Mid-Spring Takeaways

With Washington’s spring football campaign now more than halfway done, it’s time to look back and give a position-by-position update as to what we saw and how things may shake out during the final seven practices of spring.

Quarterback: This is the position everyone wants to know about in terms of the three players available this spring - Jeff Lindquist, K.J. Carta-Samuels, and the true freshman Jake Browning. In its simplest terms, the most experienced guy was arguably the one furthest ahead when it comes to this fall’s expected competition for the starting spot, but that doesn’t mean Carta-Samuels and Browning didn’t have their moments. And you could also argue that the quarterback who has made the biggest strides from Day 1 through Day 8 is Browning, simply due to the amount of information he’s had to absorb in a short amount of time. He was the furthest behind in that area, but has picked things up very quickly.

There’s no question the starting quarterback won’t be named until well into fall at the very least, so spring has been a great measuring stick as to what each needs to work on. Lindquist just needs to be more consistent downfield, the same thing Carta-Samuels needs to do. Both have to show that they can keep their heads up and scan downfield to find breaking receivers in a scramble to make big plays. Browning just has to keep improving in all areas, but he’s already shown an ability to make throws that neither Lindquist nor Carta-Samuels have been able to make. He may make it tough for Chris Petersen to keep him on the bench, because he just might be good enough to make the two-deeps this fall - especially if Cyler Miles doesn’t make it back to Montlake.

Running Back: This spot has been the Jomon Dotson show so far, with the two walk-ons - Ralph Kinne and Gavin McDaniel - also featuring. Petersen told the media Friday the coaches are sensitive to the amount of contact and pounding the running backs get yearly, so they are being cautious with both Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman. They know what they have in those two backs, so it’s just a matter of getting enough work to keep them fresh and alert.

But Dotson, the redshirt frosh, gained 10 pounds in the off-season and still looks quick and fast. He’s the x-factor of the room, and with Deontae Cooper still gone from practice Dotson has taken his extra reps well.

I suspect we’ll see more of the same the second half of spring, with Dotson, Kinne and McDaniel getting the bulk of the carries. McDaniel is a little bigger than Dotson, but not much - while Kinne is the bruiser of the group. The amount of work Washington and Coleman may get could also depend on what the offense is working on that particular day. Last Friday they seemed to get a tad more work than before, so they could simply be ramping up their workload a little more.

Tight End: I’ve been most impressed with this group than any other group on offense. They have proven to be a very reliable group when offered up as pass-catchers, and they are also willing blockers when needed. And it starts at the top with Joshua Perkins and goes all the way to redshirt frosh Drew Sample, who was looking great until he was held out the last couple practices during the second week of spring. Sample picked up where David Ajamu left off, and when Sample was held out Ajamu came back in and picked up the slack without any problems. All four of the tight ends, a group that also includes Darrell Daniels - who is probably having the best spring out of all of them - have been productive. There’s no reason to suggest they won’t be just as productive during the second half of spring, and hopefully Sample will be able to get back in there and get his plays because he will be counted on in the fall.

Receiver: For the most part, it’s been Jaydon Mickens and Dante Pettis pulling in most of the big plays, with big man Brayden Lenius having plenty of moments as well. Senior Marvin Hall has had a couple very good practices so far in spring, but they’ve been sprinkled in. He needs to show he can step up and be counted on consistently if he is to be the factor Washington needs him to be this fall.

With John Ross out and four true freshmen set to enroll this summer to bolster the receiver ranks, it’s been up to a handful of walk-ons to provide bodies to make this position go. Expect the battle to be joined in earnest when Ross, Andre Baccellia, Chico McClatcher, Quinten Pounds, and Isaiah Renfro show up in July for LEAP. They are going to have to hit the ground running, and it’s going to be up to leaders like Mickens and Hall to make sure the quarterbacks and receivers are constantly running routes and working on timing during the summer to get ready for a busy fall.

Offensive Line: Plenty of changes have been going on along the offensive line this spring. Whenever you replace five seniors, it’s no easy thing. But Offensive Line Coach Chris Strausser is now in his second spring with nearly all of the OL (Kaleb McGary and Devin Burleson being the exceptions), so the familiarity and understanding is already there. They don’t have to learn on the job anymore.

Jake Eldrenkamp is going through his second spring in a row as the number-one left tackle, and he seems intent on making sure that spot is his come fall. Matt James, Andrew Kirkland, and Burleson have all taken turns at the position this spring, and we know Strausser was toying with Dexter Charles there a bit in an emergency role last year, so there are options. Charles has been limited this spring, but his situation is much like Washington’s and Coleman’s with the running backs; Strausser knows what the senior is about and he’s got the left guard position on lock when 100 percent healthy in the fall. In the meantime, Dane Crane and John Turner have been taking turns there while Charles gets healthy.

Sifa Tufunga has made the center position his this spring - of that there is little doubt. The move of walk-on Michael Kneip to center from guard is an intriguing on and makes all sorts of sense. Knew is a smart kid and tough as nails. Turner is another player that will get snaps at center at some point as Strausser evaluates all the linemen that he needs to be able to snap - even if it’s in an emergency capacity.

On the right side of the ball, the re-emergence of Shane Brostek as a factor at right guard has been one of the compelling OL storylines so far this spring. The son of former UW OL stud Bern Brostek, Shane came in with a lot of fanfare and even started some games at right guard as a true frosh. But it’s been two years since he started a game on the offensive side of the ball, and he redshirted the 2014 season. He’s back now, he’s gained all the weight he lost as a freshman, and he looks great.

