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Mailbag: Here in a Flash

Answering your questions as we’re now just a handful of days from the season opener.

NCAA Football: California at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

You had questions. I had what we’ll charitably call answers. It’s game week mailbag time. Husky nation, let’s ride!


What happened to Smalls, he is not mentioned much- Chris Taylor

Probably a more apt question is what failed to happen for Smalls? Last season Smalls played the 3rd most snaps of any of the edge players behind Ryan Bowman and Cooper McDonald. It’s natural without going much further to think that with both of them gone (to eligibility and transfer respectively) that Smalls would be next in line.

Of course it’s more complicated than that. Both Bralen Trice and Jeremiah Martin played nearly as many snaps as Smalls last year. It’s fair to say there wasn’t a clear hierarchy among them for the old coaching staff. Meanwhile, Zion Tupuola-Fetui would’ve played more snaps than Smalls had he been healthy for more of the season. What has happened now is that ZTF reclaimed his spot above Smalls on the depth chart as expected. Then Trice and Martin have either taken their play up a notch or are just viewed as better fits than Smalls under the new defense.

It seems like there was a legitimate 3-way competition for 2 spots on the edge and that Smalls was on the outside looking in for that 4th place on the depth chart. Subsequently his name didn’t come up very often although Chuck Morrell gave him a shout out in yesterday’s intro press conference. There appears to be a pretty wide gulf between him and the 5th place on the edge. He’s going to feature as a part of the rotation this year. And it would be great to see things fully click for him midway through the season and see his playing time increase. We’ll see.

Who do you believe should be the football staffs highest priority recruit in the 2024 class of all players currently offered that they have a realistic shot of getting a commitment from?- Young Pup

I think the clear answer here has to be Jason Brown. He’s the top running back outside of the state of Florida. That’s a position where the coaching staff brought in 3 transfers to try to stabilize and it’s clear they don’t have a lot of faith in the majority of that room to produce. Wayne Taulapapa is being touted as by far the #1 back by the staff and he’s a grad transfer and so the future of that spot on the roster is unclear.

Brown is at O’Dea high school which for a while was as close to a feeder school for UW as it got. The greatest Husky running back of the last decade played the same position at the same school so you would hope that Myles Gaskin could be convinced to help out with the recruitment. On top of all of that, the top offensive guard in the country in 2024 is one of his blockers and getting one would hopefully help with the other.

Now I won’t begrudge anyone for saying that Brown doesn’t count as a recruit with which we have a “realistic shot”. Any advantage that the Huskies had in getting local products was seemingly obliterated over the last 3 years. When you throw NIL in to the mix I don’t love our odds of beating out USC or Oregon let alone Alabama and Georgia who are real considerations. But similar to the JTT or Egbuka recruitments you absolutely have to make Brown a priority up until the moment he has signed somewhere else. Somehow getting a commitment from Brown would be the Budda Baker moment for DeBoer and co. It would take a major flip for that moment to come in the 2023 class.

I know I’m completely biased; however, deep down I feel like we are underrated. We have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. The real question mark for me is at quarterback. If we get solid play at that position, do you think we have a good shot at playing for the conference championship? I don’t think I’m dreaming. -Otis

A good shot? No. A shot? Sure.

If you want to make a case for the Huskies as a darkhorse conference championship contender it starts with the schedule. This is a year where it’s possible that UW gets hurt by the conference’s decision to do away with division winners for title game consideration. Utah is expected to be the best team in the conference and no team has a higher upside than USC if everything clicks with their instant remodel. If divisions were still a thing it really would only take Oregon struggling in year one under Dan Lanning for the Huskies to sneak in there. Now we also need to finish above 2 of Utah, USC, and UCLA to get into the picture.

Still, not playing Utah and USC gives Washington a big leg up if they end up being the 2 best teams in the South. I’d feel a lot better about it though if we had last year’s conference schedule and this year’s team. Instead, we still miss Utah and USC but have to play both UCLA and Oregon on the road rather than at home. And UCLA we play on the road on a short week. Bare minimum Washington has to win one of those 2 games to have a shot and also can’t slip up in any of the games against the bottom half of the league. That’s a tough ask unless DeBoer is the absolute truth.

