Be warned, Washington football fans: the depth chart deceives.
College football coaches, after all, are under no real obligation to share their personnel with fans, media and opponents prior to meaningful Pac-12 games. They do so, one suspects, because it’s what’s always been done. And even the most strategically inane traditions are difficult to disregard.
It’s worth noting, though, that in the last three seasons, Chris Petersen’s UW depth charts accurately listed 64 of 66 offensive and defensive starters.
(He also included wide receiver Ty Jones in the two-deeps for nine consecutive games where he didn’t participate due to injury last season, so take that for what it’s worth.)
It’s unclear, then, just how forthcoming first-year UW head coach Jimmy Lake was willing to be with Monday’s Cal Week depth chart — which did include several significant surprises.
So, before Saturday arrives, let’s assess what each of those surprises might actually mean.
Kamari Pleasant | RS-SR | 6-0, 230
Sean McGrew | RS-SR | 5-7, 175 OR
Richard Newton | RS-SO | 6-0, 210
Analysis: In the 2019 season, Richard Newton carried 117 times for 498 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns in 10 games — tied for the team lead. Sean McGrew carried 55 times for 342 yards and a touchdown, including a pair of 100-yard performances. He also led all Husky runners with 6.2 yards per carry.
In that same season, Kamari Pleasant — an apparently healthy redshirt junior — received just 16 carries in 11 games, compiling 35 rushing yards and 2.2 yards per rush with zero scores.
So, yes, you could call this a surprise.
But should it be? After all, we’ve been repeatedly reminded of Lake’s affection for big running backs, and Pleasant — who added 17 pounds this offseason, from 213 to 230 — is the biggest of the bunch. And while weight for the sake of weight is not something worth celebrating, running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said Pleasant carries his weight well.
“I know Kamari’s heavier than he was last year,” Bhonapha said. “But with that being said, he’s running really good. I think Kamari’s always been our swiss army knife. He can block. He can catch. He runs the ball decent enough. I will never hesitate to say that any of these guys needs to keep developing. But I’ll say this: what he’s shown so far, I don’t know if the pounds have helped him, but they definitely haven’t hurt him, and he’s looked really good this camp.”
OK, but here’s a counterargument: from a physicality standpoint, what does Pleasant give you that Richard Newton doesn’t? Newton is 20 pounds lighter but has proven to be a battering ram in short-yardage and red zone situations. It’s possible that Pleasant’s versatility — his supposed blocking and pass-catching prowess — ultimately earned him a starting spot.
And it’s also possible this depth chart designation was somewhat ceremonial — that the fifth-year senior will trot out with the starters, only for Newton, McGrew and Cameron Davis (a redshirt freshman who the coaches have been unabashedly high on) to receive the lion’s share of the work.
Depth chart surprises aside, we know Bhonapha would prefer to use a robust rotation of running backs. Yes, there needs to be a starter. But Pleasant, Newton, McGrew and Davis should all play a significant role this season.
Alex Cook | RS-JR | 6-1, 200
Julius Irvin | RS-SO | 6-1, 185
Analysis: Beside senior Myles Bryant, a pair of true freshmen — Cameron Williams and Asa Turner — split starts at the other safety spot throughout the entirety of the 2019 season. Which allowed for the assumption that — in the wake of Bryant’s graduation — Williams and Turner would start side-by-side in UW’s secondary this fall.
But here comes Alex Cook.
A 6-foot-1, 200-pound redshirt junior from Sacramento, Calif., Cook signed with Washington as a wide receiver, before switching to defense prior to the 2019 season. He made three tackles in 13 games on special teams last fall.
And now he’s listed as a starting safety, with Turner situated beside him.
(Williams, if you were wondering, is listed as Turner’s back up.)
With another offseason to assimilate to a new position, it appears Cook — who, it’s worth noting, made 92 tackles while playing both ways as a senior at Sheldon High School in 2016 — has ascended in the Husky secondary. He’s certainly an intriguing athlete, with the physicality to be a force as a hitter and run-stuffer for UW.
Even so, this is still a Jimmy Lake secondary, and we know Lake loves to play a parade of UW defensive backs. Even if Cook holds down a starting spot, Williams should find his way onto the field. Redshirt sophomores Julius Irvin and Kyler Gordon could also conceivably contribute at just about any secondary spot, safety included.
Cade Otton | JR | 6-5, 240
Jack Westover | RS-SO | 6-3, 245
Mark Redman | FR | 6-6, 250
Analysis: This has nothing to do with the names listed.
Cade Otton, of course, is a future NFL draft pick and surefire starter for the Huskies at tight end. Redshirt sophomore Jack Westover, likewise, earned a scholarship this offseason after contributing heavily as an H-back in 2019 — and it’s likely he’ll reprise a similar role this fall. And Mark Redman — a 6-foot-6, 250-pound skyscraper from Newport Beach, Calif. — was always a favorite to get on the field as a true freshman.
But where in the world is Devin Culp?
Culp — a 6-3, 245-pound redshirt sophomore — has yet to record a college catch but was set to assume a much more significant workload after Hunter Bryant headed to the NFL and Jacob Kizer opted out. He was also a regular in UW’s social media highlight video packages in fall camp. But now, suddenly, he isn’t listed on the depth chart.
Is it possible Redman — who has the physical traits to be an above-average blocker and the dependable hands to be an instant red-zone threat — passed Culp on the depth chart in a single preseason camp? Certainly.
Still, we know first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan’s pro-style scheme will heavily incorporate multiple tight ends. And Culp — a product of Spokane Gonzaga Prep — has the size and athleticism to stretch the field vertically. We may not see him on the depth chart, but don’t be surprised if you see him plenty on Saturdays this fall.
Ty Jones | RS-JR | 6-4, 200
Jalen McMillan | FR | 6-1, 185
Analysis: The only true freshman listed in UW’s two-deeps at wide receiver was Jalen McMillan.
And, on one hand, McMillan is an elite prospect whose ascendance can’t be classified as surprising.
The surprising part is that Rome Odunze wasn’t listed at all.
Odunze — a 6-3, 205-pound wide receiver from Bishop Gorman High School — was very much the talk of preseason camp, thanks to a rare blend of size, speed and explosiveness. It may be that Lake, who has repeatedly refused to list which freshmen will contribute this season, declined to include Odunze on the depth chart to throw the Cal Bears off the scent.
Let’s just say this: expect Odunze to play on Saturday, two-deeps be damned.
Race Porter | RS-SR | 6-2, 190
Analysis: UW signed a scholarship punter this offseason in Mt. San Antonio College’s Triston Brown. And yet, Porter — who was also placed on scholarship this summer — was the only punter listed on Monday.
Which makes some sense, considering the context clues.
“Triston and Race, our two punters, have done an excellent job so far,” Lake said last week, when asked specifically about Brown. “Triston’s a young guy that’s just getting used to how we do things, but he definitely has a strong leg. Now he just has to learn the details of the technique and what we’re trying to ask him to do in our punting scheme. But he’s coming along very, very nice.”