Spring battles to watch

Now that National Letter of Intent day has come and gone, it is natural to turn your attention full-time to Lorenzo Romar's hardwood Huskies. But in less than two months, some serious competition for football depth will occur at the Dempsey Indoor facility.

Some of the positions that will see fierce battles waged include left tackle, wide receiver, tailback, and at defensive end. Let's take a little more detailed look at each.

Left Tackle: With the departure of Senio Kelemete, Washington will look to fill that job with players that are battle tested. Micah Hatchie (6-5 285 Soph) will most likely begin the spring session at the top of the depth, but mammoth Dexter Charles (6-4 293 RS-Fr) will also look to challenge for reps at that spot. Hatchie is still filling out, and looks like he has the feet and long arms to make a good blindside guy. He toiled behind Kelemete for two seasons and will now hope the 20 pounds he's added since arriving will be put to good use. Charles is a beast and could be used elsewhere if he is not able to crack Hatchie's hold on the position. He has yet to play one snap of a Pac-12 football game, so while he is talented, it might behoove him and the program to take more reps in the depth before getting thrown into the fray where the bullets are live. Erik Kohler (6-5 298 Jr) has been a starter for most of his first two years in the program. Although struggling against quicker defensive linemen at times last season, he still is learning. He should start peaking in his third year as a Husky, and is versatile to play either tackle position or move inside and play guard. Ben Riva (6-6 300 Soph) looks more suited to playing the strong tackle position, and his ascension there would allow for Kohler to make the switch to the left side and push Hatchie. Competition across the board is good for everyone.

A likely scenario would include a rotation of three tackles, with Hatchie taking most of the snaps with the starters and Kohler or Charles taking the rest and providing dependable depth. Riva will figure at the strong side with Charles and Kohler also competing for that starting job. If Riva or Charles (or both) emerge as Pac-12 ready, it would allow Kohler to slide back inside and play what might be a more comfortable position for him, offensive guard opposite Colin Porter. No one knows how long Colin Tanigawa will be out with his injury, so it would really benefit the offense to have both Riva and Charles make the jump from the bottom of the depth into the twos. Drew Schaefer (6-4, 301 Sr) will be the lone senior on the line, manning the pivot.

Wide Receiver: Normally when you lose two very productive receivers, it foretells a dip in performance the following season. This is not the case for Washington, who has stockpiled an amazing array of talented pass catchers. Kasen Williams (6-2 212 Soph) is an incredible specimen. He is huge, difficult to tackle, has very skilled hands, and can out-jump anyone on the field because he has an absolutely sick vertical leap. Williams will take over for Devin Aguilar as the middle receiver that makes the catches just behind the linebacker drop zones. Kasen had 36 receptions last year for 427 yards and six scores. Expect all of these numbers to increase significantly in 2012. James Johnson (6-1 198 Sr) should lock in at another position. Johnson had 28 catches for 366 yards and four scores last year, and just behind him was Kevin Smith (6-0 209 Jr) added 15 receptions for 209 yards and although he didn't find the end zone, his blocking and size posed big troubles for secondaries. These three receivers are all ready to assume starting roles. Senior Cody Bruns (5-11 175 Sr) returns from a redshirt season to add even more experience and great hands. DiAndre Campbell (6-1 195 Soph) got lost in the depth last year but with a solid spring, he should be ready to catch more passes from Keith Price in the games.

A likely scenario would include Williams at the X, Smith at the Y, and Johnson returning as the Z receiver. Bruns would work in at the slot, and Campbell would provide another option on the outside. It's a talented group of receivers that will all see significant action.

Tailback: Chris Polk takes his 1,488 yards from last year into the NFL a year early, so Sark will look to a committee of three experienced backs to take his place. While none of the backs on the roster look ready to carry the ball 293 times as Polk did in 2011, together they should be able to assemble a rushing attack that will get the job done by committee. Jesse Callier (5-10 200 Jr) will begin the spring at the top of the depth, and provided Polk with a nice change of pace and some rest. He had 47 carries, and should easily double that next year. Challenging him will be Bishop Sankey (5-10 193 Soph), who looks explosive and is a tough guy to bring down. Sankey touched the ball 28 times from his tailback spot in 2011 and averaged almost seven yards per carry. If Callier is number 1, Sankey will surely be 1-A. I think both could get upwards of 100 carries next year. The wild card here will be Deontae Coooper, who Sarkisian brought in with great fanfare. Cooper (6-0 199 Soph) hasn't played since high school, as he had to sit out both 2010 and 2011 with separate knee injuries. Cooper was known for his straight ahead speed prior to his injury, and he was tough to bring down. What he brings to the table this spring should be interesting. If he heals up as the staff hopes, he provides a much different look than either Callier or Sankey. It would be an ideal situation to have a third bona-fide Pac-12 back to give some carries to. Johri Fogerson (6-1 205 Sr) also has experience, but most of that came in 2009. He has been injured for the better part of two years, but when he played he was productive as a third-down type of receiver out of the backfield.

