Post-Spring Top-40: Top-5

SEATTLE - There were a ton of great stories and great performances coming out of Spring Football for the Washington Huskies, and now it's time to take roll call. Who had the best spring? Who made the biggest jumps? counts down the top-40 from Spring Football, five players at a time. Yesterday was 10-6; now it's time to unveil the Top-5.

5 - Kasen Williams/James Johnson - As deep and as talented as the wide receiver group is at Washington, these two could have been ranked even higher if it weren't for the work done by the defensive backs - who definitely did their level best to frustrate the WR's and get in their heads. But with Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar having matriculated and Kevin Smith still out rehabbing a knee injury suffered in the run-in to the Alamo Bowl, there was no question Williams and Johnson performed heads and tails above the rest of the receiver corps during Spring Football. Williams, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound sophomore came on like gangbusters at the end of the 2011 season, his play punctuated by the stunning high-hurdle over Washington State's Nolan Washington in the Huskies' Apple Cup win. And Johnson signaled a return to action by catching 28 passes for 366 yards in 2011 despite working through an ankle sprain that essentially took all of 2010 and part of 2011 away from him. Big things were expected for the 6-foot-1, 198-pound senior from Valley Center, Calif. straight away in 2009 after he scored the first touchdown of the season against LSU with his very first catch as a Husky - a pretty heady feat for a true freshman - but injury robbed Johnson of what could have been a record-setting career. As it is, Johnson's right leg was a-okay in April, allowing him to really pick things up and have the best spring of all the receivers, leading them in the Spring Game with six catches for 42 yards. It took a while for Williams to get on track, but he eventually caught two passes for 31 yards. Many, many times the media would be caught after practice late on the field, waiting for players to finish up or making sure they had all their interviews done - and during those times it wasn't a surprise to see Williams and Johnson working with Keith Price on timing routes and building that chemistry and intuition that the great quarterbacks and receivers have. The verdict on the overall competition between the receivers and defensive backs during Spring Football came in for the defense, in my opinion, but that just spurred the top receivers on to work even harder to find ways to separate and make plays.

4 - Sean Parker - Ever since Parker, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior safety from Los Angeles, made his commitment live on Signing Day over USC and Michigan, big things have been expected of the hard-hitting, instinctive safety - and he hasn't disappointed. In 2011 Parker started all 13 games, finishing as the top returning tackler and interceptor, finishing his season off in fantastic style with 15 tackles against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. Washington fans could argue they haven't seen a proper safety duo since 2000, when Hakim Akbar and the late Curtis Williams were patrolling the deep third with reckless abandon. With Justin Glenn, Will Shamburger, James Sample, Travis Feeney and Shaquille Thompson all in line to partner up with Parker this fall, there's no question the secondary could be as secure as Washington has had in over a decade. With all the experience and talent returning, Parker's role for Spring Football was much like Desmond Trufant's; stay healthy, get the work in, and immerse himself in Justin Wilcox's new 34 scheme. And he was able to do all those things and get through April unscathed - so in that sense Parker's spring camp was perfect. Because Wilcox played safety in college, Parker will be seen as Wilcox's eyes and ears out there on the field. Wilcox's words are in good hands because Parker is as rock-solid as it gets when it comes to positional play. With Parker and Trufant organizing the back level for the Huskies, Wilcox has a real chance to turn the Huskies' defensive fortunes around.

3 - Keith Price - We all know about what Price, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior quarterback from Compton, Calif., was able to do in 2011; he set UW all-time records for touchdown passes thrown, season completion percentage and passing efficiency, among others. During his 13 games played Price came on like a thunderbolt, seemingly getting better and better the more his mobility was taken away from him - the reason being he had to rely more on his substantial abilities as a pocket passer. But since Price does own some elusiveness when he is at 100 percent, Washington fans are still wondering what he might be like when he has his full physical arsenal at the ready. They should get a look September 1st versus San Diego State, as Price was able to get through all of Spring Football healthy and running around as well as he had since the first game of the 2011 campaign, but still was saddled with the use of a heavy knee brace on his left leg. Just like the receivers, Price's spring was a mixed bag in terms of effectiveness; early on when the defense was soaking in Justin Wilcox's teachings there were huge gaps of space for the receivers to run into, but by Spring Game the defense had made things incredibly tough for Washington's passing game - both in the coverage aspect, as well as pocket pressure. In the end the struggles the Washington offense went through in Spring Football could be a godsend because it forced Price and his teammates to alter their play and adjust to what they saw, meaning it will only add to their working encyclopedia of defense and the counters they can use every time they see a certain look on the other side of the ball. Since Price is the heartbeat of Washington's offense, it was no surprise to see him working long after practice was over with his receivers on all the little things in an attempt to try and find that edge they'll need in the fall to excel. Clearly Washington's first goal for the 2011 season is to keep Price upright for the full season, because we all know what he is capable of when he's given time to throw.

