Where They Stand: A look at UW’s LB Position

We continue our position-by-position look at what happened this past season, the returning players and we give our thoughts on what things might look like in 2015. Today, we look at the linebacker group, a group that will lose a couple of key starters but has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Can they pick up where Shaq Thompson and John Timu left them?

2014 Review - Much like the defensive front, Washington loses a huge chunk of their defensive production. Two of the top three top tacklers on the team - John Timu (120) and Shaq Thompson (91) - will have to be replaced. It may be a while before the Huskies see another all-around performer quite like Thompson, who won the 2014 Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s more versatile player. I can’t remember a player that had four defensive touchdowns in one season, but Thompson did, highlighted by his 100-yard scoop out of the air and score versus California. Timu has been one of Washington’s steadiest defensive players, and not just for this year but for the last three seasons. Losing him from the middle of the Huskies defensive front seven will not be overcome easily. The much-anticipated 2013 linebacker class didn’t really do much in 2014; only Keishawn Bierria had any measurable impact in the two-deeps. That can be attributed to the Thompson-Timu-Travis Feeney lineup getting a lot of play, with Cory Littleton and Scott Lawyer also getting their shots to play in a backup capacity.

Returning Players

Travis Feeney (6-4, 218, RS Sr.)
Cory Littleton (6-4, 229, Sr.)
Scott Lawyer (6-2, 225, RS Sr.)
Psalm Wooching (6-4, 225, RS Jr.)
Keishawn Bierria (6-1, 221, RS So.)
Azeem Victor (6-3, 244, RS So.)
Sean Constantine (6-2, 224, RS So.)
Connor O’Brien (6-3, 238, RS So.)
Drew Lewis (6-2, 189, RS Fr.)
Matt Preston (6-2, 199, RS Fr.)*
Jake Wambaugh (6-2, 206, RS Fr.)*
* denotes walk-on
Incoming Freshman

Tevis Bartlett (6-3, 215)
Jusstis Warren (6-3, 225)
D.J. Beavers (6-1, 205)
Ben Burr-Kirven (6-0, 200)
Kyler Manu (6-1, 220)
Position Overview

Travis Feeney - Feeney finished 2014 with 63 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Those numbers will certainly go up in 2015 as he anchors Washington’s linebacking corps. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound senior-to-be from Richmond, Calif. has always been known as a hard hitter, constantly sizing up the other team’s ballcarriers and trying to inflict as much punishment as he can. Sometimes that works out with spectacular, Sports Center-type decapitations and such, but other times his aggressiveness can take him out of plays, especially when teams are on to it and use his reputation against him. But in the end his athleticism and speed almost always win out when trying to make a play, and his length has also made him a useful attacker on the edges and dropping back in coverage, where he’s been known to tip a pass or two or even snag them for a pick-six like he did versus Colorado.

Cory Littleton - The true senior-to-be from Spring Valley, Calif. had 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack in 2014. Obviously those statistics are bound to improve as Littleton helps the other upperclassmen take over for Timu and Thompson. Littleton was always a player that was pushed into action too early, but he’s continued to get better over the years. At times it looked like he would be pigeonholed into a very specific role along the edge of the defensive line, but the 6-foot-3, 229-pound Littleton is athletic enough to handle any linebacker role that’s thrown at him.

Scott Lawyer - Lawyer played in 10 games in 2014, coming up with 20 tackles and 1 tackle for loss, but the majority of his play happened during the time when Thompson was asked to take over the reigns at running back. While Shaq was running wild over the Colorado Buffaloes, Lawyer was handling his business with five tackles and a forced fumble. There’s no question the 6-foot-2, 225-pound San Jose native will have to really ramp up his development in 2015, because that’s all that’s left in terms of his eligibility. Next year is it, so it’s perform or get left behind.

Psalm Wooching - In some ways, the same could be said for Wooching, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior from the Big Island, but he has some mitigating circumstances. When he was recruited by Steve Sarkisian, Wooching picked the Huskies over UCLA to play offense - specifically running back. He ended up being more of a fullback/H-Back for a year and then in Sark’s last season was moved to defense. And despite having only two tackles in eight games for the Huskies in 2014, Wooching possesses intriguing athleticism and size. He’s also a rugby player, which adds to his reputation as a tough kid who is ready to take that next step.

Keishawn Bierria - The 6-foot-1, 221-pound Bierria had 36 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 sack in four starts in 2014. The one player from the 2013 linebacker signees asked to play a lot on defense, Bierria also was a presence on special teams. Brought in primarily as a ‘spread killer’ that could go sideline to sideline and disrupt wide plays with his speed, Bierria is another versatile outside ‘backer that could play either side of the MIK at a moment’s notice. There’s no question that, at least starting out in 2015, Bierria has a chance to start or play a significant amount as a member of the two-deeps.

Azeem Victor - Victor, who chose Washington after initially committing to San Diego State, came to Montlake with the reputation as being a big hitter and the future at middle linebacker. So far that rep remains intact, but the 6-foot-3, 244-pound native of Upland, Calif. has had to cut his teeth on special teams and wait patiently while Timu finished out his eligibility. As such, Victor only ended up with 5 tackles in 12 games, mostly in mop-up time. Throughout spring and fall camp Victor was the one busting people up when the play would go live, so at this point it’s simply a matter of getting the playbook down and understanding everything so that he can run things as the MIK. The Lawyer/Victor battle inside during spring ball should be one of the featured battles to watch.

Sean Constantine - Constantine, another Bellevue product, has been going slowly but steadily in his development, finishing the 2014 season with three tackles in five games played. Just based on game action alone, the 6-foot-2, 224-pound Constantine would have to be considered a bit behind the rest of the pack, especially since those tackles were all racked up during the first five games of the season. It’s hard to know exactly what the plan is for Constantine, whether or not he’ll fight for a place inside or be used as an outside linebacker, but he needs to start really ramping up for a big 2015 if he stands any chance at making a substantial impact down the road.

Connor O’Brien - What I just wrote could almost be lifted verbatim for the 6-foot-3, 238-pound O’Brien, but it makes more sense that because of his size, the Trabuco Canyon, Calif. native would factor more into the inside linebacker competition than outside. He also played mostly special teams the first five games of the season, coming up with one tackle.

Drew Lewis - The Eastlake star sat out 2014 getting bigger, faster, and stronger, and he needed to. At less than 200 pounds, the 6-foot-3 Lewis had to bulk up to take the punishment when you’re a Pac-12 linebacker. But Lewis is a very instinctual player, has very good speed, and could end up being another ‘spread killer’ for Pete Kwiatkowski to work with. Another reason to like Lewis coming up through the ranks in 2015; he’s a smart kid and football runs through his veins. His father was in the Seattle Seahawks front office for years and his brother plays at Pittsburgh.
2015 Preview - UW Linebackers Coach Bob Gregory thinks highly enough of walk-ons Matt Preston and Jake Wambaugh that they could end up having a role within this room in 2015 - but make no mistake; the sophomores are the ones that have to be accounted for as reliable backups to the upperclassmen. Feeney and Lawyer will have to step up as the leaders of the linebacking corps, and they are capable of doing that. Lawyer and Azeem Victor, especially, will be the ones tasked with taking over for Timu and making sure the spine of the group suffers little in the way of drop-off. Wooching’s play in the fall looms critical to help make up for Hau’oli Kikaha’s matriculation, and he spent all of 2014 learning from the senior. On January 6th he tweeted out: “2015 season starts now!! #SuicideSquad #D-Front #PassRushx10000”, so it’s pretty easy to see where he’s coming from. Both Wooching and Littleton will be the ones responsible to trying to match Kikaha’s production.

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