Defensive End: With the injury to Hau'oli Jamora, it opened the door for Josh Shirley to make his run to the top of the depth chart. Jamora (6-3 247 Soph) should return but I'm not sure if he'll be ready by spring to challenge once again. Hopefully he can add about 10 more pounds to his frame during his rehab from a knee injury. Shirley (6-3 229 Soph) also returns. Although undersized, he really came on during the last two games. Against WSU he had 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while in the Alamo Bowl he had three sacks. He needs to add some weight to his frame but his impact has already been felt. If he can get upwards of 250 and remain nimble, he'd be a real beast. He is one of the strongest defensive linemen on the team already. In a 3-4 scheme, it would be interesting to see if he could adapt and move to outside linebacker. I'm unsure of his ability to play side to side. His forte seems to be coming forward from the edge. Andrew Hudson (6-3 231 Soph) is in a similar position as Shirley, and both will play. Hudson looks to be a bit lankier than Shirley so he may add weight a little easier if his metabolism allows. Talia Crichton (6-3 255 Sr) returns for his final season. He has been in the program a long time but has yet to really crack the top of the depth. He may find it hard to unseat Shirley and Hudson. Sione Potoa'e (6-2 276 Jr) may also figure at the defensive end position if he can stay healthy. He plays tackle mostly but in a 3-4 he might slide outside. He was not very productive last year so this could be the year he breaks out. This spring would be a great time to start the move up the depth, and it could come here at defensive end. Jarret Finau (6-2 254 RS-Fr) spent the year redshirting and looks to be a very good prospect at end.

Those are four of the more hotly contested battles to follow this spring. Here is a likely two-deep look for March:

QB: Keith Price (6-1 195 Jr), Derrick Brown (6-3 236 RS-Fr)
TB: Jesse Callier (5-10 200 Jr), Bishop Sankey (5-10 193 Soph)
FB: Tim Tucker (6-1 240 Jr), Jonathan Amosa (5-11 230 Sr)
TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-6 258 Soph), Michael Hartvigson (6-6 254 Soph)
LT: Micah Hatchie (6-5 285 Soph), Dexter Charles (6-4 293 RS-Fr)
LG: Colin Porter (6-4 322 Jr), James Atoe (6-6 337 Soph)
C: Drew Schaefer (6-4 301 Sr), Siosifa Tufunga (6-2 311 Soph)
RG: Erik Kohler (6-5 298 Jr), Mike Criste (6-5 280 Soph)
RT: Ben Riva (6-6 300 Soph), Erik Kohler (6-5 298 Jr)
WR: Kasen Williams (6-2 212 Soph), Kevin Smith (6-0 209 Jr)
WR: James Johnson (6-1 198 Sr), Cody Bruns (5-11 175 Sr)
WR: Kevin Smith (6-0 209 Jr), DiAndre Campbell (6-1 195 Soph)

DE: Hau'oli Jamora (6-3 247 Soph), Sione Potoa'e (6-2 276 Jr) OR Jarett Finau (6-2 254 RS-Fr)
DT: Danny Shelton (6-1 334 Soph), Semisi Tokolahi (6-2 334 Sr)
DE: Josh Shirley (6-3 229 Soph), Andrew Hudson (6-3 231 Soph)
OLB: John Timu (6-1 220 Soph), Scott Lawyer (6-2 198 RS-Fr)
ILB: Thomas Tutogi (6-1 244 Jr), Cooper Pelluer (6-3 225 Jr)
ILB: Jamaal Kearse (6-2 224 Soph), Garret Gilliland (6-0 226 Jr)
OLB: Princeton Fuimaono (6-1 215 Jr), Matthew Lyons (6-2 197 RS-Fr)
SS: Sean Parker (5-10 202 Jr), Travis Feeney (6-4 203 RS-Fr) FS: Nate Fellner (6-1 201 Sr), Will Shamburger (6-0 192 Jr)
CB: Desmond Trufant (6-0 184 Sr), Adam Long (5-10 173 Jr)
CB: Greg Ducre (5-10 173 Jr), James Sample (6-2 191 RS-Fr)

This will likely change as competitions sort themselves out, as the new defensive staff implements their packages, and again in the fall when the talented freshmen class arrives.


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