Baptism under Fire

Regardless of what the released two-deep says, the Washington Huskies are going to be a young team to open the season. Look for as many as 20-22 first-year players to be on the field against the Oregon Ducks. You are who you are, and this team will have lots of red-shirted and true freshman playing in their very first college football game come this Saturday night.

As an old advocate of the five-year system, I've always felt we won more games with 22-year olds than 18-year olds. A fifth-year senior has experience, perseverance, work ethic, and has earned his stripes through endless hours of drills to refine his techniques. He understands the game better and there is no substitute for having been there and done that (except raw talent, that is).

Of course the game has changed and kids leave early for the pros, but that hasn't been a real problem of late for the Huskies. There are, however, many more who leave after four years simply because they have to play as true freshmen. Sometimes you have no choice, but most of the time if you have a choice you redshirt them.

With offensive linemen it is almost a must to redshirt - just for strength purposes alone, but also because of the coordinated nature of line play. This is one area where the Huskies have not had to play many first-year or young kids. This year will be no exception, with a full line of five true freshmen all saving a year by red-shirting. Mykenna Ikehara may see action if there is an injury as he is already pretty strong and has excellent feet, but I would doubt if any of the other true freshmen linemen play, and even those who redshirted last year will still only be backups. That's really the way it should be across the board. Because of this I still believe the Huskies are one more solid recruiting class away from being deep enough to contend for a championship. That doesn't mean you can't win with freshmen, it's just that you have nothing to base their ability on because they still haven't done it at game speed.

The only other position area where this balance and depth occurs is at the linebacker spot, and that's even with the apparent departure of last year's leading tackler, E.J. Savannah. The top six are all veterans and have all seen considerable playing time. Hopefully all the new kids can watch and learn.

Quarterback, defensive line, running backs, secondary and wide receivers are a completely different story. Even the veterans in those areas are sophomores!

The receiver area is truly a kiddie corps. Led by sophomore D'Andre Goodwin - who has a grand total of six receptions - there are literally eight others who have never played a down in college. Alvin Logan redshirted and is proof why you do it if you possibly can. He has developed considerably since last season and is the most physical of all the receivers. The next most experienced are three walk-ons: Charles Hawkins, Chancellor Young and Tony Chidiac. These three could all help, but it is highly likely they will play at least three, and probably four of the true freshmen: Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, Jordan Polk, Cody Bruns and Anthony Boyles. Kearse and Polk both benefitted when Bruns went down in camp and made the most of it. I think those two and Aguilar took advantage of the added reps, but any or all could play along with any of the walk-ons.

It would be nice to redshirt a couple of those players, but considering they will be using a lot of three-wide receiver sets they might not have a choice. Injuries dictate you will use eight or nine wide-outs during the course of the season, so it doesn't matter who they are. They will still be young.

Running back Brandon Johnson, like Goodwin, is the old man at his position as a true sophomore. He may not even start because another first year player - Chris Polk - might be one of the best players on the team and he will probably get a chance to prove it against the Ducks whether he starts or not.

Behind Polk and Johnson there four or five backs who have never even suited up in college, not to mention two who redshirted; Willie Griffin and Brandon Yakaboski. Both of these kids have been hobbled this camp and have essentially opened the door for the incoming youngsters. Johri Fogerson and David Freeman have both shown flashes of brilliance, as did Terrance Dailey before he too lost ground to injury. Those that endure simply get more reps and Fogerson and Freeman really helped themselves while Johnson, Yakaboski, Dailey, and Griffin battled injuries.

The luxury at running back is the fullback spot. The Huskies are a solid three-deep and may even have the ability to use Paul Homer, Luke Kravitz and Austin Sylvester all together because of their blocking and pass catching abilities. Homer and Kravitz were used in goaline situations last season, and Sylvester has made positive strides since moving over from linebacker. He redshirted last year. Sense a pattern?

Michael Gottlieb was slowed by a hamstring pull in camp but should be the starter at tight end Saturday night. Veteran Walter Winter gives them an older back-up, but true freshman Kavario Middleton will definitely be factored into the mix. Redshirt Chris Izbicki and walk-on Romeo Savant give the Huskies more depth, but again it is inexperienced depth.

That brings us to the defensive front, which is so short on experience it may be considered raw. Besides Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, nobody else has really played, and in fact six of the top nine or 10 are either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The only others are seniors, Johnie Kirton and little used Jovon O'Connor. It appears that it will be a 'stop-by-committee' with the coaches using a rotation of mostly first-year players. This will allow the kids to stay fresh and avoid fatigue going into the fourth quarter, although I don't see them sitting Te'o-Nesheim a lot. I think most of the others are pretty closely bunched.

Seven defensive linemen who have never played a down, six wide receivers and four running backs makes 17 or so in just those three areas. Add Quinton Richardson, who redshirted and will start on one corner, and Tripper Johnson, who will surely play at safety. Include Middleton at tight end, and don't forget about Ronnie Fouch, who I think has earned some playing time.

That means one-third of Washington's travel squad are first-year players. That is young. Good or bad, that is what the Huskies are. Top Stories