What 3 things do you think would need to be satisfied to consider this upcoming season as a success/progress? -Measuring Progress

  1. Have a competent (top half of the conference) passing offense.
  2. Field a balanced defense.
  3. Win at least 2 of Michigan State, at UCLA, at Oregon, and at Washington State.

There’s really no excuse for this Husky team to not be able to throw the ball at an above average level barring catastrophic injury luck. Maybe it turns out that none of Penix after so many injuries, Morris after the mental trauma of last year, and Huard as unproven are actually all that good at quarterback. But it really seems from the outside looking in that they have enough in the tank to run what looks to be a great offensive scheme. They also have a really talented receiving corps and an offensive line that has no more excuses. If it doesn’t immediately pay dividends with a large improvement then it’s a sign of concern. Things were so bad last year that “slightly above average” represents a major leap.

I’m not expecting that the defense is going to go out and lead the conference but I do expect that we shouldn’t be able to know what’s about to happen to us on every snap. Basically I’m fine with the pass defense taking a step back as long as the run defense takes a step forward. Can they run a defensive scheme in which we don’t dare a team to do one thing and then also not stop that thing at all? That would be progress.

If the Huskies happen to win at least 3 of those 4 games then it’s hard to imagine DeBoer not becoming an instant folk hero. If they only win 1 of those games it’s technically possible to finish 9-3 by cleaning up the rest of the schedule but that team probably drops a few 50/50 games as well. It’s possible in that regard to get the team up to competent but not show a true reversal. Winning at least one road game against a team I think will be in the top half of the conference and either a second one or the toughest non-conference game shows instant proof of concept even if there’s a few head scratchers that accompany it elsewhere on the schedule.

Much has already been written about current Huskies to keep an eye on, but what Husky commit/s are you most looking forward to watching on the high school gridiron this fall? -Lockerstalker31

I mentioned the pursuit of Jason Brown above so the running back position is worth paying attention to this fall. If Tybo Rogers has an absurd year and looks like a future star it helps take the pressure off on the Brown recruitment for 2024. Rogers missed his first game due to injury but it’s always fun to see RB highlights when they’re clearly better than their high school competition. Second place to Anthony James because I would love it if his senior year stats matched his status as the ringleader of the recruiting class. And sacks are fun.

Do you believe that the offensive line woes will continue under Scott Huff or that the regime change will lead to improved results? -Offensive Line Woes

Something tells me that’s not your real username...

Can I say both? I do think the offensive line will look better this season. Putting out a scheme where the defense has to think for an extra split second about what the opponent is doing is going to help. That said I’m not 100% convinced we suddenly see a dominant mauling offensive line. I could see a world where Kirkland and Bainivalu play through nagging injuries that keeps them from peak performance (DeBoer hinted yesterday that Kirkland isn’t 100% right now). Meanwhile, Luciano and Rosengarten are unproven at center and right tackle. I obviously hope that it all gels and they perform well as a unit but it’s far from a guarantee.

I’ll ultimately go with the middle ground prediction. The offensive line is better than it was last year but there are still some key moments where they aren’t able to hold up. The performance is just good enough for Scott Huff to keep his job even though some fans want a change. Not ideal but just feels right.

Compared to when CP came in, DeBoer has/had a LOT more to work with as far as roster and talent. I am curious about your take on how a handful of position groups have been nearly completely revamped (like LB and RB). Do you think we all just thought we had a pretty talented roster cuz we are Husky fans, do you think there had been a bit of a fall off with Lake and Co, and/or do you think the (boring) answer of “new system, new fit” is what is going on? -Bertolli is back to crap on Ragu!

As is usually the case, it’s a confluence of several of those factors. Let’s take a look at the running backs and linebackers separately.

It seems pretty clear that part of the difference in the RB room is a new system issue. Jimmy Lake and John Donovan were pretty clear in their recruiting style at that position. They wanted “bruisers” who were comfortable running up the middle against a stacked box. Power and strength were prioritized over agility and change of direction. Guys like Caleb Berry and Jay’Veon Sunday were from day one potential roster casualties due to fit and Berry has since transferred while Sunday is (sadly because I loved his HS tape) buried on the depth chart.