Right behind him at right guard is one to look at for the future - Jesse ‘Boomer’ Sosebee. At 6-foot-5 and 313 pounds, he is a road-grader of a right guard. The pairing of him and McGary at right tackle - who is playing right behind Matt James as starter Coleman Shelton recovers from an injury that put his left arm in a sling - is a sight to behold. Their time won’t be this fall, but starting in 2016 it’s going to be tough to keep those two off the field.
Defensive Line: Just like it’s been on the offensive line, there’s been a real turnover in bodies along the DL as they try and replace four senior starters. With very little full pads contact work that we’ve been able to see, it’s just very, very hard to evaluate and put much stock into how the defensive linemen are doing. They are going to show up when they get to hit someone, plain and simple - and they just haven’t had that many chances.

That being said, it seems pretty clear who is getting the first team reps and who is starting to get left behind - at least for spring. Joe Mathis, who is playing the Hau’oli Kikaha BUCK position, is a focal point along the DL, as is sophomore Will Dissly, who has also gotten some reps there.

Inside, it’s been Taniela Tupou, Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines, Vita Vea, and Damion Turpin - while players like Jarett Finau, Shane Bowman and Jaylen Johnson have been working the bigger defensive end position that Andrew Hudson played in 2014. The numbers are there, but until we get to see some prolonged scrimmaging it’s unfair to speculate just how far the interior linemen have come.

But so far, Mathis and Dissly are the two that have turned heads as outside guys making plays - whether heading upfield or out in space.

Linebacker: Much like the receiver group, the linebackers are going to get a serious talent infusion this summer when Tevis Bartlett, DJ Beavers, Ben Burr-Kirven, and Jusstis Warren show up - but for now it’s a matter of figuring out who takes over for the departed Shaq Thompson and John Timu.

Travis Feeney is getting work this spring, but he’s wearing a no-contact yellow jersey so he’s limited in what he can do. When it comes to replacing Thompson, Scott Lawyer and Cory Littleton appear to be the linebackers that are working the most on either side of MIK Azeem Victor, the player who has been anchoring the middle of the LB corps. Linebackers Coach Bob Gregory said that Lawyer and Victor have been the guys responsible for making the calls, getting guys lined up properly and doing the job that Timu did during his time as a Husky. Only time will tell if they are as successful in that particular aspect as Timu was.

With another starter, Keishawn Bierria, out for spring, that has allowed some other players like redshirt frosh Drew Lewis and true frosh Kyler Manu to step up and get plenty of turns playing outside. Lewis has gained a whopping 27 pounds in the off-season and he looks the part of a guy that’s getting ready to take a crack at the LB two-deeps this fall. The same could be said for Manu, who certainly doesn’t look the part of a kid that would normally still be in high school right now.

The guys to really watch during the final seven practices of spring are the other redshirt sophomores, the guys in the same class as Victor and Bierria. That group includes Sean Constantine and Connor O’Brien. How much of a move do they make to become real factors for the fall? Constantine seems to be working more inside and O’Brien on the outside, so with turns waiting to be taken they will definitely get their chance to make an impact.

Defensive Backs: To say the defensive back group has been decimated this spring would be an understatement; when Naijiel Hale came back for the second week of spring ball it felt like a huge story just because of the difference it made to have another DB with starts under his belt back to play.

Defensive Backs Coach Jimmy Lake recently lamented the number of his guys out for spring: Jermaine Kelly, Kevin King, Brandon Lewis and Trevor Walker are all out, while Brandon Beaver is limited in what he can do while he wears yellow. That’s five guys that all have a chance to make an impact on the fall two-deeps.

As it stands, you’d expect guys to come in and fill those spots - and a couple have done just that, and then some. With Hale gone the first week, Darren Gardenhire took lots of first team reps and simply dominated his side of the ball. Not enough credit is being paid to Sidney Jones for the way he’s been able to lock up his side, but Gardenhire has simply been a revelation. For a player that played mostly special teams in 2014, Gardenhire has shown he’s more than ready to pick up the slack left off by the departure of Marcus Peters to the NFL and John Ross to the other side of the ball.

When Hale did return, the sophomore seemed to pick up right where he left off. With two starts under his belt as a true frosh, number 31 did nothing to suggest last week that he was rusty or behind in the playbook. Expect Naijiel to compete hard for that coveted starting corner spot opposite Jones. With King expected to move from safety to cornerback, fall camp for the CB’s should be mighty interesting indeed. In fact, it could get so tight where Will Kelly fit in? The sophomore started the first two games of 2014 before getting hurt for the rest of the year, and now he might end up the odd man out when it comes to the two deeps.

At safety, Budda Baker has been running the show ever since he started last year as a true frosh. There’s no doubt Budda has one of the safety spots on lock, so who is in contention for the other one? So far this spring with King looking at corner and Beaver limited, it’s been senior Brian Clay. But I suspect the second half of spring will see Jojo McIntosh make his move. The redshirt frosh has steadily improved each practice and by the end of last week had a couple of interceptions to show for his stellar play.

The x factor at safety this spring has always been the newcomer, Ezekiel Turner. As Lake clearly spelled out a week ago, the 6-foot-2, 204-pound Turner was brought in for his physicality. Lake mentioned they wanted to get more physical at the point of attack, especially in the run game where they’ll face backs like Oregon’s Royce Freeman, among others. Turner showed all of us what Lake was referring to when he stood up Dotson in a pad-popping tackle you could hear outside the stadium. But much like the defensive line, Turner’s game is all about playing behind full pads, so his full arsenal won’t be on display until the team scrimmages - which won’t be that often. But Turner still has all sorts of things to work on, including coverage skills and understanding the schemes and concepts UW wants to utilize before he can be counted on in live-fire scrimmaging. He’s behind, and how quickly he catches up in the second half of spring could very well determine how the UW coaches use him in the fall within their two-deeps.

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