Who is in the Mix?

SEATTLE - After three weeks of fall camp, it's game week! With that in mind, one of the biggest questions this fall has been - who is going to comprise Washington's two-deeps? Well, having gone to every open afternoon practice and even a couple of the morning ones, I feel like I have just enough knowledge on the situation to be really dangerous.

So in that spirit, I've decided to throw out there my own opinion of what the Washington coaches will undoubtedly unveil Monday morning - their two-deeps for the Syracuse game, played this Friday night in front of roughly 45,000 fans in New York, as well as a national television audience via ESPN. For those looking for a college football game on Friday night TV, the Huskies and Orange will be the only game in town, so to speak.

So with that in mind, here are my own projected two-deeps - which I admit is slightly more educated than just throwing darts against a board, but not by much. Here goes! (starters in bold)
QB - Jake Locker, Carl Bonnell, Ronnie Fouch - This group doesn't need a lot of explanation. Tyrone Willingham announced Locker as his starter in spring, and has never deviated from that decision. Bonnell brings the kind of leadership and resume you'd love to see in your backup. Hopefully Fouch will not have to see a snap this season, but if needed he has shown the ability to run the offense and make plays. He needs to get bigger and stronger, but he wouldn't be out of his element if called upon - which you can't always say about true frosh QB's.

RB - Louis Rankin, Curis Shaw/Brandon Johnson/Willie Griffin, J.R. Hasty - Calling the starter is again a no-brainer. Willingham has been lauding Rankin all fall for his ability to step up and really seize the moment this fall as a defining one for the senior from Stockton, Calif. The rest of this group is a hodge-podge. I'd include frosh Brandon Yakaboski here, but an injury just might set him back enough so that he may not see any action against the Orange. If you would have asked me a week ago on this position, I would have put Hasty as the clear No. 2, but now I'm not so sure. He's been on a stationary bike the past couple practices, and while he looks to be nursing something it honestly doesn't look like something that should be holding him back from working through the pain. For that reason, I'm putting the current frosh trio of Shaw, Johnson and Griffin (not a law practice on the east side, for those who were wondering) ahead of Hasty. I'm hoping J.R. will be a pleasant surprise at Syracuse - but I'm not banking on it.

FB - Paul Homer, Luke Kravitz - This position should be a strength for the Huskies, with Homer and Kravitz offering something different to the spot. Homer is the bruising lead-blocker, and the sure-handed pass-catcher. Kravitz is the one that could make big-plays happen as a single back. No matter who starts here, I believe both Homer and Kravitz will get plenty of playing time this fall.

WR - Anthony Russo, Quintin Daniels - I'm going to show three WR spots, just because Tim Lappano has been known to use one, two, three or four receivers to start a game. Russo is back to health, and shouldn't be hampered by a pinky that was busted up at camp. He's the most reliable returning receiver for the Huskies, and needs to be in there to move the chains.

WR - Marcel Reece, D'Andre Goodwin - Reece showed that he has big-play capability during the 2006 Apple Cup, and the UW coaches are hoping he can use that 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame to good use once again against the Orange. Goodwin - known as 'The Flea' - should see his first varsity action on Friday, and will do his best to put his 4.35 40 on display to stretch the Orange vertically.

WR - Corey Williams, Cody Ellis - Corey Williams is having arguably his best fall camp in three years, and hopefully that will show up this Friday. He can be an every down receiver, a chain-mover, but he can also come up with the spectacular catch when you aren't expecting it. Williams just might be the difference between the UW receiving corps being good and being very, very good.

TE - Mike Gottlieb, Rob Lewis/Johnie Kirton - Once again this three-headed tight end monster comes out of a fall camp intact - something the coaches were not hoping for. They would have loved to see one of these players separate themselves from the pack and become a dominant tight end, but 2007 is looking awfully similar to 2006 - meaning tight end by committee. Gottlieb is the most well-rounded of the three right now, Lewis brings the experience, and Kirton brings the athleticism.

LT - Cody Habben, Ben Ossai - When I heard of the demotions of Ben Ossai, Casey Bulyca and other offensive linemen for not following through with their team-stated goals, it was a little shocking. All we have been hearing about all fall is how focused everyone was, and how the team was really working hard to achieve their stated goal of winning a bowl game in 2007. This position goes to show that some were working just a little harder than others. Kudos to Habben, who from an experience standpoint probably needs another year of seasoning and strength work to be where he would like to be - but that didn't stop another second-year player - Ossai, for instance - from playing the exact same spot for all of 2006. If Ossai can make it happen, Habben can too. Either way, the quarterbacks have two left tackles that have been figuratively slugging it out all of fall camp, and that's hopefully made both of them better.

LG - Ryan Tolar, Morgan Rosborough - Here's a success story (in progress) that everyone should feel good about. In only his second year, Ryan Tolar has gone from being an overweight question mark as a true frosh to being a potential stalwart alongside Juan Garcia. He's turned his body into that of a Pac-10 lineman, and not a minute too soon for a line that needs the same kind of stability they had last year.

C - Juan Garcia, Ryan Bush - Garcia is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line; his play will determine just how well the OL will be able to keep the opposition off Locker and Bonnell. Bush would be the expected backup here, but based on things seen in the last week or so, I wouldn't be totally surprised if Matt Sedillo or even Greg Christine see time here also. Bush desperately needs to assert himself in the third year of the program to show that he's capable of being a solid contributor. It's make or break time.

RG - Casey Bulyca, Matt Sedillo - It's really good to see Bulyca - demoted at the beginning of fall camp - literally work his butt off and reassert his position as the starting right guard on this line. It means that he's beginning to deliver on the promise of his talent coming out of high school. I think Casey is going to have a big year.

