Having watched most of spring ball, I already was impressed by the four freshmen who entered early. Now I wanted to see the rest of coach Sarkisian's latest recruiting class by doing an "I" or "eye" test just for general impressions.
As usual for me, I concentrated on the defensive side of the ball and will do a more in-depth look at the offense when I attend again on Wednesday. I eyeballed every single freshman and would say that this is the most impressive looking group of rookies to enter Washington in a long, long time.
The four who entered early - quarterback Nick Montana - linebacker Victor Burnett and running backs Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier - are obviously ahead of the others and I would think those last three players will definitely see playing time this coming year. My own personal hope is that Montana will red-shirt and be allowed to travel and learn, yet preserve a year of eligibility. I think the two backs will both be in the depth, but the returning starter, Chris Polk, will still be the main work horse. He looks great, by the way.
The offensive linemen and tight ends all looked great on the hoof, and I expect to spend all of Wednesday checking them out, but here is a look at what and who I saw defensively as well as first year offensive players who went against them.
If you are into numerology, most of you realize Monday was 8-9-10 and I hope that is an indicator of the wins Washington fans can expect this season. Number-wise, the fall roster had 104 players total, including 36 first-year or true freshmen (including the four who entered early). Add that to nine returning red-shirt freshmen, and you have 44 total freshmen - that means over 40 percent of the team are frosh. Regardless of the number of returning starters (nine on each side of the ball), this alone makes this a very young team. Consequently, how they perform and fill in the depth will have a lot to do with the end result of this season.
Of the incoming class, two on defense were missing but expected to enroll later in winter quarter: Brent Williams and John Timu should both join the team after greyshirting this fall, thereby saving a year of eligibility.
There were nine freshmen walk-ons joining the team, with two areas of need addressed at quarterback and tight end with what appears to be some quality walk-ons. With only three quarterbacks on scholarship, getting both Mike King out of Aberdeen and Erik Wilson out of Redondo Beach (by way of UNLV) really will help the team practice-wise. King, in particular, looked sharp on a number of his throws and both will certainly help in scout preparation. Tight end Evan Hudson, who played with Michael Hartvigson at Bothell, was likewise impressive - and at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds really looked the part. I was told he had originally committed to Washington State as a 90 mph pitcher in baseball, but was a good enough student and decided to attend Washington instead. He too will help with the depth at that position.
My concentration was centered on the new defensive players, and there were a few who simply jumped out - including cornerback Greg Ducre and safeties Sean Parker and Taz Stevenson. All three look physical enough to compete right away, and I think that is always the key word when it comes to this program; there is simply a lot more position "competition", and that is the direct result of the recruiting done by this coaching staff.
Although there is a lot of returning depth in the secondary - and from my standpoint that is one area of the team where that is very apparent - all three of these kids look like they could help right away. The system employed by coach Holt is not afraid to throw the youngsters right into the mix, and many - including those three - saw action with the starting defense. Because there is less to learn at corner, I could see Ducre helping early but he is facing lots of competition there. The two safeties are really impressive looking at their size and movement, and both could help somewhere in the depth.
Like coach Sarkisian said Monday night, even if there's enough competition already at certain spots, these true freshmen can certainly add to the mix at special teams and make their mark that way too.
The highly acclaimed UCLA transfer, Josh Shirley, opened up as a defensive end and can play either standing up or with his hand on the ground. He showed good quickness off the edge, but is a little undersized. He could be a situational player. He joined fellow freshmen, Andrew Hudson and Hauoli Jamora, as defensive ends who both are bigger, although maybe not quicker than Shirley. All three showed great promise and will certainly help the depth there, although with the return of Everrette Thompson and Kalani Aldrich that position too looks really competitive.
Both Thompson and Aldrich made some noticeable body changes in the weight room and allowed the coaches to move Cameron Elisara back inside where he has spent most of his time at Washington. He rejoins Alameda Taamu and Semisi Tokolahi at the defensive tackle position, with De'Shon Matthews moving back outside to end.
Also joining the interior mix is Sione Potoae and Lawrence Lagafuaina, who both showed some flashes at times, but also looked like rookies too. Due to depth alone, all of these up-front defenders could be looking at playing time this fall.
I suspect we will be seeing multiple fronts in use this year, meaning both even shaded and odd looks, so there will be a need for diversity in the defensive line. I would think that would bode well for the first-year players to gradually mix in, although it is obvious the older players are in the best shape of their lives, particularly Ta'amu and Tokolahi. Both of them look like they have really worked hard on their conditioning and are noticeably quicker because of it.
Obviously I always drift to the linebackers, and the youngsters there looked really impressive for first-year players. There are actually five newcomers at linebacker: Garret Gilliland, Cooper Pelluer, Victor Burnett, Princeton Fuimaono and Jamaal Kearse. All showed good feet and all will help this team, but I would imagine a couple will still be red-shirted. Kearse is moving up from safety where he played in high school, but he seemed to be picking things up well and physically really looks the part at 230 pounds.
Burnett is ahead of the rest because he was here in the spring, but he too looked like he had made some strides in the weight room over the summer. He was a little over 210 pounds when he came to school in April, and they now have him listed at over 230 pounds. It looks like it's good weight too. Gilliland, Fuimaono, and Pelluer all looked the part, and although you could tell they were swimming mentally all showed they too will be fine with development. Pelluer has a great frame and seemed natural at the outside spot, while Fuimaono and Gilliard looked like they have obviously played the position before. Kearse is the 'x' factor here, but he really passes the "eye" test.
I counted 15 new players on the defensive side of the ball and every position has been bolstered. I'd be shocked if any of these kids start early in the season, but I'll bet half see the playing field a lot their first year. With proper conditioning and development under Strength and Conditioning Coach Ivan Lewis, I expect this to be a solid defensive class.
Now they weren't in pads, and they weren't hitting full-speed, but based on movement and body balance and burst I would think that this group of young defenders could really be special. The secondary players alone really looked impressive and that's when I got to watch Kevin Smith and DiAndre Cambell - the two freshmen receivers - in on-on-one and team skelly (7-on-7). Both are great looking kids, and Smith in particular looks to be really special. He showed crisp routes, strength to the ball and sure hands. I would be surprised if he too doesn't help immediately this season. Next to the freshman running backs, he looks the most ready to play immediately.
I eyeballed all nine of the freshmen walk-ons and thought a number looked pretty good as well, and will study them and the offensive front more in-depth on Wednesday. My overall impression was this class is as good as advertised and they certainly passed the "eye" test.
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