With two outside linebackers playing in the NFL, position battle focuses on Princeton Fuimaono, Garret Gilliland, John Timu
Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa will be in Kansas City on Friday night, beginning their NFL careers with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And for as much attention as the loss of Jake Locker has gotten — and rightfully so — figuring out a way to replace the players who manned the two outside linebackers for UW a year ago isn’t far off in importance.
Replacing the playmaking ability of those two, linebackers coach Mike Cox said after practice Thursday, “is hard to do.”
But replacing graduated players is an annual reality of college football, and as training camp has progressed this week, the Huskies have begun to feel a little better about how the linebacking picture is coming together.
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They know what they have in the middle, with senior Cort Dennison, a returning starter the past two years.
And taking a big step toward manning the strongside spot held last year by Aiywea is sophomore Princeton Fuimaono, who started against Arizona last season when Aiyewa was hurt and impressed down the stretch with his play on special teams.
He was limited in the spring with a shoulder injury, but has shown few signs of rust so far in the fall, coaches say.
“Princeton is playing at a high level,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian.
Said Cox: “We obviously were very comfortable with him last year and he started a game and has been in games and he’s got some experience and he’s a good player.”
The weakside spot played last year by Foster is more competitive. Garret Gilliland, who started in the first Nebraska game in the middle last year when Dennison was out, was the starter there through the spring after making the switch in positions.
But freshman John Timu, a class of 2010 signee who sat out last year with a knee injury suffered playing quarterback during his senior year, has also played with the first team at the weakside the past few days.
Asked Thursday to name early standouts of camp, Sarkisian began with Timu.
“For a guy who has never really played the position, being a high-school quarterback and safety, he is just a natural football player,” Sarkisian said. “He has got great instincts. He is very athletic. He can run. He’s tough. He has really probably made the biggest impact.”
Timu was roughly 195 pounds when UW began recruiting him, with an eye toward likely playing him at safety. He suffered ACL and MCL injuries early in his senior year on a rollout, saying he was untouched on the play.
A lack of insurance delayed his surgery for three months. UW stuck with him and signed him in 2010 but it was decided he would sit out as a grayshirt and enroll in January. Timu revealed to reporters Thursday that he was so antsy to get back to playing something that he tried out for his high-school volleyball team roughly two weeks after surgery.
But he also said not being able to work out regularly meant he weighed about 230 pounds by the time he finally enrolled at UW, one reason the Huskies decided to try him first at linebacker — he’s now listed at 220.
Regardless of who takes the first snaps against Eastern Washington on Sept. 3, the Huskies are likely to rotate more regularly at those two spots than a year ago, when Foster and Aiyewa were almost constant presences on the field.
Gilliland said potentially being the replacement for Foster “is definitely a huge task. But I think we’ve got enough guys, enough depth to do that this year. I don’t know if we’ll be as talented as him but I think we’ll get the job done.”
The inexperience at linebacker could also be mitigated somewhat by more versatility on the defensive line, notably the installation of Josh Shirley in the new position of “rush end,” a spot that carries with it a lot of linebacker-type responsibilities.
“We will be a little bit different,” Cox said. “You kind of adapt your personnel to what you are calling, and we will be different. We will have strengths in other places. But I’ll feel comfortable with the three guys we put out there and we’ll run the stuff we do.”
• The Huskies lost depth at middle linebacker as Sarkisian said after practice that redshirt freshman Victor Burnett had been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. He didn’t elaborate.
Burnett, a graduate of Culver City High in Los Angeles, was a member of Sarkisian’s first full recruiting Class in 2010, and enrolled in time for spring ball in 2010. He didn’t play last season, however, and redshirted. He was competing with Tim Tucker for the number three spot behind Dennison and Thomas Tutogi.
• The Huskies will put on full pads on Friday for the first time this fall.
• JC transfer cornerback Antavius Sims and freshmen receiver Marvin Hall and running back Kyle Lewis remain ineligible. Hall and Lewis are having their transcripts reviewed by the NCAA Clearinghouse and Sarkisian said the Huskies will hopefully know one way or the other “within seven days.” He said the team hopes to know if Sims will be able to enroll at UW “by early next week.”