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Roundtable: Surprise, Surprise!

The gang tries to answer the question: What don’t we see coming?

Washington State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Welcome to this week’s roundtable, everyone!

Ya know what roundtable reminds me of? Roundtable Pizza, which I assume doesn’t exist anymore but at which many a 1st-through-6th grade end-of-season soccer party was held. And ya know what Roundtable Pizza reminds me of? Target! Why he heck would that be, you ask? Well because before being torn down, said Roundtable franchise for my elementary school soccer team was right next to a Target!

Target, motto: We sell bacon now for some reason.

Target, motto: Why buy your sports bras at fancy online boutiques when you could get them in-person without getting price-gouged or producing shipment waste?

Target, motto: For when you only have one-and-a-half swimsuits, get them from Target.

Target, motto: Oh sh*t it’s my nephew’s birthday party in an hour and I forgot to get him something.

Target, motto: Our lighting is less Office Space-y now.

Target, motto: Suck it, Walmart.

These mottos definitely aren’t exclusively drawn from my own experience with Target. And I definitely am not getting paid to mention Target.

Although, for real, I do only have one-and-a-half swimsuits (three one-pieces cut down the middle, somehow) and they’re from Target and I love them. And I also genuinely love my sports bras from Target, which is all of my sports bras.

Ya know, I didn’t think the day would come where I’d write the sentence “I love my bras” and hit publish on an article whose readership is a plurality of middle-aged dudes, but here we are.

Anyways, if you need stuff for Father’s Day/the Fourth of July/the incoming heat wave we won’t know of until it’s two days away and you’re like “oh crap I need one-and-a-half swimsuits” — Target, motto: We got what you need, plus a Starbucks!


Anyways, to the roundtable.

The question posed this week:

With the new circumstances, staff, schemes, etc. this season, which position group do you think is a candidate to surprise us in a good way? On the other hand, which group do you feel is most likely to surprise us in a less-than-good way?

Max Vrooman:

For position group to surprise in a good way I’m going to go with the inside linebackers. If healthy I think both Bright and Moll have the potential to both be better than the Wellington/Manu/Sirmon snaps we’ve seen in the post-BBK era. Unfortunately it looks like Ulofoshio is going to miss at least a good chunk of the year but if he comes back healthy it will provide a late boost like ZTF did partway through last year. Bruener showed flashes last year and there’s still hope for Heimuli to show as a good player (plus Tuputala who maybe passed him in the spring). I don’t think the position is going to be a massive strength but getting even average play from that unit would be a massive boost compared to the last few seasons.

On the other hand I’m going to go with the offensive line. There’s seemingly so much talent there and the hope of course is that they were largely infected by the John Donovan offense. Kirkland though is coming off a major injury and didn’t get to practice in the spring. There were rumors Bainivalu was medically retiring before deciding to come back and was also hurt in the spring. If those guys end up being in and out of the lineup it’ll hurt the chemistry.

We’ll see how well UW can replace Wattenberg at center and there hasn’t been someone who has taken over the left guard spot and I wasn’t impressed with what I saw this spring from the group. And this is at the one position group where the Huskies didn’t get a new position coach. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me to still be underwhelmed with the OL but I think it would be a surprise to many hence my pick.

My honorable mentions in each category are running back and outside linebacker respectively. While the RB position was a disaster this spring, we didn’t see Taulapapa, Cam Davis, or Newton so there’s a chance we see improvement having 3 guys back with significant experience. And at OLB it’s mostly just considering what would happen if ZTF didn’t come back looking like the player he was in 2020 before his injury (*knocks on wood*).

Gabey Lucas:

Lol dang those are really good answers and you’ve convinced me. I didn’t even give much thought to it before asking the question and now I agree with you.

Max:

*Gif of James Carville saying “We have no response. That was perfect.” from the beloveds Will Ferrell movie Old School*

Gabey:

“And here, dear readers, is our complete answer courtesy of Max Vroom, man. No amendments or additional thoughts were necessary.”

Andrew Berg:

I hate to repeat what Max already said without adding a ton of analysis, but ILB was also the group that came to mind for me. From reading Coach B’s breakdown of the Inge defense and talking to him on the podcast, it sounds like the linebackers will be in a position to read and react with speed and physicality more so than in the last couple of years.

Our previous defensive system demanded that the interior defensive line filled up multiple gaps, so the ILBs had to be able to anticipate the gaps they would need to fill. We saw so many times that someone like Jackson Sirmon was left on his heels and without the kind of elite speed it would take to comprehend everything that was happening on the play AND closing down the lanes for a ball-carrier.

I’m optimistic about the change for two reasons. One is that it should be a simpler approach for our LBs. I’m not against a complex scheme in theory, but when we see players struggling with it, simplification can help resolve the issues. The second reason is that it appears the the coaching staff knows that improving the unit’s speed will be important. Adding Cam Bright and Kristian Moll proves that closing speed matters more than pure brawn. If we get Eddie Ulofoshio back relatively early in the season, that’s another very talented, athletic backer who can help in that unit.

