Spring Preview: What To Look For

With 14 practices in the books and one left to go - Saturday’s Fan Fest and Spring Preview - we wanted to give you a quick blow-by-blow from what you might see in each position group as they roll through their last practice of Spring.

Quarterback - One thing you can be sure of; all three quarterbacks available - Jeff Lindquist, K.J. Carta-Samuels, and Jake Browning - will all get plenty of turns Saturday so you can see what they’ve been up to. I can’t remember the last time Jeff turned the ball over this spring, so he’s going to be the one to look downfield but more often than not quickly find the ‘easy money’ with the shorter, more open looks. And he always is a threat to run with his 245-pound frame.

Browning is the gunslinger of the group, always looking downfield first and more likely than the others to pull the trigger and try to fit the pass in even if it’s tight. And that’s why he’s had more interceptions than any of the three by a wide margin. That being said, the true freshman has also had probably the bigger ‘splash’ plays of the three, showing off his anticipation, arm, and fearless demeanor as a passer.

Carta-Samuels is almost literally (and figuratively) in-between Lindquist and Browning in terms of quarterback style, skill, and development. He will probably look downfield a little more than Lindquist, but not nearly as much as Browning. He is also a threat to run, like Lindquist, but won’t tuck it as much. He knows more of the playbook right now than Browning, but not as comfortable running things right now as Lindquist.
Running Back - It will be interesting to see if they let Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman a little more off the leash Saturday. Chris Petersen and Running Backs Coach Keith Bhonapha acknowledged the need for both the experienced running backs to get their work in but also understand the pounding they take during the season and the need to keep them as fresh as possible. They have gotten their turns, but not nearly as much as the other backs available.

Another reason for that is the need to get Jomon Dotson going. The redshirt frosh has definitely seen his fair share of action during spring and has looked very good as a quick change-of-pace back. He’s much smaller than the 220-pound Washington and Coleman are, so he offers a legit speed option to go with the rest of the group.

Don’t look for too much from Deontae Cooper Saturday. Because of some personal matters he needed to attend to, he missed enough of spring to where he’s just started to get going the last couple practices. More than likely you’ll see Dotson get the most carries, along with walk-ons Ralph Kinne and Gavin McDaniel.
Receivers - This is the one group that will probably look a little foreign to most fans. Jaydon Mickens, Marvin Hall, Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius are all back, but that’s pretty much it. John Ross is out, so unfortunately fans won’t get to see his blazing speed on display.

The first three are all about the same size and speed, with Mickens and Hall obviously being the more experienced receivers. Lenius is the one big target threat, standing 6-foot-5. He’ll stand out in a crowd for sure.

The rest of the group is walk-ons, the most notable right now being Max Richmond from Bellevue. He really had some splash plays Wednesday that helped the offense move during the final team period, and despite being only 5-foot-9 could actually do some damage in the fall depending on how the coaches decide to use him.
Tight Ends - In my opinion, this has been the steadiest group of the spring offensively, despite redshirt frosh Drew Sample missing a lot of it. The group is led by Joshua Perkins, and you’ll see plenty of him and Darrell Daniels. But I think the one player here the fans should focus on is David Ajamu. The sophomore from Shelton is the classic two-way tight end at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. Look for number 85; he should be a featured performer for this practice and also for the fall, as he can do the inline blocking that will be required, as well as go out and create mis-matches as a pass catcher.
Offensive Line - There’s been a few tweaks from last year, especially with the Huskies losing so many seniors. But left tackle Jake Eldrenkamp has now gone through two successive springs as the man, so he pretty much has that spot on lockdown. Dane Crane has taken a ton of turns at left guard with Dexter Charles unavailable, and Offensive Line Coach Chris Strausser has moved guard Siosifa Tufunga to center. It’s been a good change for Sifa, who seems to be flourishing as the quarterback of the offensive line.

On the right side of the line it’s been a definite resurgence for Shane Brostek. The junior from the Big Island actually started games at right game, most notably the Stanford win at CenturyLink back in 2012, but then lost weight, moved to defense, gained the weight back, moved back to offense, and now has found a home back where he started. It’s not the route the 300-pound son of former UW great Bern Brostek would have wanted to take, but he appears to be back to his best. At right tackle redshirt frosh Matt James has taken over that position while the Huskies wait on Coleman Shelton to recover from injury, and he’s taken well to the spot. Even though he’s a bit on the lighter side (273 pounds), he does come from a wrestling background and knows how to utilize what he has, which is great feet and tenacity.

As for backups to watch when the first team OL isn’t in, also check out the right side of the line. Jesse ‘Boomer’ Sosebee and Kaleb McGary have formed a nice partnership there and that could be a preview for coming attractions in the years to come.
Defensive Line - This is the position group where Washington fans are going to have to get acquainted with a ton of new numbers. Gone are 8 (Kikaha), 55 (Shelton), 80 (E. Hudson), and 93 (A. Hudson); in their places are 5 (Jojo Mathis), 11 (Elijah Qualls), 90 (Taniela Tupou), and 98 (Will Dissly). It’s never easy when you replace four seniors, but the 2015 defensive line brings energy, enthusiasm, and a will to pick up where the 2014 group left off. They know they can’t do it as individuals, but perhaps as a group with a deeper pool of talent they can make up the difference.

