love this statement from Tuputala during his recruitment in 2019:

I value integrity, hard work, and education. I would be a good candidate for any college, football team and community because I bring the values I was raised withI currently have a 3. 2 GPA and continue to work on it. I’m an all-around athlete. I play football, basketball, and track. I always focus on solutions. I work hard to keep getting better in my game, school work, and knowledge.

Hard work. That’s so much of anything, but at inside linebacker at the Power 5 level, it’s magnified. Tuputala has so far worked his way into a contributing role with the Huskies. As a true freshman in 2019, #40 was always in the mix on special teams. Last season, he expanded that role to rotational duty at inside linebacker. Tuputala was really the only other inside linebacker to see meaningful snaps in 2020.

Looking to impact

MJ Tafisi (6’0” 230, Jr)

Daniel Heimuli (6’0” 215, So)

Josh Calvert (6’2” 235, So)

Miki Ah You (6’1” 210, So)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Arizona at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MJ Tafisi has the only real experience in this group. Miki A-You and Daniel Heimuli played a lot in the Arizona blowout, but in 2019, 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. Now he is in a battle with a good crop of redshirt sophomores for playing time this fall.

What to watch for

One more time I will fire up the Josh Calvert expectation machine. There has been a sense around the program of “If this guy could only stay healthy.”

Is Calvert ready to push for playing time in the middle of the Husky defense? Looks as though he as added nearly 20 pounds to his listed weight entering last season. Is he healthy? We’ll see.

Small sample size in 2020

If the season had been longer than just four games, we would have gotten a larger sampling of the depth and rotation. As it was in 2020, Ulofoshio and Sirmon dominated the snaps, leaving us to just guess who the next guys to step in would have been. 2021 will be the full grinding season, and a few of these guys will see important snaps when Gregory and crew deem them ready.

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