It’s almost June, and you know what that means …
College football talk!
OK, so maybe training camp is still more than two months away. I get it. But the Seahawks’ season is long past, the as-of-yet-unnamed NHL franchise remains in the embryonic phase and the Mariners are stepping back so aggressively it might make James Harden blush. So let’s talk Huskies. You have questions. I have answers (read: educated guesses).
Away we go.
First off, don’t apologize. I exclusively address unfair questions.
But the answer here stems from a blend of 1.) talent, and 2.) opportunity. Which players are advanced enough to contribute as true freshmen, and do they fill positions where UW lacks competitive depth? For example, cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Kamren Fabiculanan appear physically prepared to make an immediate impact. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they successfully summit a mountain of capable cornerbacks to play in more than four games (since a player can now appear in four contests and still maintain an extra season of eligibility). Remember, Keith Taylor, Myles Bryant, Elijah Molden, Kyler Gordon and Dominique Hampton are already standing in line before Jimmy Lake, with resumes in hand. That doesn’t mean McDuffie and Fabiculanan won’t fulfill their considerable potential; it just might not happen this fall.
As for a few guys who fit the aforementioned formula, let’s start on the interior defensive line. With little proven experience besides junior Levi Onwuzurike, it’s possible that either Jacob Bandes or Faatui Tuitele could earn a rotational role this fall. The same can be said about inside linebackers Josh Calvert and Daniel Heimuli, who fit in where Washington’s defense appears weakest — on the second level. It also would not be surprising to see four-star outside linebacker Laiatu Latu push for playing time, as Lake and Co. look to improve a tepid 2018 pass rush.
On the offensive side, wide receiver Puka Nacua could add an immediate punch to a wide receiver corps noticeably lacking explosive play makers. More on that later.
But if you’re looking for two near-locks, let’s go with safety Cameron Williams and placekicker Tim Horn. The 6-foot, 185-pound Williams was one of the stars of the spring, earning effusive and consistent praise from head coach Chris Petersen. By the end of the Huskies’ 15 spring practices, the Baskersfield (Calif.) product had done enough to earn starting reps at free safety (albeit with precious little competition). With redshirt freshman Julius Irvin returning from injury and true freshman Asa Turner joining the fun this fall, don’t scribble Williams’ name down as a starter in permanent marker. But barring a surprise or setback, he should play.
As for Horn, the Huskies did not sign one the most coveted kickers in the 2019 class to stash his right leg on the end of the bench. The 6-2, 206-pound Honolulu product will have to compete with sophomore Peyton Henry — who converted all five field goal attempts in April’s Spring Preview. The job will not be handed to him. Still, Horn has the most direct path to a starting spot of any UW freshman.
Is it really an opinion when we have quantifiable proof? Prior to the start of spring practice, the UW coaching staff held its annual Husky Combine — an event showcasing a series of drills designed to competently measure athletic performance. And from that particular competition, Kyler Gordon stood out.
Gordon — a 6-0, 195-pound sophomore cornerback — finished first on the team in the vertical jump (42.5 inches), second in the 3-cone drill (6.52 seconds) and the pro agility drill (3.87 seconds) and third in the broad jump (10′ 5″). It’s inarguable, then, that this former competitive dancer and martial artist possesses a rare blend of quickness and explosiveness.
Of course, there are other eligible answers. Sophomore outside linebacker Joe Tryon (6-5, 266) looks like he could uproot the space needle with both arms and chuck it like a spear. Junior running back Salvon Ahmed (4.32-second 40-yard dash) and wide receiver Andre Baccellia (4.38 seconds) win the race with straight-line speed. Junior tight end Hunter Bryant (6-2, 241) is essentially a muscle wearing shoulder pads, snaring errant passes.
Now, will Gordon’s untapped athleticism translate into tangible production? We’ll have to wait and see. But when it comes to mere measurables, Gordon gets the win.
This is the part where I unabashedly cheat and settle on multiple answers.
Of the available options, I’ll say Austin Osborne and Puka Nacua are most primed to produce in 2019.
Osborne — a 6-2, 198-pound receiver — did not appear in a game last season but was a more consistent contributor than fellow redshirt freshmen Marquis Spiker and Trey Lowe throughout the spring. In mid-April, Petersen said that Osborne “is really progressing. I know Austin is going to be a good player for us. He’s smart and he did some really good things in high school and played at a high level. So he’s one of the guys I really want to see take that next step where everybody starts noticing.”
