Spring Battles to Watch - Linebackers

One of the most surprising aspects of the 2012 Washington Huskies was their linebacking corps which consisted of a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. One will miss the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, but that will only allow for several inexperienced players to find reps so they can figure out how they fit into the grand scheme of things...

Princeton Fuimaono Sr 6-1, 210
Thomas Tutogi Sr 6-0, 242
Taz Stevenson Sr 6-1, 215
Jamaal Kearse RS Jr 6-1, 226
John Timu Jr 6-1, 231
Travis Feeney RS So 6-4, 210*
Scott Lawyer RS So 6-2, 223
Evan Zeger RS So 6-2, 223
Shaquille Thompson So 6-2, 220
Cory Littleton So 6-3, 230

(* recovering from injury)

Experience returns: If you asked anyone who follows the Huskies closely, the prospect of starting a sophomore (Timu) inside to go along with two freshmen (Thompson and Feeney) was nearly vomit inducing, at least on a figurative level. However, those three, to go along with Littleton, form what could be the eventual rise back to power of the Washington linebackers.

Timu, who moved from outside to inside linebacker, led the team with 94 stops while Feeney finished tied for third with 76 (while missing four games due to injury) and Thompson finished fifth with 74.

Littleton, while only seeing spot duty, showed enough to make the coaches encouraged about what he can do with a year in the system and the weight room.

Tutogi played quite a bit last season, but it was mostly against power-running teams. He finished with 42 stops and the coaches seem to feel pretty comfortable with him in the depth if not challenging Timu for reps.

Lastly, Fuimaono is a two-year starter who has seen plenty of playing time at all three spots and he can fill-in where needed, like he did in 2012.

Youth movement: The Huskies are still very young at the position as Timu, Thompson and Feeney will all return in 2014 barring a career-ending injury (knock on wood), but they will get even younger when players like Keishawn Bierria, Connor O'Brien, Azeem Victor and Sean Constantine all enroll this summer. All four are players that fit in perfectly with the system the Huskies are looking to run, so this spring would be a great time for players like Zeger and Lawyer to show the coaches what they can do. Both Zeger and Lawyer have been impressive in offseason workouts the past couple of years, so now it's time for them to put it all together on the football field or they risk being passed over in short order.

Who will step up: Feeney will miss the spring and most of the summer while recovering from shoulder surgery, so this is the chance for Fuimaono, Kearse and Zeger to make their case for playing time. Fuimaono has the best chance if we go by past successes, however, big-plays always seem to happen when Kearse is in the game and Zeger brings the type of physicality to coaches are looking from in their players.

The real wild-card is Lawyer who has earned raves for his work-ethic and recruiting efforts and he's got the speed and athleticism to be a real playmaker in space.

Coaching makes a difference: Mike Cox obviously knows what he's doing. He's been coaching linebackers for ages and was a big reason that Kansas State's linebackers looked so good this season. However, he couldn't reach the players like Peter Sirmon was able to do and that was a big reason why the unit improved so much in 2012 and why they can be even better this fall and going forward.

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