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Spring Position Preview: Linebackers

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What should we look for at possibly UW’s thinnest position group?

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

Performance in 2021

Linebacker was already one of the thinner positions on the Husky roster and then it was announced at the start of fall camp that freshmen Will Latu and Miki Ah You were no longer with the team. The starting spots were locked in from the start of the year with Edefuan Ulofoshio and Jackson Sirmon but there was no inexperienced depth behind them. That unfortunately became relevant after Ulofoshio suffered an arm injury against UCLA and missed the final half of the season.

Redshirt freshman Carson Bruener stepped in and won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week in his first career start against Stanford after Ulofoshio’s injury. That was just about the only highlight for the position group though as opposing teams ran the ball time after time against the Washington defense without much if any resistance. Gaps existed all over the field in run fits as the linebackers were unable to reliably fight through blocks which helped contribute to UW’s dismal season.

Roster Additions/Subtractions

SUBTRACTIONS

Jackson Sirmon- Transfer to California

Sirmon was a reliable punching bag for much of the fanbase but he was a reliable option as a 2-year starter for the Huskies. He graded out as a slightly above average linebacker per PFF but a few difficulties in man-to-man coverage definitely hurt his perception. He is headed to play for the fellow Pac-12 North Golden Bears where his dad is the defensive coordinator.

M.J Tafisi- Transfer to Utah State

There was a point in his career where it appeared Tafisi would be a major part of the linebacker equation at Washington until he suffered a scary neck injury against Arizona in 2019. After that point Tafisi never broke through on the depth chart and he decided to transfer partway through the season after averaging about 20 snaps per game as a backup linebacker and then getting passed over by Carson Bruener.

ADDITIONS

Cameron Bright- Transfer from Pittsburgh

Bright was a preseason all-ACC pick at linebacker by some outlets after a fantastic 2020 season but had a slightly less effective senior year despite Pitt’s team success. He finished last year with 50 tackles, 6 sacks, and 1 INT as an outside linebacker in Pitt’s 4-3 before entering the portal and coming to Washington as a grad transfer.

Demario King- JUCO Transfer from Cerritos College

At 6’3 and 215 pounds King was viewed as a jumbo safety by the recruiting services but he will start out at linebacker for UW. He came in unrated as a relative unknown but the new UW coaching staff is hoping they found a hidden gem.

Spring Storylines to Watch

1. Scheme Change

Washington for the first time since the arrival of Chris Petersen will have a new defensive scheme and it will be interesting to see what that means for the linebackers. The expectation is this will still be a 2 linebacker defense under William Inge with the new Husky position coming closer to a hybrid safety/linebacker than the hybrid safety/corner of the old nickel spot. It’s possible though that the responsibilities from the linebacker spot may change. Cam Bright played more of a 4-3 outside linebacker role at Pitt. King was a safety in junior college. Those add new skillsets to the linebacker room which otherwise had a pretty standardized look to it.

2. The Best Ability is Availability

Over the course of a full normal season you would expect a Husky linebacker to end up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 800-900 defensive snaps. Through 3 seasons Edefuan Ulofoshio has never played more than 300 and has played a combined 743 total. The results when he has been on the field have been scintillating: 141 total tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 pass breakups. Plus the highest linebacker PFF grade in the country in 2020.

The lack of snaps hasn’t been Eddie’s fault. The coaching staff didn’t let him start until partway through 2019. The pandemic kept UW to just 4 games in 2020. An arm injury cut his season in half this past fall. There have also been rumors of another injury during offseason workouts. Washington absolutely needs Ulofoshio to be on the field as often as possible in 2022 if they’re going to turn some heads in the first year under Coach DeBoer.

3. How Big is the Rotation?

Under Pete Kwiatkowski, then Jimmy Lake, then Bob Gregory we normally saw 2 starters at linebacker play ~70% of the snaps and 2 backups play the other ~30%. That obviously resulted in a 4-man rotation at a position group that often carried 8 members. Now Washington is down to just 6 total on the roster. Are we going to still see 4 of them regularly on the field over the course of a game? Will we only get to see the 3rd/4th linebacker when the starters are absolutely gassed? Or with no true freshmen will everyone get on the field at some point? We won’t fully get those answers until the fall but how the backups play this spring will likely go a long way towards determining that.

Position Battle of Interest

If everyone is healthy then it seems very likely that Ulofoshio and Cam Bright will be the two starters. And again it seems likely that the two primary backups are going to be Carson Bruener and Daniel Heimuli. The key element then will be which of those 2 backups are the most likely to see the field if an injury should happen to one of the starters. Who is 3rd overall on the depth chart? Bruener will go in as the favorite given that he started when Ulofoshio missed time at the end of last season. His advanced stat numbers were lackluster though after that first Stanford game and with a new coaching staff in place there’s certainly the potential for Daniel Heimuli to live up to his promise coming out of high school and seize that spot. Regardless, between the two of them Washington has to feel better about the 3rd linebacker spot than they did at the beginning of last season even if overall depth is still a major issue.

Current Projected Depth Chart

Linebacker Spot #1- Edefuan Ulofoshio, Carson Bruener, Demario King

Linebacker Spot #2- Cam Bright, Daniel Heimuli, Alphonzo Tuputala