Say, sing or tweet #HeyJude for Huskies beat writer Adam Jude to answer your pressing questions about UW football.
We’re almost there. A little more than one week remains until the No. 8 Huskies open one of the program’s most anticipated seasons ever against Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J.
Until then, there are some lingering questions about this Washington roster, its potential and its potential weaknesses. Here’s an attempt to answer a few of those.
Welcome to the #HeyJude mailbag.
There are a number of quality candidates — Jordan Miller, Andre Baccellia, Salvon Ahmed, Levi Onwuzurike, to name a few. But the No. 1 breakout candidate has to be … the new No. 1. That would be Byron Murphy, the 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman cornerback from Scottsdale, Ariz., who inherited the top-of-the-roster jersey number from John Ross III (Murphy was wearing No. 5 in the spring). Murphy was promoted to the first-team defense after one week of spring practices and he hasn’t budged since. The nephew of former NBA star Mike Bibby, Murphy was a standout basketball player in high school and might already be the best all-around athlete on the UW roster. Want proof? Check his casual one-handed dunk off the back wall earlier this month (reminder: he is 5-11):
There is much consternation about the losses of Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King. And, sure, much of that is warranted. They were three-fifths of the best secondary in the nation last season, and replacing that level of experience and talent won’t happen immediately. Murphy has never played in a college game, but he does have all the raw tools to eventually become a lockdown corner a la Jones and King. So let him into your hearts, and then he will begin to make the secondary better.
It’s difficult to envision a coaching staff committing more time and energy to basic fundamentals than Chris Petersen and his guys do. I think back to Petersen’s first practice as the UW coach, in the spring of 2014, and just how surprised — stunned, really — many of the veterans players were with the “tiny, tiny, tiny” details they had just learned. But that’s what Petersen is at heart — a teacher. And that’s what he looks for in his assistant coaches. During that same first practice, offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith dropped to his belly and rolled around on the turf to show his young quarterbacks how to properly recover a fumble. I’d never seen anything like it from a coach. For these coaches, it’s true: They quite literally rebuilt this program from the ground up.
I still go back to the offensive line and the pass rush. If the Huskies take a hit on the line, I just don’t know if they have the quality depth to make up for it. And I don’t see on this roster the kind of edge rusher — whether it’s Hau’oli Kikaha or Joe Mathis — the Huskies have become accustomed to having the past three seasons. That said, there isn’t one spot or one unit that’s especially concerning. Really, these are the sort of first-world problems you want to have as a program trying to maintain a place among college football’s elite.
Based on the depth chart posted here last week — which remains largely unchanged this week — nine of the 11 starters on offense are juniors or seniors, and on defense eight projected starters are upperclassmen. In that regard, the Huskies are approaching a Stanford-level of maturity. No longer are they desperately seeking freshmen to fill key roles (though there will be a few of those expected to contribute). As for guys from the old coaching regime, eight scholarship players (including four projected starters) remain from the 2013 recruiting class: Keishawn Bierria, Lavon Coleman, Connor O’Brien, Sean Constantine, Azeem Victor, Andrew Kirkland, Coleman Shelton and David Ajamu.
Just a day before the start of fall camp a year ago, the Huskies took a calculated gamble and added Young to the roster. That gamble hasn’t paid off so far. At the time, wide receiver was seen as perhaps the team’s biggest question mark, with Ross coming off a major knee injury and Dante Pettis still largely unproven. That position is now a strength for this offense. Young, now a senior, was dismissed by Oklahoma for an unspecified violation of team rules in May 2015. He appeared in five games for UW last season but didn’t record any statistics. Dinged up this spring, he showed some promise during the first two weeks of fall camp earlier this month, but was clearly behind the second wave of receivers (Brayden Lenius, Aaron Fuller, Quinten Pounds and Ty Jones). The good news for Young, and other reserves like him, is UW’s soft nonconference schedule should give them mop-up opportunities to showcase themselves.
Ngata, a freshman linebacker out of Folsom (Calif.) High, was with the team late last week after working through some academic issues, as Petersen described them earlier in camp. Expect him to redshirt this season. Gaye, a defensive lineman out of Edmonds-Woodway High, was not with the team during the first two weeks of open practices. The speculation is he will grayshirt. Joe Tryon, a freshman out of Renton’s Hazen High, has been working at Buck linebacker, behind Benning Potoa’e, Jusstis Warren and Ryan Bowman. Warren and Bowman, by the way, look like two of the most improved players on the roster.
So this is a blatant violation of the #HeyJude rules … but I’ll let it slide and include it here because, well, it’s unquestionably among the greatest lyrics ever written, right? There are worst songs to have stuck in your head until … until we do this all over again next week.