The one apparent certainty for Washington’s defense coming into training camp — its stout starting linebackers — is suddenly unsettled.
And that’s a good thing.
Senior Princeton Fuimaono has been as impressive as anyone in UW camp, pushing his way into the starting mix at outside linebacker while pushing sophomore Travis Feeney into a reserve role.
“I’m feeling more comfortable with the defense,” Fuimaono said. “I had to come out with a mentality to be physical and just do something to get out there on the field. … I’ve never felt better.”
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The Huskies haven’t settled on a depth chart for the Aug. 31 season opener against Boise State. UW coach Steve Sarkisian said after Monday’s practice that he would meet with his staff later in the evening to try to get a better idea of the two-deep roster before the beginning to plan for the Broncos in earnest on Wednesday.
Fuimaono was running regularly with the No. 1 defense last week alongside middle linebacker John Timu and opposite fellow outside ’backer Shaq Thompson, with Feeney mostly with the No. 2 defense.
“Everyone wants to talk about our linebackers and they want to talk about Shaq, Feeney and Timu,” Sarkisian said last week, “but Princeton Fuimaono has played a lot of football for us since his true-freshman year. …
“He’s a guy that’s extremely reliable for us. He’s can play every one of the three positions, and we don’t skip a beat when he steps in there. He’s tremendous for us on special teams; he starts on every special teams for us. He’s just a valuable guy to have, and that’s what you want out of your seniors.”
Regardless of who ends up starting, the apparent improvement in the corps’ depth is a positive sign for a UW defense that will likely rely more on its reserves this season with the Huskies’ shift to a no-huddle offense.
“This depth chart is very flexible,” linebackers coach Peter Sirmon said. “You’ve got to come and compete. I have no reservations about playing any of these kids.”
Feeney was one of UW’s breakout players as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 10 games and finishing tied for third on the team with 76 tackles, plus four sacks and two interceptions to earn All-Pac-12 honorable mention. One ESPN.com writer earlier this month listed Feeney as one of 50 national breakout candidates this season.
But the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Feeney had shoulder surgery in the offseason and missed all of spring practices while rehabbing. He said he came into fall camp healthy.
“He’s got a ways to go,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “He’s got some physical tools (but) there’s a lot of details that he’s got to continue to work on.”
Fuimaono started three games last season and finished with 31 tackles.
“Princeton is very steady in what he does,” Sirmon said. “We know what we can expect from him, and that gives us a level of execution that sometimes, when you have a player (from whom) you don’t know what you’re going to get, the defense breaks down quickly.
“We need guys that can go out there and do what’s asked of them and do it at a high level.”
Fuimaono said he’s not concerned about who starts. His main goal for his senior season, he said, is to win.
“We’ve got a lot of depth in the linebackers, so everyone’s going to play,” he said.
On Sunday, UW players moved into their locker room inside the new, 83,000-square foot football-operations center, and coaches moved into their new offices on the second floor of the facility built into the west end of Husky Stadium.
“It’s huge,” UW quarterback Keith Price said of the locker room. “It’s off the charts. … There are plasma screens everywhere.”
Added safety Will Shamburger: “Just being in this stadium is amazing, man, it’s overwhelming. We have a special opportunity to be here in this Husky Stadium, be in this facility with great players, great coaches, and I’m glad to be here.”
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org