With a pair of signing days completed and transfer portal activity stabilizing — for now — it’s time to assess Kalen DeBoer’s first UW roster.
Granted, more Huskies will inevitably depart following April practice, and other transfers will be added to address the identified holes.
But as it stands, what are Washington’s strengths and weaknesses? And which players could potentially swing DeBoer’s debut season?
In no particular order, here are 10 of the Huskies’ most intriguing players this spring and fall.
WR Ja’Lynn Polk — redshirt freshman — 6-2, 190
After producing an impressive freshman season at Texas Tech in 2020, then transferring to UW last February, there was hope Polk could make an immediate impact with the Huskies.
Unfortunately, that immediate impact cost him 10 games.
Polk suffered a chest injury on UW’s first offensive play of the 2021 season, but he returned to log four catches for 102 yards in his last two games — with the highlight being a 55-yard touchdown on the road at Colorado. Polk has been praised for his infectious personality in the locker room, and — in a receiver-friendly system — Polk (as well as fellow wideouts Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze, Taj Davis, etc.) should be put in position to excel this fall.
Edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui — junior — 6-4, 260
You already know how this story goes. As a redshirt sophomore in 2020, “ZTF” exploded for seven sacks and three forced fumbles in just four games — earning All-American honors and leading the nation with 1.75 sacks per game. Then he tore his Achilles tendon the following April and his momentum was crushed under the weight of a six-month rehab.
After making a miraculous recovery, Tupuola-Fetui played in five games last fall — but though he showed explosive flashes, the results didn’t immediately follow.
So, is ZTF still an All-American edge rusher? Husky fans will soon find out.
DL Voi Tunuufi — sophomore — 6-1, 275
Tunuufi’s size (6-1, 275) isn’t particularly impressive, but what separates the true sophomore from Salt Lake City is an explosive first step. He used it to snare three sacks (tied for the team lead) in 11 games and two starts as a freshman last fall. What’s the next step in Tunuufi’s maturation? And is he ultimately more suited to excel as an undersized defensive tackle or a strongside edge rusher? These are questions he and the coaching staff need to answer this offseason.
QB Sam Huard — redshirt freshman — 6-2, 190
Let’s be honest: all three of UW’s scholarship quarterbacks — Huard, Michael Penix Jr. and Dylan Morris — could go in this spot.
But we’re particularly interested in seeing how Huard, with another offseason of weight training and a more quarterback-friendly system, operates in this offense. It would be easy to assume that Penix, who excelled with DeBoer as his offensive coordinator at Indiana in 2019, will ultimately land the starting job. But considering his injury history, plus Huard’s arm talent and Morris’ experience, that might prove to be a foolhardy guarantee.
DB Jacobe Covington — sophomore — 6-2, 195
Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon are gone.
Who is next in line for the Huskies at cornerback?
While UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman is a solid bet to start as a senior, and former walk-on Mishael Powell made three starts as a redshirt freshman last fall, Covington might still have the highest ceiling of the bunch. He’s a long cornerback (6-2, 195) with enough speed to succeed as a cover corner and an equally intriguing ability to blitz. After waiting in the shadows for much of his first two seasons in Seattle, it might be Covington’s time.
And if not now, when?
DB Dominique Hampton — junior — 6-2, 220
A year ago, we thought Hampton was primed for a breakout season at safety. And though he made 30 tackles with two pass breakups and a forced fumble in 11 games (three starts), UW football fans were likely left wanting more.
Now, with a new coaching staff and scheme, the rangy 6-2, 220-pound defensive back seems like a perfect fit for the “husky” nickelback position — which DeBoer described last week as “your really athletic safety, or it’s your really physical corner.” Kamren Fabiculanan will also compete for reps, and true freshman Tristan Dunn could do so as well.
But this could finally be the season where Washington unlocks Hampton’s considerable potential.
LB Carson Bruener — sophomore — 6-2, 230
As a redshirt freshman last fall, Bruener exploded for 70 tackles in 11 games and just five starts.
What can the legacy linebacker do for a sequel?
That might depend somewhat on outside factors, with junior Edefuan Ulofoshio returning from injury and graduate student Cam Bright transferring into the program after proving himself at Pitt. While starting opportunities might be somewhat limited at linebacker, UW’s depth is still precarious at the position — and there’s little doubt Bruener will find his way onto the field.
LB Cam Bright — graduate student — 6-1, 220
Speaking of Bright, DeBoer was effusive in his praise of the Pitt transfer during a signing day news conference last week, while also confirming that the 220-pounder will fill a traditional linebacker spot for UW.
Therein lies the intrigue.
Because, while Bright’s ability to run and hit has been somewhat established, time will tell if he’s big enough to shed blocks and excel at linebacker. If so, he, a healthy Ulofoshio, Bruener and Daniel Heimuli could combine to form a formidable rotation on the second level.
RB Aaron Dumas — sophomore — 5-11, 180
The addition of Dumas this offseason was somewhat surprising, considering UW already seems somewhat stacked at running back — with Richard Newton, Cameron Davis, Jay’Veon Sunday, Sam Adams II, Caleb Berry and Emeka Megwa all (presumably) returning.
But it’s possible Dumas gives the Huskies an element they didn’t already have.
While former coach Jimmy Lake attempted to assemble an armada of battering rams, Dumas — a lighter, shiftier option — led New Mexico with 658 rushing yards as a true freshman last fall. How will his skill set translate in Seattle? And will Dumas’ arrival precede the possible departures of other Husky tailbacks?
Edge Sav’ell Smalls — sophomore — 6-3, 250
Washington fans are waiting.
After being hailed as a five-star recruit before signing with the hometown Huskies, Smalls has tallied just 18 total tackles in his first two seasons in Seattle … while still waiting for his first career sack. And with significant injuries to both Tupuola-Fetui and Ryan Bowman in both 2020 and 2021, there have been ample opportunities to make some semblance of his expected impact.
And yet, Smalls still has three seasons of eligibility remaining, and Tupuola-Fetui didn’t explode until his third fall at UW.
Smalls could be set to follow the “ZTF” route.
Or, worst-case scenario: you keep on waiting.
Honorable mentions: CB Jordan Perryman, edge Bralen Trice, QB Michael Penix Jr., QB Dylan Morris, RB Emeka Megwa, WR Jalen McMillan, CB Zakhari Spears, WR Rome Odunze, CB Mishael Powell, CB Elijah Jackson, RB Jay’Veon Sunday, LB Edefuan Ulofoshio, OL Troy Fautanu, DL Kuao Peihopa and TE Ryan Otton.