Never trust a depth chart.
This rule, while understood by reporters from here to Hoboken, New Jersey, and Honolulu, Hawaii, applies especially to the Washington Huskies. In 2019, wide receiver Ty Jones missed the first nine games with an injury but was listed as a weekly starter all the same. And last season, outside linebacker Laiatu Latu — who suffered a neck injury in fall camp and was later forced to medically retire — maintained his spot in the two-deeps despite the reality that he couldn’t possibly play.
Point being, all coaches want a leg up on their weekly opponent — and they won’t always get one by telling the truth.
But who will start Sept. 4 for Washington vs. Montana?
Before UW releases its first (unreliable) depth chart of the season Monday, let’s project the winners of Washington’s five most heated position competitions.
Starter: Richard Newton
Contributors: Cameron Davis, Sean McGrew, Kamari Pleasant
Next in line: Jay’Veon Sunday, Sam Adams II, Caleb Berry
Analysis: When asked Aug. 7 how the running back competition was shaking out, UW offensive coordinator John Donovan laughed and responded: “I don’t know. Do you have any thoughts?” He was alluding, of course, to the challenge of splitting reps between six (!) returning scholarship running backs, including four — Sean McGrew, Richard Newton, Kamari Pleasant and Cameron Davis — who played consistently last season. But Newton (6-0, 215) and Davis (6-0, 205) took the most starting reps in the 13 practices open to the media, and those are the safest bets to start Sept. 4 and beyond. Regardless, expect Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant to figure into the offense as well — with McGrew’s valuable versatility as a change-of-pace back, and the 225-pound Pleasant’s skills in short yardage and pass protection.
Starters: Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan
Contributors: Taj Davis, Ja’Lynn Polk, Giles Jackson
Next in line: Sawyer Racanelli, Jabez Tinae
Analysis: This competition comes with a caveat. Throughout the majority of fall camp, Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan seemed relatively entrenched as week one starters. However, McMillan’s hand injury Aug. 16 — which required surgery — has potentially opened the door for either Taj Davis or Ja’Lynn Polk to snatch that spot. Both players have been productive in the second half of fall camp, and Davis exploded for 13 catches and nearly 200 receiving yards in the Huskies’ fall fest scrimmage last weekend.
Of course, it’s possible — maybe even likely — that UW employs multiple tight ends on the opening play against Montana, which would force only two wide receivers (Bynum and Odunze) to see the field. But Polk and Davis will both play at some point, and Michigan transfer Giles Jackson should be utilized on jet sweeps and end-arounds as well. Sure-handed second-year freshman Sawyer Racanelli also can make an argument to crack the rotation, but a weeklong absence in fall camp won’t help his case.
Starter: Julius Buelow
Contributors: Ulumoo Ale, Nate Kalepo
Analysis: Midway through fall camp, it was assumed that all five returning starters on the offensive line would retain their spots. And indeed, left tackle Jaxson Kirkland, center Luke Wattenberg, right guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Victor Curne are essentially cemented starters. But it appears sophomore Ulumoo Ale (6-6, 355) has been supplanted by equally mammoth redshirt freshman Julius Buelow (6-8, 330). Buelow took most starting snaps in UW’s final few open practices, with redshirt freshman Nate Kalepo occasionally working with the starters and Ale swapping to right guard with the second unit. “Honestly, I just want what’s best for the team,” Bainivalu said this week, when asked about the left guard competition. “The left guard and the guys that are competing, I think they’re all super competent and have great abilities. They’re all talented. That’s up to (offensive line coach Scott) Huff. That’s his call. That’s what he gets paid lots of money for. Honestly, I trust his call.”
Starters: Ryan Bowman, Bralen Trice
Contributors: Cooper McDonald, Sav’ell Smalls, Jeremiah Martin
Next in line: Jordan Lolohea, Maurice Heims
Analysis: On the opposite side of established sixth-year senior Ryan Bowman, a carousel of outside linebackers have shared starting snaps throughout the spring and fall. Of that group, redshirt freshman Bralen Trice or second-year freshman Cooper McDonald are most likely to start against Montana, with former five-star recruit Sav’ell Smalls in the mix as well. The 6-3, 270-pound Jeremiah Martin is more likely to spell Bowman as a bigger-bodied outside backer, and second-year freshman Jordan Lolohea also could conceivably figure into the rotation. But if you’re looking for anyone to ascend the same way Zion Tupuola-Fetui did last fall, Trice is the best bet.
In April, UW outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe predicted Trice — a 6-4, 260-pounder from Phoenix — will eventually out-perform 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon in his Husky career. This month, he doubled down, adding: “He’s very gifted in pass rush, and he’s learning how to counter off of his power moves. He understands run leverage now. I really believe this. I know I’m saying this on the front end, and he hasn’t done much yet. But I think when it’s all said and done, I really do believe he will be better than what we experienced with Joe Tryon.”
Starters: Cameron Williams, Julius Irvin
Contributors: Dominique Hampton, Asa Turner, Alex Cook
Next in line: Makell Esteen, Vince Nunley
Analysis: After last Saturday’s scrimmage — in which Cameron Williams and Julius Irvin were the starting safeties — Lake was asked if that same tandem would get the nod against Montana as well. And while he was unwilling to make that leap, Lake did say: “Those guys are going to be playing against Montana, for sure, and early. But there could be some other guys as well that could be thrown into the rotation.” Lake also has said that Irvin played his best football in this fall camp, and he expects Williams — who has started seven career games — to have his best season this fall.
The 6-2, 220-pound Hampton had an ascendant spring, but there might be some concern about blown coverages on the back end. This month, Lake said: “You guys see his measurables. They look awesome — his speed, his height, all of that. But, especially at that safety position or anywhere in the back end, if you make a mistake it can be an 80-yard touchdown for our opponent.” Asa Turner and Alex Cook both bring starting experience as well, but neither took significant snaps with the first-team defense in August.