RT - Chad Macklin, Erik Berglund - Macklin has been arguably the steadiest offensive lineman the last two years, and his even-keeled play (along with Garcia, of course) will be sorely needed to balance out the expected ragedness of the two brand-new guards. Again, health is going to be absolutely critical if this line is to have any chemistry and effectiveness as a unit.
DE - Greyson Gunheim, Caesar Rayford - The coaches are expecting more production out of Gunheim, the Huskies' most productive lineman all last year. That shows you what they think he's capable of. Add to that a player Willingham has labeled in fall camp has almost unblockable in Rayford, and you have stability, talent and experience at this end spot. So far so good...

DT - Jordan Reffett, Erick Lobos - This position - with Reffett's ascension to leader of the defensive line, plus Lobos' experience and ability to come in at any time - is now a position of strength. Add either Derek Kosub or Jovon O'Connor into the mix, and you're starting to see some depth being built up along the DL for 2007.

DT - Wilson Afoa, Cameron Elisara - Afoa, since coming out of St. Louis School in Honolulu as the 2002 State Player of the Year, has done nothing to disappoint Husky fans. He has been as solid as they come in the middle, hardly missing any games along the way. Behind him is Elisara, a star in the making. Expect Cameron to get his share of time in the middle, making his way forward. Another position of strength along the interior.

DE - Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, De'Shon Matthews - Te'o-Nesheim, after a very promising 2006 campaign as a redshirt-frosh, hopes to continue his fine play and make even more plays than he did last year. He's capable, and definitely has the motor and nasty to get it done. Matthews, a very-heralded recruit out of California, is starting to find his groove, and just might surprise some people this year. He could just break out, if given the chance.

SAM - Dan Howell, Matt Houston/Mason Foster - The unquestioned leader of a young linebacking corps, it'll be up to Howell to bring all the talent and playmaking ability together into a cohesive, working unit. And if you've ever looked at the senior from Newhall, Calif., you'd never put it past him to get anything done. This is his money year, and how he plays will go a long way in determining just how effective the linebackers all. They have all-world ability, but can they put it together?

MIK - Donald Butler, Trenton Tuiasosopo/Mason Foster - Butler has been in and out of fall practice with knee issues, stemming from a surgery/scope he had on it after spring ball. It appears to be more precautionary than anything, because when Butler has been in drills, he's been moving fine. I suspect the coaches and trainers are just trying to keep him as fresh as they can for a season of battering, as the MIK always has to shoulder his share of abuse. Hopefully the strength of the defensive line will allow Butler et al to split gaps and get to ballcarriers without having to deal with a lot of 300-pounders on their backs.

WIL - E.J. Savannah, Chris Stevens - Now that E.J. has his academics under control and has full use of both his arms (remember the gargantuan cast he had?) he can begin to fulfill the promise he had while wreaking havoc upon unsuspecting ballcarriers while at Bellevue High. And don't forget about Stevens, who has defined his Husky career as being the ultimate garbageman - and I mean that as the highest compliment possible. Whether is blocking kicks and scoring touchdowns, or blitzing quarterbacks as an extra rusher from anywhere along the line, Stevens just makes plays. That's why this position is rock solid as is.

CB - Roy Lewis, Cory Nicol/Matt Mosley - As UW Secondary Coach J.D. Williams told me last week, he'd love to have a couple Roy Lewises running around the secondary, but that's just not possible. One thing is clear; Lewis has done everything humanly possible to put himself in shape to have an All-Pac-10-caliber year.

CB - Vonzell McDowell, Cory Nicol/Matt Mosley - Give big ups to the frosh from Rainier Beach. Those that followed him in high school know just how dangerous he is with the ball, but he knew he could see the field fastest on defense, and now he'll be starting against Syracuse. The Orange will (undoubtedly) try and pick on McDowell, but that might be a mistake. His ball-skills in the air, while not honed like a veteran, are still very solid, and he's got make-up speed. He might get burned once, but I doubt they get to him more than that. He's just too competitive to let that happen.

SS - Mesphin Forrester, Darin Harris/Nate Williams - Those on the outside would have expected Forrester to have this spot in a bit of a walk, but Darin Harris gave him a solid run for his money this spring and will be waiting for him if he falters. Seeing Darin back in the mix is a sweet sight.

FS - Jason Wells, Darin Harris/Nate Williams - Wells, in his second year in the program, is another one of those players that has redefined his body and has done the off-season strength work required to play this position with 'reckless abandon', as Williams said. When Wells has no disregard for his body is when he plays at his best, and he just looks noticeably bigger this year.
Special Teams:
P - Ryan Perkins, Jared Ballman - Willingham said that it was going to be basically Ballman and Perkins going to Syracuse, and Perkins' left-footed boots have been known to give return guys fits with that funky sidespin that only comes of a left foot.

PK - Jared Ballman, Ryan Perkins - Ballman has been solid this fall, and ironically enough - even though he was recruited by UW to be their punter, he was All-Conference at Grossmont in 2006 as a placekicker, so he is plenty qualified to handle the position. He's been the most consistent of the two, in my opinion, and his range is there.

PR - Anthony Russo - I got the feeling in gauging Willingham's answers to who might return punts against Syracuse that they would be most comfortable with Russo back there.

KR - Brandon Johnson, D'Andre Goodwin - Just a wild guess here, but Johnson is the one I saw back there right before the media got the boot at their last major scrimmage, and even though Willingham said that wouldn't be an indicator of who they would go with - I'm going with the frosh from LA anyways. I think he could be one of the newcomers that really surprises this year, and could make his biggest impact returning kicks.

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