Let’s find the freshman five.
Here’s the idea: last season, five true freshmen — cornerback Trent McDuffie, outside linebacker Laiatu Latu, wide receiver Puka Nacua and defensive backs Cameron Williams and Asa Turner — played in at least five games for Washington, thus burning their respective redshirts. (This list excludes freshman kicker Tim Horn, who focused solely on kickoffs and did not attempt a field goal or extra point in 13 games.)
So, following the same formula, which five freshmen — excluding long snapper Jaden Green, whose role is somewhat assured — will play in at least five games (assuming there’s a season) this fall? We must consider the following: 1.) a player’s talent and physical maturity, 2.) the existing roster situation in Seattle, and 3.) how an unprecedented offseason — including no spring practices and limited access to strength training — might ultimately affect UW’s freshmen.
For the purposes of this exercise, there can only be five. So, in no particular order, let’s run down the list.
Jalen McMillan — WR — 6-2, 182 — Fresno, Calif.
The logic here is that UW is losing its top two receivers from 2019 in wideout Aaron Fuller and tight end Hunter Bryant, and McMillan — the former four-star speedster from Fresno — could provide a play-making ability that the Huskies have so noticeably lacked. Brandon Huffman, 247Sports’ national recruiting editor, projected McMillan as an “immediate Power 5 starter and first-day NFL draft pick.”
The other side of the argument? Well, it’s been well-documented that UW’s coaching staff has been hesitant to play true-freshman wide receivers in recent seasons (though the addition of new offensive coordinator John Donovan could certainly change that). The position is also crowded with capable bodies — including Terrell Bynum, Puka Nacua, Ty Jones, Jordan Chin, Marquis Spiker and Austin Osborne. That’s a lot of hungry hands for limited available targets, especially in what might be a run-first scheme.
Oh, and don’t forget that UW’s other freshman wide receivers — Rome Odunze and Sawyer Racanelli — were also touted talents who could just as easily steal the show.
Sav’ell Smalls — OLB — 6-4, 244 — Burien
I’m guessing you’ve heard of Smalls. The former Kennedy Catholic High School standout was one of Washington’s more publicized signings of the Chris Petersen era, a local five-star prospect with offers from just about everywhere nationwide. He’ll arrive with plenty of hype and an equally imposing 6-4, 244-pound frame.
The problem — if you’d like to call it that — is that UW is currently stacked at the outside-linebacker position. The Huskies’ starters, junior Joe Tryon and senior Ryan Bowman, combined for 22 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in an undeniably productive 2019 season. Their backups, Laiatu Latu and Zion Tupuola-Fetui, are also physically impressive prospects who could take seismic strides with more reps in their sophomore seasons. Even freshman Jordan Lolohea earned positive reviews after arriving on campus last winter.
To find the field, Smalls would have to be too good — too athletic, too motivated, too productive, too prolific — to ignore. And Husky fans are certainly hoping that turns out to be the case.
Mark Redman — TE — 6-6, 239 — Newport Beach, Calif.
This could be an example of talent meeting opportunity.
First, about the talent: Redman is a physically massive 6-6, 239-pound tight end who caught 72 passes for 979 yards and 13 touchdowns from fellow UW signee Ethan Garbers at Corona Del Mar High School last season. He’s also a willing blocker with a formidable frame, which could allow him to see the field in heavy sets with multiple tight ends.
And, as for opportunity, there should be plenty this fall. Donovan’s pro-style offense will likely heavily feature the tight-end position, and UW’s top target in 2019 — Hunter Bryant — is currently a member of the Detroit Lions. Junior Cade Otton might well be the top tight end in the Pac-12, but senior Jacob Kizer missed five games last season with a back injury and sophomore Devin Culp has yet to record a college catch. UW’s other scholarship freshman, Mason West, is regarded more as a dedicated blocker with limited pass-catching prospects.
The question might ultimately be if Redman is physically strong enough as a true freshman to serve as an effective run-blocker for UW. If he passes that test, Husky fans could see a lot of him.
Ethan Garbers — QB — 6-3, 193 — Newport Beach, Calif.
It’s finally time to talk about the quarterback competition.
On Sept. 5, when (if?) UW hosts Michigan, the Huskies’ starting quarterback will either be redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris or true freshman Ethan Garbers. Of that trio, only Sirmon has attempted a pass on the collegiate level (and he threw a total of three of them, completing two, last year). So all three enter the summer with reasonable hopes of winning the job.
As for Garbers, the 6-3, 193-pounder and former four-star recruit led Corona Del Mar to a California state title and a perfect 16-0 record last fall — throwing for 5,034 yards and 71 touchdowns (!) along the way. It’s worth noting that high-school statistics mean about as much as an umbrella in a hurricane, and it’s unclear how quickly Garbers will digest UW’s pro-style attack. The cancellation of spring practice certainly didn’t help the early enrollee’s chances of capably competing with more experienced quarterbacks in Sirmon and Morris.
It does feel like an abbreviated offseason has hindered Garbers’ ability to pull an upset under center. He won’t enter the summer as the likely favorite to win the job.
But it’s still a competition — and if he impresses, he might just play.
Jacobe Covington — S — 6-1, 196 — Chandler, Ariz.
Let’s start by acknowledging the mountain Covington will have to climb. When it comes to starting experience, UW returns cornerbacks Trent McDuffie, Keith Taylor and Kyler Gordon, nickelback Elijah Molden and safeties Cameron Williams, Asa Turner and Brandon McKinney. Returners Julius Irvin, Dominique Hampton and Alex Cook are hoping to make their mark as well.
But what do we know about first-year UW head coach Jimmy Lake? The man l-o-o-o-v-e-s to play freshman defensive backs. That was certainly the case with McDuffie, Williams and Turner last season, and Covington looks to be the most college-ready of the crop in 2020. The 6-1, 196-pound athlete could conceivably excel at either corner or safety. He possesses the length and positional versatility Lake has long coveted in a UW DB.
Yes, the secondary is probably the most stacked spot on Washington’s roster this season. But don’t expect Covington to crumble in the face of competition.
Honorable mentions: C Myles Murao, WR Rome Odunze, WR Sawyer Racanelli, RB Jay’Veon Sunday, LB Cooper McDonald