Mathis has become kind of the de facto ringleader, taking over that role from Shelton. Tupou will be the senior the rest of the group will look at for leadership inside, and Qualls has been getting better and better as spring has gone on. But Dissly could end up being the real surprise of this group - not just as a bigger end but also as a BUCK (hybrid DE/OLB) in the mold of Mathis and Kikaha. He won’t drop into coverage that much, but watch out for it!

Greg Gaines, Damion Turpin, and Jaylen Johnson will also be featured inside, while Jarett Finau and Psalm Wooching will be on the outside.
Linebackers - This is another position group where new numbers are the order of the day. Instead of seeing 7 (Thompson) and 10 (Timu) out there, you’ll be seeing more of big 36 (Azeem Victor), 47 (Scott Lawyer), and 42 (Cory Littleton). Littleton should be known to Dawg fans, but Victor taking over for Timu inside will be a new twist, and even though Lawyer did play in 10 games last year I doubt he’s considered a household name yet.

Victor, the 6-foot3, 239-pound sophomore MIK, has been patiently waiting his turn behind Timu, but this spring has been all his to impose his presence - and he’s done that. Number 36 will be in the middle of everything starting out, so he should be right in the fans’ crosshairs when seeing what the UW front seven will do on Saturday.

They are missing Keishawn Bierria right now, but that’s allowed other redshirt sophomores to step up, like Sean Constantine and Connor O’Brien, as well as walk-ons Jake Wambaugh and Matt Preston. But the two linebackers I think fans should focus on are number 16 (Drew Lewis) and 30 (Kyler Manu). Lewis, the redshirt frosh who played defensive back at Eastlake, has gained over 25 pounds since last year and is frankly a different player from the one who showed up last year. And the true frosh Manu will definitely play in 2015, as he is already Pac-12 ready in terms of size (6-foot-1, 224 pounds), and has made plenty of plays so far - albeit mostly in backup roles.
Defensive Backs - With as much heat as the true frosh corners and safeties took last year, they are now true-tempered for the road ahead. They’ve shown that improvement this spring, with Sidney Jones locking down one corner spot to the point where it became easily noticeable how the quarterbacks were avoiding his side of the field completely. With Naijiel Hale gone the first week of spring, that gave Darren Gardenhire the opportunity to get a lot of first team turns - and he took full advantage. The 5-foot-11, 181-pound sophomore had the most interceptions during spring, and when Hale came back he couldn’t supplant Gardenhire from that other first-team corner spot opposite Jones, despite the fact Hale has had a strong spring in his own right.

Like it has been with the receiver group, the defensive backs have a number of players out for spring so Defensive Backs Coach Jimmy Lake had to supplement his room with some walk-ons. The most successful this spring of that group has been Sean Vergara, a 6-foot-2, 174-pound redshirt frosh from Selah, who has been playing opposite Hale in the two-deeps. If you spy number 39 making some plays in the secondary, that’s Vergara.

At safety, one thing has become abundantly clear over the 14 spring practices this April; Budda Baker is the heartbeat and unquestioned leader of the secondary. As the sophomore from Bellevue goes, the rest follow. Watch for number 32 all over the place Saturday; it won’t be hard to track him. With Kevin King and Trevor Walker out, as well as Brandon Beaver, who wore a non-contact yellow jersey - Brian Clay has been the other safety Lake has gone to. Clay, the Hawaii transfer, is now a seasoned senior and a valued member of that defensive back group.

But fans should also take a long look at number 14, Jojo McIntosh, as well as new juco signing Ezekiel Turner. Once committed to UCLA, McIntosh eventually signed with Washington and is now starting to show why he was a coveted player. And Turner, who spurned Oklahoma to sign with the Huskies in December, is known as a thumper - so this practice format won’t be as conductive to number 24’s skills as a live game experience. Take into account that Turner is also very much learning on the fly and expectations for Turner to show up a lot Saturday should be tempered somewhat.
Specialists - The specialists have pretty well be lined up for 2015, especially in the kicking game. Cameron Van Winkle will once again take care of the placekicking chores, while senior Korey Durkee will again be Washington’s punter. Sophomore Tristan Vizcaino will be Durkee’s backup at punter and will be UW’s kickoff specialist.

The interesting part of special teams for Saturday will be in the return games. At kickoff return, Budda Baker, Dante Pettis, Jaydon Mickens, Marvin Hall, and Jomon Dotson have all been given some cursory looks. They haven’t done too much with full returns yet, so who might be the starting returners in the fall is still very much up in the air.

Pettis and Baker returning punts seems to be locked in right now. There’s been more work done in that area - under Chris Petersen’s watchful eye - and those are the two that have taken the vast majority of turns.

For those looking for more information on Washington's Saturday Fan Fest and Spring Preview, click on the link below. Fan Fest starts at 9:30 am and Preview starts at noon at Husky Stadium.

UW Fan Fest and Spring Preview Information

And the guys from Dawgman.com - Kim Grinolds, Chris Fetters, and Scott Eklund - will be on Sports Radio KJR 950 AM from 9-11 am Saturday morning previewing the day's events. To listen online, click on the link below.

Listen Live on Sports Radio KJR 950 AM

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