If you live anywhere near Salt Lake City, it was hard not to notice Nacua throughout his prolific prep career. The 6-2, 205-pound Orem High School standout and USA Today 2018 first-team All-American broke Utah state records for career receptions (260), receiving yards (5,226) and receiving touchdowns (58), and that included 2,336 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns in his senior season. He showcased an innate ability to high-point footballs and win jump balls over opposing defensive backs along the way.
Of course, many of those same things were said about Marquis Spiker a year ago, and the Wildomar, Calif., product did not appear in a game in his freshman season.
Regardless of who it is, offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan needs someone new — barring the impossible returns of John Ross and Dante Pettis — to take the top off of opposing Pac-12 defenses. As everybody already knows, Jacob Eason has plenty of arm strength.
It’ll be up to his relatively unproven receiving corps to step up and make him use it.
The most viable candidate here seems to be redshirt freshman Edefuan Ulofoshio — a 6-0, 233-pound linebacker who forced a pair of fumbles in three games last fall. “Eddy” lined up both inside and outside during the spring and showed a penchant for effectively timing blitzes and bombarding opposing quarterbacks. UW is in desperate need of legitimate depth on the second level, and Ulofoshio looks fit to provide it at a variety of positions.
“It’s not surprising me, anything that he’s doing right now — rushing off the edge, playing inside linebacker,” defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said of Ulofoshio last spring. “He does things a million miles an hour. Everything that we look for, right? Guys playing fast, guys playing physical. Eddy definitely does that.”
That sounds like a guy who could contribute to a defense that returns just two full-time starters. It also sounds like someone who could earn a scholarship sooner rather than later.
For those of you who choose not to obsess over the tweets and life choices of undeniably talented teenagers, three-star 2020 running back Jay’Veon Sunday announced his verbal commitment to Washington on Tuesday.
But what does that mean for four-star Eastside Catholic running back standout Sam Adams?
Probably not much. The Huskies will almost certainly take multiple tailbacks in the 2020 class, and Sunday’s pledge shouldn’t make Adams shy away from joining his in-state school. Or, to put it another way, Sunday shouldn’t really qualify as competition for Adams.
But UW has plenty of competition of its own.
Adams — who is ranked as the No. 11 running back and No. 104 overall prospect in the 2020 class by 247Sports — whittled his suitor list to six on Tuesday. Besides Washington, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida, Penn State and Texas A&M are still in the hunt for his services.
Should Adams land elsewhere, the Huskies have offers out to five other running backs (according to 247Sports): five-star recruits Zachary Evans, Kendall Milton and Bijan Robinson, four-star prospect Daniyel Ngata and three-star Sevion Morrison.
Ultimately, Adams should be the top priority. But if he doesn’t sign with Washington, Sunday won’t be to blame.
Finally, the question we’ve all been waiting for.
If you’re unfamiliar with Sis Bates’ work, I’d advise you tune into the Women’s College World Series on ESPN this week. Washington’s junior shortstop and part-time magician was named a unanimous first-team All-American and received Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive season. She’s currently hitting .386 with a .465 on-base percentage and nine stolen bases to boot.
But how would she fare as a slot receiver? The short-area quickness and soft hands are obviously there, as evidenced by her range in the infield and ability to smother hard-hit grounders and line drives. The stolen bases speak to her straight-line speed and explosiveness as well. It’s easy to imagine Bates on the receiving end of screens and slants, where she could effortlessly corral passes in traffic and dart through the holes in vulnerable defensive secondaries. She could also be utilized as a returner, given that the capability to track kickoffs and punts is directly comparable to a softball pop fly.
As for logistics, UW’s softball and football schedules line up to where Bates could realistically play both sports. It’s unknown, however, whether the 5-4 junior’s body would hold up throughout nearly a full year of tackles, road trips, touchdowns and stolen bases. She would have to compete with receivers with similar skill sets — Andre Baccellia, Aaron Fuller, Chico McClatcher and Trey Lowe, to name a few — for available reps as well.
Still, judging on her production to this point, there’s little doubt that Sis Bates is an OKG.
(Our Kind of Girl.)