The Washington Huskies have a new coaching staff.
Which brings up a whole new set of questions.
As the UW’s winter conditioning program begins and the February signing period is just around the corner, let’s open the mailbag and answer some questions about Husky football.
UW’s most desperate need comes at linebacker — where starter Jackson Sirmon (Cal) and reserve MJ Tafisi (Utah State) have both moved in recent months, while Will Latu (the lone linebacker program signer in the 2021 class) left the team before its first season due to concussion issues.
That leaves Washington with just five scholarship linebackers entering the winter term — juniors Edefuan Ulofoshio and Demario King (a junior college transfer from Cerritos College) and sophomores Carson Bruener, Daniel Heimuli and Alphonzo Tuputala. The good news? It’s a talented and somewhat established quintet, with expected debutants Ulofoshio and Bruener and a pair of proven contributors in Heimuli and Tuputala.
But five stock linebackers aren’t enough. Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach William Inge is expected to look to address UW’s dwindling depth through both the February signing period and the transfer portal.
As for other positions, UW has some freedom and flexibility to pursue players who could possibly have an immediate impact – rather than feeling pressured to take fliers on obvious needs. Scott Huff returns three starting offensive linemen in left guard Ulumoo Ale, right guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Victor Curne, and Troy Fautanu and Julius Buelow also tout their starting experience. But given the departures of line stalwarts o Jaxson Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg, as well as that unit’s disappointing performances last fall, Huff could certainly pursue a seasoned offensive lineman in the transfer gate as well.
And while Washington has already countered the early departures of defensive backs Trent McDuffie, Kyler Gordon and Brendan Radley-Hiles by bringing in UC Davis corner Jordan Perryman, it’s possible the UW could continue to add to its secondary. . Jacobe Covington, Mishael Powell, Elijah Jackson and Zakhari Spears could all be future starters at cornerback, but this group enters the offseason with little valuable Pac-12 experience.
On the other hand, safeties Alex Cook, Cameron Williams, Asa Turner and Julius Irvin have played a lot of Power Five ball … but haven’t really separated themselves as cemented starters yet.
Also, will the transfers of defensive tackle Sam “Taki” Taimani (Oregon) and EDGE Cooper McDonald (San Diego State) prompt UW coaches to seek reinforcements along the defensive line? On the road, UW’s 2022 prospects at the EDGE position hinge somewhat on the status of junior Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who is participating in the Huskies’ winter conditioning program but could still be a threat to test the transfer waters. Otherwise, Bralen Trice, Sav’ell Smalls, Jeremiah Martin, Jordan Lolohea, Maurice Heims and Lance Holtzclaw bring a clear advantage…and just three career sacks combined.
Inside, junior debutant Tuli Letuligasenoa and sophomore contributors Faatui Tuitele and Jacob Bandes return, and Voi Tunuufi and Kuao Peihopa both flashed like true freshmen at times in 2021. But given the right fit , Washington would host another large disruptive body on the defensive line.
The same could be said of the tight end position, where Cade Otton declared for the NFL Draft and Mark Redman traded to San Diego State in the past few months. UW looks set to build on a combination of juniors Devin Culp and Jack Westover, sophomore Quentin Moore and true freshman Ryan Otton in 2022. But if a tight end enters the transfer market, Washington could- he throw his hat in the ring?
Which brings us, finally, to special teams — where Race Porter is ineligible after finishing fourth in the nation in punt average (48.53 yards per punt) in 2021. UW has a junior punter to Triston Brown, but he’s yet to see the field in two seasons in Seattle. If the coaching staff doesn’t think Brown is the answer for this particular position, they could definitely sue a punter in the transfer portal.
Even despite the transfers of Terrell Bynum (USC) and Sawyer Racanelli (Montana), and the signing-day departure of Germie Bernard (Michigan State), Washington is fairly well-placed, with eight scholarship recipients – junior Giles Jackson, sophomores Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Taj Davis, redshirt freshmen Ja’Lynn Polk, Lonyatta “Junior” Alexander and Jabez Tinae and real freshman Denzel Boston.
Of that group, McMillan, Odunze, Polk and Davis are early favorites to achieve big goals next fall, with Jackson again contributing via gimmicky play and in the rematch.
But where does that leave Alexander, the former Kennedy Catholic four-star recruit who announced a transfer from Arizona State to UW on Saturday morning?
It all depends on whether the 6-foot-2, 200-pound wide receiver turns into the player he was meant to be. Alexander has a physical frame, soft hands and the ability to constantly find the weak spot in defensive secondaries. But he’s also noticeably lacking in elite top speed and failed to catch a pass as a true freshman last fall.
Given UW’s returns, it will be a challenge for Alexander to earn a regular spot in the rotation in 2022. But, with the development of new wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard, there’s hope he can possibly fulfilling an invaluable possession receiver role and red-zone threat with reliable hands.
And Washington could still use one.
I cannot answer this question for you.
I can tell you that UW’s offense should immediately improve next fall, that they have enough returning talent for a quick turnaround. I can tell you that his advances in strength and conditioning should pay immediate dividends. I can name a relatively heavy list of potential game creators – McMillan and Odunze and Polk and Cameron Davis and Michael Penix Jr. and Edefuan Ulofoshio and Carson Bruener and Zion Tupuola-Fetui and so on.
But hope, ultimately, is a subjective feeling. It cannot be forced. You have to feel it.
In “The Shawshank Redemption,” wild-eyed inmate Andy Dufresne describes hope as “something inside that they can’t access, that they can’t touch. This is yours.”
In “Ted Lasso,” the main character says to his upstart football team, “I heard that phrase you all have here that I’m not too fond of. ‘It’s hope that kills you. You know that? I don’t agree. I think it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you. See, I believe in hope. I believe in belief.
I can’t make you hope. I can’t make you believe.
Once you believe there is hope, then there will be.