Plenty of Questions Heading Into Fall

Spring Football answered a number of questions. First, it confirmed that Keith Price is the undisputed number-one quarterback at Washington. Secondly, it promoted a starting five along the offensive line, an OL that played together the entire spring. The defensive secondary appears set. But what questions still hang over the team as they prepare for the 2013 season? There are plenty.

1) Injuries will play a real factor. This is kind of a no-brainer, but if the Huskies are able to get players like Travis Feeney, Hauoli Jamora, Pio Vatuvei, Lawrence Lagafuaina, Jesse Callier, Deontae Cooper, and Colin Tanigawa back, all could present Washington with some great problems to have in terms of figuring out how to make sure they are all utilized to their maximum potential. But who will come back 100 percent by fall camp? And how long will it take them to regain full fitness? Steve Sarkisian indicated during the final practices of spring that all those who did sit out spring due to injury are expected back for fall without any setbacks, but that's still a few months away. At this point it's hard to know exactly who can be counted on for big minutes. Feeney is certainly one on defense that is considered a crucial returnee. Getting a player like Callier back on offense could solve Problem Number Three, which I outline below. And the three defensive linemen are also critical in shoring up the middle of Washington's defensive line. Right there there's really no one there of note save Danny Shelton, and he's going to need help in a full 12-game schedule. Getting those guys back also frees up the coaches to determine whether or not players like Elijah Qualls and Joe Mathis can be redshirted or if they are just too good to leave on the bench. If Jamora, Vatuvei and Lagafuaina can't come back and contribute as needed, the Huskies won't have a choice; they'll have to play the true frosh.

2) Backup quarterback is still a question mark. Price established himself early in spring that his number-one spot was not up for grabs, and there really wasn't anything the backups did to give one the impression that this will be in doubt come fall. Spring Game (if you can call it that) really showed the lack of significant progress at quarterback (or is that strengths on defense? That's one of the dilemmas you face when you're playing against your own team). There are definite mitigating circumstances for the poor showing. First, the offense has been trying to implement a whole different dynamic to their attack, namely a no-huddle, up-tempo approach - and that's going to take some time to get together. Secondly, the backups are a solid group when it comes to running the ball, but they were off-limits to contact during the game. Cyler Miles had the clear edge in the stats department, throwing for three scores on 8-11 passing compared to Jeff Lindquist's 0-5 - but Lindquist was also the victim of a couple of clear drops. Miles is probably ahead of Lindquist, Derrick Brown and Troy Williams on the depth chart, but it's far from a given - especially with Lindquist's running as a real strength of this group. I could see conceivably Lindquist being used much in the same way his coach Marques Tuiasosopo was used as a true frosh in 1997; everyone knew he was just going to tuck it and run, but he couldn't be stopped anyway.

3) No consistent backup at running back. As was stated above, getting some experience back in the form of Jesse Callier would really start to alleviate some of the concerns here. As it is with Price, there's no question that Bishop Sankey is going to be used, and used often in Sarkisian's attack. But what happens when Sankey needs a rest? Callier could certainly jump in, but his availability in the first game of the season August 31st versus Boise State is going to hinge on his fitness more than his understanding of the new aspects of Washington's offense. It was telling that Kendyl Taylor got more carries in the Spring Game (12) than any other running back despite the fact that he was little used at RB during spring. For the large part of March and April the ones battling behind Sankey were Dwayne Washington and Erich Wilson, with redshirt frosh Ryan McDaniel's carries increasing as his knee became stronger and stronger. Washington is the most intriguing option; the former receiver has size, athleticism, speed and physicality. In short, he has all the pieces to be a more-than-capable backup to Sankey for this year - all he needs is experience gained through playing time. Wilson, who played in six games as a true frosh, is the more conventional runner of the two. McDaniel, when 100 percent healthy, will bring that physical, big-back presence the Huskies sorely need during short-yardage and goal-line situations, taking over for the departed Dezden Petty. But who will step up with quality carries in Sankey's absence? No one definitively stepped up during spring, so the competition will continue well into fall.

4) Still haven't figured out a second receiver (or third, for that matter). Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins combined for 134 catches and 1572 yards in 2012; they accounted for nearly 55 percent of the catches for Washington. That equals a heavy, heavy reliance on two players for the bulk of your passing game production. One of the biggest questions coming into spring was - who would join Williams and ASJ in the 'go-to' category for Keith Price and the other UW quarterbacks? That question still remains unanswered today. There were players that certainly 'flashed', as Sarkisian would say. Senior James Johnson started out strong but couldn't keep up the pace after 130-plus plays per practice. Kevin Smith is unfortunately never going to get back to his explosive self after his knee injury, but he had moments too. Antavius Sims was a most pleasant surprise during the Spring Game. He really had not had a big spring until that point, but led the team with five catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns. DiAndre Campbell had a steady, if not unspectacular, spring. Jaydon Mickens had arguably the best spring of all the receivers, so there's a chance he could be one of those 'go-to' receivers - but he didn't have one catch in the Spring Game. That kind of inconsistency has been a problem. And with Seferian-Jenkins' indefinite suspension, the tight end position has been nothing short of miserable. Michael Hartvigson and Evan Hudson were there at practice, but that's about all I can say about them. They rarely made a play downfield. So all that said, it was really a long way of saying - hello Darrell Daniels, Damore'ea Stringfellow and John Ross! Based on what I saw this spring, the answer to UW's receiving distribution issues will be placed squarely on those three incoming frosh. It wouldn't surprise me to see at least two of them play significant minutes in the fall.

5) Special teams needs serious sorting out. Historically under Sarkisian special teams just haven't been a huge focus during Spring Football. Add to that the arrival of true frosh kicker Cameron Van Winkle during the second half of spring camp and all sorts of unanswered questions remain - although in Sark's defense that was largely to be expected based on how he typically runs things. But who has the edge in the placekicking battle? Who will kick off? Who will punt? Who will field kicks and punts? The inclusion of Van Winkle was supposed to give Travis Coons a much-needed break from triple duty (punt, kicks and kickoffs), but there wasn't anything Van Winkle did during the last three weeks of spring to take any job away from Coons. He does have a strong leg, there's no question about that. But accuracy is another issue entirely. Granted, the Fall City native has all summer to get used to making the jump from high school to college - and at the very least he should be able to provide deep kickoffs with some measure of consistency, especially if he can't win the placekicking gig outright. The punting job is a wholly different story. There's no proof that Korey Durkee has made it out of the mid-season funk that got him replaced last year - but in his defense we just didn't see much of him at all this spring, so it's really hard to tell exactly how that spot will shake out. Derrick Brown, perhaps? Crazier things have happened. And the inclusion of true frosh like Ross and Jermaine Kelly mean more competition for the returners. I certainly don't believe Marvin Hall has the punt return job on lockdown and Sarkisian now has all sorts of game-breaking options at kick return, including Shaq Thompson and Marcus Peters. So again, Spring Football is over and there's almost nothing that has been answered about the Huskies' special teams.


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