There’s also an element of homer blinders that happened as well. Richard Newton and Cam Davis were bad last year. The system didn’t help but Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant clearly played better in the same system with the same personnel around them. Newton is still not back to full practice following his ACL injury so he hasn’t been available and Davis missed the spring due to injury and was also reportedly banged up for a bit in preseason camp.

If you take Newton out of the equation due to injury and with the transfers of Berry plus Emeka Megwa (who was never healthy while he was on campus, despite his potential) it left you with the following. Cam Davis who has only shown flashes but was hurt in the spring. Jay’Veon Sunday who pretty clearly doesn’t fit the system. Sam Adams who was a former 4-star but also missed the spring due to injury and has 0 career snaps. It’s not exactly a surprise that the staff went out and brought in some more guys through the portal.

At linebacker there have been a litany of woes leading to a nearly unprecedented amount of attrition in recent years. I think by now we have evidence that Daniel Heimuli isn’t particularly close to being the player we the fans and the recruiting services thought he would be coming out of high school. Jackson Sirmon transferred. Edefuan Ulofoshio got hurt. Carson Bruener had one great game and a few not so great ones at the end of last season. Alphonso Tuputala has played 104 career defensive snaps while grading out well below average at Pro Football Focus.

I don’t think there was a Husky fan alive who said “we’re good, stand pat” at that spot. Tuputala starting over Bruener is probably in part attributable to the scheme change but especially once Ulofoshio got hurt it was vital that reinforcements were found via the portal.

CP was often viewed as an offensive mastermind/guru, and the 2016 offense was indeed pretty exciting to watch. Do you think the DeBoer/Grub offense will match or surpass the CP offensive scheme (be that PPG, excitement, effectiveness, whatever category you want to use)? How many seasons do you think it will take to do so?- Prego is better than Ragu, fight me!

If you use 2016 as the standard bearer for the CP offense and try to go with a stats-based argument then the odds are against DeBoer/Grubb ever reaching that level at Washington. The Huskies that year were 8th in the country in points per game and 4th among power conference teams. The quarterbacks of the three power conference teams ahead of them? Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson. You could either argue that this is clear evidence of that oft-rumored shoulder injury that zapped some of the zip from his arm. Or that Chris Petersen is a God getting those results out of an eventual UDFA.

When it comes to excitement I think structurally the DeBoer offense might quickly be able to surpass the CP one. Petersen’s offense relied on a ton of pre-snap shifts to read what the defense was planning and attack where it was weak. There ended up being plenty of long touchdowns but the “fun” elements of the offense were largely individual skill (see: Ross, John) from the skill positions. But in order for the results to match the peak of the Petersen era we need to see how long it takes for DeBoer to get a legitimate high draft pick QB running the system. Obviously the hopes were that Huard is that guy but to this point it’s getting tougher to argue he’s on the roster right now.

Even if our DBs are still a strength from here on out, would you expect us to no longer be “DBU” with the departure of Lake? -Rhaego

If we continue to be DBU on the West Coast over the next half decade it will probably be because Juice Brown is one of our best recruiters and he is able to keep up the talent pipeline at that spot. Recruits aren’t always logical about the reputation for a school at a certain position group and who is on the coaching staff so UW’s reputation may help it at that spot even if the original coaches responsible for the reputation are gone.

All accounts are that Jordan Perryman looked like an absolute dude this fall. If he puts up a 1st team all-conference type season and gets drafted it will help keep up the legacy and the bonafides of the coaching staff. Otherwise Alex Cook is the only other member of the secondary who will be out of eligibility and right now isn’t a projected draft pick. It’s not obvious who else is a future early draft pick across the rest of the secondary. The odds are someone breaks through but the days of essentially every single starting corner on the roster being a 1st or 2nd round draft pick are probably over. There’s still room to have a consistently great secondary and not reach that ridiculous threshold though.