The unit that worries me most is the secondary.

I have written about my worries in the DB room before. There is a lot of talent, but our starting CBs appear to be an FCS transfer and a former walk-on.

We became accustomed to elite player development in the secondary. Jimmy Lake, for all his faults as a HC, identified secondary talent extremely well and developed it even better. Whatever pixie dust was turning our DBs into early-round NFL draft picks year in and year out is no longer part of the coaching staff. Moreover, we already had some struggles with our safeties. Maybe the reason is that our coaches became too cautious and played them so deep that they weren’t able to make positive plays, but it’s also possible that they just are not elite players. The hype machine has been behind Dom Hampton starring at the Husky position, but we’ve hardly seen him play and we’ve never seen him in that role. There’s a lot of uncertainty and expecting the secondary to remain one of the best in the country could be a recipe for disappointment.

Gabey:

The 2-gap v 1-gap interior change is another great point. Obviously the inside linebackers were... not great... regardless since BBK graduated, but I think you’re right that the interior scheme exacerbated their weaknesses even more. Particularly true given that interior d-linemen weaknesses in the former philosophy would then be passed down to the inside linebackers in what is essentially the football version of “shit rolls down hill” if you don’t have exceptional talents in the interior line a la Veets and Gregory S. Gaines (I have no clue what Greg Gaines’ middle name is so this is my best guess).

Coach B:

Greg F. Gaines (a la Myles M. F. Gaskin).

I think a good candidate for a positive surprise is the RB room. After only going for ~1500 yards on 3.3 ypc with 4 experienced and talented RB, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Just two years prior in 2019 we rushed for 2200 yards with McGrew and Newton as contributors. I know that there was turnover between 2019 and 2021 (Ahmed was a big part of our rushing success in 2019), and I get that we had even more turnover in the RB room this off-season, but I think we’ve done a good job of overhauling the room to fit what we want to do.

The holdovers from last year’s RBs are talented and have some experience, and although Dumas and Taulapapa might not have the flashy resumes of more notable RB transfers, they immediately raise the floor of the rotation and have untapped potential. They have well-rounded skillsets and a combination of vision and contact balance to get the hidden yardage on every carry that Gaskin was so good at getting.

I think we’re going to see a continued effort to add speed to the group, but we’re set up well to see a big step forward just from a scheme fit perspective.

I’m with Andrew on the DBs being a surprise disappointment. I think the defense as a whole might take a step forward but the aggressive style of defense might leave the secondary exposed if pressure doesn’t materialize from the front seven. We’ve had a good track record of DB development under the last staff but we can’t count on that moving forward.

Kirk DeGrasse:

For the sake of adding other position groups to the discussion, I’ll nominate the iDL for “positive surprise”.

Obviously a lot of that depends on your current view of a position group, but I think it’s reasonably safe to say that the play of the iDL wasn’t viewed overall in a particularly favorable light last season (giving up 194 ypg/4.76 YPC will do that).

I think this group could get a new coach bump, and I think Inge’s version of the 4-2-5 is going to give these guys a little more support than Lake’s version did which should improve the perception of their play. If Letuligasenoa remains healthy I think he’s one of the better iDL in the conference and an honors candidate. While the Huskies have to replace Taimani, his production wasn’t eye-popping, and between Peihopa, Tunuufi and (hopefully) a healthy Tuitele, there are multiple candidates to provide an average or better option next to Tuli. Add in Bandes, Ale and Finau and there are additional pieces that could provide solid rotational depth (I’m assuming the Parker twins will get a redshirt year).

Just to shake things up on the other end of the equation, I’ll nominate the QB room. That’s not because I don’t think there’s talent there or that DeBoer’s offense shouldn’t do a lot to improve the results for that group. It’s mostly a combination of A) Penix’s injury history and B) expectations might be a little too high in anticipation of the DeBoer playbook replacing the Donovan playbook.

If Penix gets hurt — and at this point in his career, we should probably assume that will happen — will Morris or Huard be ready to step up and provide high-level play? The Haener example at Fresno State speaks well of DeBoer & Grubb and how a QB can thrive under their watch, but I think it might take a full season for either of those two guys to shake off the demons of the Donovan era and be able to run the DeBoer offense at a high level.

Andrew:

QB was the other position that came to mind as a potential concern. Like you alluded to, we’re assuming that DeBoer turns at least one QB with spotty on-field performance (at best) into an above-average performer. On the plus side, he did it with Penix at Indiana and Haener at Fresno. On the other hand, it’s probably dangerous to assume he is magical.

Gabey:

Any more thoughts here?

Coach:

“‘Alas I do not’ ~Gabey” ~Coach B


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