When you are watching the offense, there is a real tendency to watch the quarterbacks because, well, frankly, they touch the ball on every play unless something goes heinously wrong.
However, I looked closely at the guys catching the ball from the quarterbacks, and one kid consistently stood out.
Kevin Smith is a 6-0 197 pounder from Centennial High School in Compton, California. He has much better speed than I was led to believe, and on returns he looks like one of the more dangerous options available to special teams' coordinator Johnny Nansen.
I was thoroughly impressed by his hands, but more so at his ability to get in and out of a cut smoothly without losing any quickness. When you can change direction like that is when cornerbacks and safeties have their "oh $%^t" moments. Smith will cause a lot of those this year, mark my words. He is miles ahead of where he was last year.
"They have to get this kid on the field," said Dick Baird, former UW coach and current analyst for KJR950 and Dawgman.com. "I love what that kid is doing. He can be a monster."
Dave "Softy" Mahler is a regular at practice, and he echo's Baird's sentiments.
"He has a different gear than the other guys. He is very fast without looking like he's running very hard. He has Reggie Williams type of potential if he is willing to work for it. He is a big time talent."
Of all of the receivers I watched, Smith consistently stood out. I feel that he will be a solid contributor opposite Kearse.
And how much fun was it to see a tight end actually become a weapon in the passing game? Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the real deal. He is such a physical presence, and he is good at getting open. His hands looked very good to me for a true freshman. Both Price and Montana love having that huge target nearby to throw to, you can see it in their eyes. He will most likely start, and I could easily see him make 20 receptions.
Mahler called Seferian-Jenkins perhaps the best looking tight end he'd seen on Montlake in the last 10 years. It's hard to disagree with that assessment, but then again, there haven't been many memorable tight ends since Jerramy Stevens left.
Michael Hartvigson also looked good and ready to step up and play meaningful minutes.
That is going to mean the world to a young quarterback, to have a short-to-intermediate target to throw to for a high percentage completion. That option was pretty much dead after Kevario Middleton took his troubled show on the road out of Washington.
The offensive linemen that really surprised me at how well they've progressed are Mike Criste and Colin Tanigawa. These guys are performing at a pretty high level already, and James Atoe is not far behind them. They are young and green, but the talent in the trenches is deeper than it's been in some time. They are probably a year away from being really good, but I was excited by what I saw.
Criste has a very impressive lean body, standing about 6-5 and 280. Another year in the weight room and he's going to be a monster. Tanigawa is already 3-bills plus, and moves well enough to play either center or guard.
Moving to defense, on the defensive line the guy that stands out head and shoulders above the rest is Josh Shirley. He has a linebacker body but his 400+ bench press allows him to get off blocks and his speed gives him great leverage to get around the end and into the backfield. He looks very close to being a star.
Mahler and Baird both felt that he was god enough to play on every down at defensive end, which would really be saying something given that he's only 225 pounds and just a redshirt-freshman. He is a special talent though, make no bones about it. He is just scratching the tip of the iceberg of what he will do when he's 240-plus.
The last position group I checked out closely were the linebackers. I got to stand next to former UW linebackers coach Dick Baird when I was doing so, which lent a lot of insight while we watched them compete.
I was really excited to see Jamaal Kearse, and I was not disappointed at all. The first thing you see when you take a look at the redshirt freshman line up is his size. At 6-2 230, he is the prototype body you want at that position. Then when you see him move, you are reminded that he played running back in high school. It's fun to see. He made a lot of plays when we were watching, enough so to make me feel comfortable if he wins the starting job. He's young and he will make mistakes, but his skill and talent level are such that playing him now is worth the immediate benefits as well as the long term gains in experience. That being said, my initial thoughts after spring were that Kearse might be just a shade behind, but that gap could close in the fall.
Garret Gililand is one of Baird's favorites. That is a kid that when you look at him looks as if he might fit in just as well with the band. He is not imposing at all. However he makes plays. And then he makes more plays. And he is very rarely out of position. He is smart and of all the linebackers not named Cort, is the best at lining up correctly and playing the scheme without flaw. And he is one of the more sure tacklers of the linebackers. He was impressive when I saw him, and do feel that he will start and play a lot.
Princeton Fuimaono and John Timu were the other two that stood out to me. They look quick in the schemes, they are physical, and both looked better than Thomas Tutogi or Tim Tucker at this point. Fuimaono has gotten bigger and Timu is a beast. His build reminds me of Ink Aleaga's when he was playing. All of them appeared well ahead of Jordan Wallace, who looked as if he had the tendency to get sucked inside too often when Baird and I were watching.
So if you ask me for a list of guys that you might not otherwise watch for this fall, based on spring performances I'd tell you to look at WR Kevin Smith, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, OL Mike Criste, OL Colin Tanigawa, LB Jamaal Kearse, and LB Garret Gililand. Some of these kids may even start by fall, but all of them have bright futures and speak volumes about the type of talent Sarkisian and his staff is loading the roster with.
Link to Spring Snippet #1: Click Here
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