I don’t care what the weather report tells you, spring is officially upon us over on Montlake. No amount of rain on my parade of anticipation can deter the advent of spring camp for the Huskies. Looking to build on their second 12-win season in school history, Coach Petersen and his staff have an exciting blend of skillful, seasoned veterans and inexperienced - but skillful - youngsters.
The roster is loaded with talent from top to bottom, but the Dawgs need a fair share of athletes to step up and take ownership of new roles. Whether it’s a new starter or reliable rotation player, spring ball will allow plenty of players to make an important impression heading into the summer.
Here are a few breakout candidates to watch over the next few weeks.
#17 JR 6'2" 229-pound OLB Tevis Bartlett
This is kind of a slam dunk of a pick. In fact, the junior-to-be already has “broken out” in some ways. Did you know that Tevis Bartlett finished second on the Huskies in tackles for loss last season? He was one stop in the backfield shy of double digits in that category. The Wyoming native was a crucial contributor to last season’s PAC-12 leading defense, however it seems his production did not get the recognition it deserved. Now that he’s the front runner to assume the starting SAM linebacker spot, Bartlett will have the chance to take his play to the next level, while attracting the acknowledgement he’s earned.
#8 SO 6'3" 270-pound OLB Benning Potoa'e
The strength of the defense appears to be the front seven. Returning starters Vita Vea, Greg Gaines, Azeem Victor, and Keishawn Bierria are joined by a pair of juniors that have enjoyed flashes of brilliance on the field in Jaylen Johnson and Tevis Bartlett. The most intriguing competition up front is at BUCK linebacker, where senior Connor O’Brien and Benning Potoa’e will make their cases for playing time. Potoa’e looks the part of a phenomenal pass rusher. His body and his athleticism rival the nation’s top sack specialists. Entering his third season as a Husky, we’ll see if it’s time for that natural ability to translate to game day success.
#88 JR 6'5" 259-pound TE Drew Sample
The home grown tight end has been a fixture in Washington’s offense since his redshirt freshman season, starting in 18 of 27 career games; however, he only has 14 catches to show for it. His size and physicality earned him early playing time as a blocker, but one of Sample’s strong suits is his soft hands. Without the likes of Josh Perkins and Darrell Daniels to consume targets, look for Sample to increase his production in the pass game.
#23 JR 6'1" 183-pound CB Jordan Miller
The hero of the Husky Combine, Jordan Miller is one of the many candidates capable of coming out on top of Washington’s wide open cornerback competition. The lengthy Californian has played in all 27 games since enrolling at UW, tallying two interception and a fumble recorvery over the course of two seasons. Coaches and media members witnessed his nose for the football last offseason; his big play ability earned him Best Spring Performance recognition in 2016 from Scott and me in last year’s Post Spring Awards. The frame, the 4.39 speed, and the 41” vertical jump are irresistibly enticing. Another great spring performance from Miller should shoot him to the top of the seating chart heading into fall.
#59 SO 6'6" 295-pound OL Henry Roberts
Another top-recruit from Bellevue, Roberts enters his redshirt sophomore year with an opportunity to earn a starting spot. Beefing up to 295 pounds can do nothing but help him move bodies around in the trenches. A new offensive line coach gives way for a fresh start for Roberts. Spring will literally be an ever-important first impression for Henry as he makes his case for left tackle duties.
Each of those five have legitimate chances to start at their respective positions. The 2017 season is plenty far from today, but each practice this spring presents an opportunity for these guys - as well as the other participants in camp - to showcase what they can bring to the table for the Huskies.
P.S. Here’s a little bonus for you; let’s take a look at five guys you might not be talking about, but should be.
#37 6'4" 256-pound OLB Bryce Sterk
As I’ve been waiting for spring camp to kickoff, no player has caught my eye more than Bryce Sterk. First, his body is makes for the perfect pass rusher. Additionally, he’s a mover; the Lynden High School graduate was an accomplished sprinter in high school, finishing second in state for the 4x400 relay. With Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching out the door, look for Sterk to take advantage of the additional reps.
#81 6'5" 234-pound WR Brayden Lenius
After serving a suspension to start the season and eventually redshirting, Brayden Lenius is an exciting bounce back candidate. With a starting spot up for grabs, Lenius’ size and experience play into his favor; the junior has 27 games and six starts under his belt. He’ll get the chance to impress new coach Matt Lubick on Monday and force his way back into the receiver rotation.
#91 6'2" 292-pound DL Ricky McCoy
A high school tight end, McCoy can move for a defensive lineman. Elijah Qualls’ departure removes an interior lineman from the Washington Husky depth chart, nudging the redshirt sophomore closer to playing time. He’s got the size and athleticism to create problems for opposing offensive lines. Names like Vita Vea, Jaylen Johnson, and Greg Gaines stand in front of him on the depth chart, but depth in the trenches is incredibly valuable. Look for McCoy to provide that this year.
#84 SO 6'4" 246-pound TE Michael Neal
After redshirting his first year on campus and missing time with injuries in 2016, Mike Neal hasn’t played in a football game since his seven-touchdown senior season. The Etiwanda High School alum is as physically impressive as they come; hopefully a clean sheet of health will allow him to start tapping into his potential. Darrell Daniels’ departure vacates 17 catches worth of production. Neal has the size and athleticism required of pass catching tight ends. Now in his third year with Washington, we’ll see if he takes the necessary steps forward.
#24 FR 6'0" 191-pound RB Kamari Pleasant
Kamari Pleasant, who graduated from the same school as Mike Neal, finds himself in the middle of a very deep running back room. Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman return to improve on their stellar 2016 season’s, while fellow freshman Sean McGrew will look for his chance to get some handoffs. However, Jomon Dotson’s move to the defensive backfield made me wonder if Pleasant has shown flashes of greatness this offseason. Even with an exceptional one-two punch, the Huskies will need to rely on more than just two backs. Pleasant has an ideal body for a PAC-12 running back; we’ll see on Monday how much a season to learn the system has benefitted the freshman tailback.