With spring football just around the corner, here's a position-by-position look at the roster and what to expect over the next month

The Washington Huskies went from being very strong to downright exceptional at linebacker in 2015. They were in the middle of everything the Dawg D did, helping that unit to arguably their best statistical season since Jim Lambright’s 1993 defense - the last UW defense to allow less than 200 points in a season. And that group only did it in 11 games. 

And last year's linebackers did it after losing their two three starters from the 2014 season - Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha, and John Timu. The heart was ripped right out, but the 2015 crew got on with their jobs and actually performed statistically better than that group, something no one thought possible. 

How did they do it? As a group, with two seniors leading the way in Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton and sophomores Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria stepping up big-time when called on. 

But 2016 means expectations are just as high for a linebacking room that out-performed expectations in 2015. And that’s just the way they like it. 


Position Group (By Class)

Psalm Wooching (6-4, 230, Sr.)

Azeem Victor (6-3, 227, Jr.)

Keishawn Bierria (6-1, 226, Jr.)

Sean Constantine (6-2, 232, Jr.)

Connor O'Brien (6-3, 240, Jr.)

Tevis Bartlett (6-2, 229, So.)

Ben Burr-Kirven (6-0, 215, So.)

Matt Preston (6-2, 219, So.) *

Jake Wambaugh (6-1, 230, So.) *

D.J. Beavers (6-0, 224, RFr.)

Kyler Manu (6-1, 237, RFr.)

Jusstis Warren (6-2, 250, RFr.)

Gerran Brown (6-2, 213, RFr.) *

Amandre Williams (6-3, 223, Fr.)

* = walk-on


The Returners

Victor and Bierria are the only UW returning linebackers with any starting experience, totaling 27 career starts between the two of them. They will be undoubtedly the anchors for the room in 2016. They were the top two tacklers on the team, accounting for 42 percent of the total linebacker tackles on the season (408).

That sounds good until you realize that Littleton (65), Feeney (56), and Scott Lawyer (22) accounted for 51 percent of all linebacker tackles in 2015. It means two things: 1) Victor and Bierria have to reproduce their 2015 totals at a minimum; 2) The other returners need to step up and fill a void like Victor and Bierria did. 

It means players like true sophomore Ben Burr-Kirven, who played in 12 games and had 34 tackles, or senior BUCK Psalm Wooching, who played in all thirteen games and had 23 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss, need to play their butts off. Wooching, who moved from defensive end to the linebacking corps in 2015, has a chance to step in for Feeney now that he has a year at the BUCK spot under his belt. He showed flashes of brilliance, but also some moments he’d rather forget. If Wooching can keep his head and stick to the task put in front of him by UW Linebackers Coach Bob Gregory, the sky is the limit. He’s a fierce competitor and a tough player - a ‘War Daddy’ in the making if he allows himself to be.

Sean Constantine, Tevis Bartlett, and Connor O’Brien totaled 32 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks in 2015; their output needs to double at a minimum. Constantine and Bartlett played in all 13 games last season, so expect them to step up their roles from stop-gap performers to vital role players. It’s also O’Brien’s time to shine; he has all the physical attributes you’d want in a dominant linebacker.  

Even the two returning third-year walk-ons, Jake Wambaugh and Matt Preston, have some experience from 2015. Wambaugh played in six games, Preston two. Can they take that next step as well? 


The New Guys

As you have already noticed, the Huskies have seven returning scholarship linebackers for four positions; that means they can’t put together a proper two-deep without either dipping into the walk-on pool or counting on a redshirt frosh or two to step up. 

But don’t fear - there are some players poised to do just that. In fact there are three you could see make their impact felt this spring - Jusstis Warren, Kyler Manu, and DJ Beavers. All three redshirted for just this situation; get bigger, faster, stronger to come roaring out of the box in spring prepared to shock and awe. 

Now the only question is; will they do it?

Warren has bulked up 11 pounds, now weighing in at 250 pounds. That’s a sizable jump. But the former Tacoma Lincoln star was brought in chiefly because of his pure athleticism and ability to run and get after people as a big man. He can do it. But how much of Gregory’s scheme has he absorbed in a year? How far has he come as a football player? We’re about to find out.

The same goes for Manu and Beavers, who made big jumps in their weight gains as well. Manu gained 12 pounds and Beavers 13. Those are the kinds of moves you would expect under Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim Socha, so they are on track in terms of what they should be getting out of their bodies. But what about on the field? Both should get long looks this spring, especially Manu, who actually came to UW early last year to acclimate. There’s no reason he can’t make that push to the next level and be a contributor in 2016.


What Does Spring Mean For This Group?

Well, there’s no question the linebacking group is in a much stronger position heading into spring of 2016 than they were a year ago. After losing their top three performers, there were question marks galore; the remaining 2015 linebackers answered the bell, and then some. 

Heading into this spring, it feels almost like a luxury the Huskies return their top two tacklers from the group in Victor and Bierria, as well as five other scholarship players that saw large chunks of playing time last fall - including two true frosh in Burr-Kirven and Bartlett. They should certainly progress this year to the point where they can start if need be and work toward getting 50-plus tackles each in 2016. Those are very attainable goals. 

Replacing the BUCK and SAM spots are the first order of business. Wooching should have first crack at the BUCK spot, but Littleton’s position should be up for grabs. We saw last spring under Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski when he had at least eight guys go through the line at BUCK during spring and fall ball, he’ll try body types from all over the UW front seven when looking at that spot. It gives him a wealth of flexibility when looking at down and distance situations. He’ll have no shortage of willing applicants to try and fill Feeney’s shoes in 2016. 

In short, the linebacking corps is deep enough and talented enough to replicate what they did in 2015 and push beyond. But they’ll need a productive spring to keep the returners on track and the new guys to threaten the status quo. It’s a nice balance between getting the older guys the work they need to stay sharp while also making sure all the young, fresh faces get that chance to capitalize on golden opportunities to step up and do what the players in front of them did just one year ago.


Best Guess Spring Depth Chart 

BUCK (weak side outside)

Psalm Wooching (6-4, 230, Sr.)

Jusstis Warren (6-2, 250, RFr.)

Amandre Williams (6-3, 223, Fr.)

WIL (weak side inside)

Keishawn Bierria (6-1, 226, Jr.)

Ben Burr-Kirven (6-0, 215, So.)

Matt Preston (6-2, 219, So.) *

Gerran Brown (6-2, 213, RFr.) *

MIK (middle)

Azeem Victor (6-3, 227, Jr.)

Sean Constantine (6-2, 232, Jr.)

Kyler Manu (6-1, 237, RFr.)

Jake Wambaugh (6-1, 230, So.) *

SAM (strong side outside)

Tevis Bartlett (6-2, 229, So.)

Connor O'Brien (6-3, 240, Jr.)

D.J. Beavers (6-0, 224, RFr.)


Spring Position Preview - Quarterbacks

Spring Position Preview - Running Backs

Spring Position Preview - Receivers

Spring Position Preview - Tight Ends

Spring Position Preview - Offensive Line

Spring Position Preview - Defensive Line

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