2 - Danny Shelton - Every Washington fan saw exactly how a top defensive tackle could impact a game when a player like Alameda Ta'amu was right; the 2010 Holiday Bowl was a perfect example where Ta'amu literally rolled the middle of Nebraska's offensive line, which in turn allowed Washington to take the Cornhuskers down 19-7, revenging a big loss to NU earlier in the year. Football has always been about the battle of the trenches, and while it's been arguably 15 years since the Huskies have had a truly dominant offensive line, it's been even longer when talking about a defensive front that could literally take over football games. In 2012, Washington has one of the Pac-12 top returning sackmasters (Josh Shirley) as well as one of their DL heartbeats in Hauoli Jamora - but the defensive line will go this fall as Shelton goes. The 6-foot-1, 323-pound defensive tackle had the best spring of anyone on that side of the ball, and it all had to do with his consistent work ethic and off-season physical improvements. Even though Shelton played in all 13 games last year, he was brought along slowly as Ta'amu's protege. By the time he made his first start - Washington State - he was fully ready to make the kind of impact expected of a prep All-American, and his play has continued to ramp up. This spring, Shelton was given the middle all to himself as part of Justin Wilcox's 34 scheme and he ate that space up, causing all sorts of havoc to UW's centers and guards. Shelton's April wasn't without incident; his temper certainly got the better of him a time or two, with one incident having him roar off the field - his helmet used as a weapon against a defenseless signpost. But points like this simply underscore why Shelton has become so important for the success of Washington's defense in 2012; it all starts with him. If he can successfully and consistently collapse the pocket, it will allow for Shirley, Jamora, Andrew Hudson, Talia Crichton, Connor Cree, Corey Waller and other UW edge rushers one-on-one attacks, which is all you want if you're coming from the outside. And if the Huskies' DL can provide a consistent push forward where they are forcing quarterbacks to make quicker decisions, that can really have a ripple effect for the rest of the defense. It gives the linebackers belief they can anticipate routes and what teams will do in certain down-and-distance situations, and it also mitigates a lot of the damage play-action passing teams can have with time in the pocket. If it's vitally important to keep Keith Price upright if the Huskies are going to score points at the pace they did a year ago, it's up to Shelton making it through the season if UW has any chance to turn around their defensive fortunes from the nightmare of 2011.

1 - Austin Seferian-Jenkins - There are a few that could have been named No. 1 - both Price and Shelton certainly deserve mention here. But if there's one that stuck in my mind during Spring Football, it was a comment made to me by former UW quarterback Hugh Millen, when talking about what he had seen during the practices he had been at. The first thing he mentioned was the 'two star quality targets' Price has - one of them being Kasen Williams. But the first one he mentioned was Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound sophomore tight end from Gig Harbor. Now we know Hugh has gotten a little over the top when he falls in love with certain players - Jake Locker is a prime example - but I found it incredibly hard to draw much of an overstatement in what he said about ASJ. "Seferian-Jenkins is a man among boys out there," he said. "He's in his second year of college football and he's an absolute man among children." Yup, pretty much. I remember seeing Austin work out after his freshman year at Gig Harbor thinking he was going to the second-coming of D'Brickashaw Ferguson. I told him as much. Every time I explained to him how much more left tackles were paid in the NFL than tight ends, he never bought into my logic once. In fact, I'm sure it just crystalized the idea that I had no clue as to what I was talking about. No way did I think he could stay that fast at that size; I just assumed nature would take its course and he wouldn't have a choice but to move to tackle because Mother Nature thought best. Mother Nature already knew, so did Austin…and after his senior season at Gig Harbor I was finally a believer. There was never a shadow of a doubt when it came to his immense talent. The only other big athlete to be able to run, catch and dominate from his position like Austin has already shown is Jerramy Stevens - and it even took a few years for Jerramy to get to where Austin is. Despite becoming a key cog for the basketball team, it didn't take anything away from his abilities to make his presence known in April when it came time to strap the pads on again. And Seferian-Jenkins was right there with Price and Williams when it came to being the last players off the field at the end of practices; while the other two were usually working on routes and timing, Seferian-Jenkins was sequestered on the other side of the field, next to the blocking sleds - working on his technique. And that's the scariest thing of all when talking about ASJ's gaudy physical talents; he doesn't take them for granted - not for a minute. And that's what's going to take him from being the top tight end in the Pac-12 to being the top tight end in the country.

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