Led by Bryant and senior Drew Sample, the Huskies have an abundance of talent at tight end this year.
The Huskies have perhaps the deepest pool of quarterback talent in the country. They have two elite running backs. They have a bevy of up-and-coming wide receivers, and they should have four starters back on the offensive line by the time their Sept. 1 season opener against Auburn rolls around.
Even with all that, the Huskies have the most depth, the most versatility and, arguably, the most potential at one largely overlooked position: tight end.
“It’s a good problem to have,” UW tight ends coach Jordan Paopao said.
Senior Drew Sample, a Newport High product, has been a regular starter the past three seasons. A block-first tight end, Sample is as dependable as anyone on the roster.
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“Having a guy like Drew Sample, this will be his room,” Paopao said. “He’s been around for awhile now, he knows how to operate and what to expect from me and he can keep those young guys in line.”
Sophomore Hunter Bryant was one of the Huskies’ brightest young players in 2017 before a knee injury in late October sidelined him for the rest of the regular season. He still finished third on the team in receptions (with 22, for 331 yards and one touchdown) and earned ESPN Freshman All-America honors.
“He’s obviously a guy who can stretch the field and make big-time plays, as you saw last year,” Sample said. “But he’s also playing a big role for us in the blocking game. He’s starting to come along there. For him, he’s taking steps to being more of an all-around tight end.”
Bryant says he’s “pretty close” to being 100 percent healthy after suffering ligament damage in his left knee against UCLA last Oct. 28.
He was able to come back and suit up for the Huskies in the Fiesta Bowl, but he only played a couple snaps against Penn State. He said he spent just about every day this winter working with trainers to rehab the knee.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said Monday. “Our training staff is incredible.”
Paopao said the plan has been to ease Bryant back into action this spring. He doesn’t want to push his young tight end too much too soon.
“He is doing about as much as he can handle right now,” Paopao said. “He’s doing an awesome job, and slowly but surely we’ll continue to build his workload.”
Jacob Kizer also played as a true freshman last season, appearing in 12 games, and 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman Cade Otton has had a strong first spring for the Huskies.
“We’ve got about five guys who I think can contribute and play at a high level,” Paopao said. “Every day, it’s all about continuing to get better and compete in the room. We’re really trying to grow the young guys, with an emphasis on Hunter and Cade and Jacob Kizer.”
The Huskies regularly utilize two-tight-end formations, and it’s not unusual for them to have three tight ends on the field together. Which is why building quality depth is vital for them to offer the multitude of offensive looks they want.
Junior Michael Neal is fighting for reps after battling some injuries in his career, and junior Jusstis Warren is a new tight end (and fullback) after switching from linebacker. This summer, the Huskies will also welcome in freshman tight end Devin Culp out of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep.
The most pleasant surprise this spring has been senior walk-on DeShon Williams, a Tahoma High product and the older brother of outside linebacker Amandre Williams. DeShon, listed at 6-2 and 228 pounds, transferred to UW last year after two season at Colorado State-Pueblo, where he played wide receiver.
“The guy who’s shown up big time is DeShon Williams,” Paopao said. “He’s done some really unbelievable things, especially in space catching the football.”