The Washington Huskies have a new coaching staff.

Which coaxes a new set of questions.

As UW’s winter conditioning program commences and the February signing period fast approaches, let’s open the mailbag and address a few Husky football questions.

UW’s most desperate need comes at the linebacker position — where starter Jackson Sirmon (Cal) and reserve M.J. Tafisi (Utah State) have both transferred in the past several months, while Will Latu (the program’s lone linebacker signee in the 2021 class) left the team before his freshman season due to concussion concerns.

That leaves Washington with just five scholarship linebackers entering the winter quarter — juniors Edefuan Ulofoshio and Demario King (a junior college transfer from Cerritos College) and sophomores Carson Bruener, Daniel Heimuli and Alphonzo Tuputala. The good news? That’s a talented and somewhat established quintet, featuring expected starters Ulofoshio and Bruener and a pair of proven contributors in Heimuli and Tuputala.

But five scholarship linebackers isn’t nearly enough. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach William Inge should look to address UW’s dwindling depth both via the February signing period and the transfer portal.

As for other positions, UW has some freedom and flexibility to pursue players who could conceivably make an immediate impact — rather than feeling forced to take flyers on obvious needs. Scott Huff does return three starting offensive linemen in left guard Ulumoo Ale, right guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Victor Curne, and Troy Fautanu and Julius Buelow both tout starting experience as well. But given the departures of o-line stalwarts Jaxson Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg, plus that unit’s underwhelming performance last fall, Huff could certainly pursue a seasoned offensive lineman in the transfer portal as well.

And while Washington has already countered the early exits of defensive backs Trent McDuffie, Kyler Gordon and Brendan Radley-Hiles by bringing in UC Davis corner Jordan Perryman, it’s possible UW could continue to add to its secondary. Jacobe Covington, Mishael Powell, Elijah Jackson and Zakhari Spears could all be future starters at cornerback, but that group enters the offseason with precious little experience in Pac-12 play.


On the flip side, safeties Alex Cook, Cameron Williams, Asa Turner and Julius Irvin have played plenty of Power Five ball … but have yet to truly separate themselves as cemented starters.

Plus, will the transfers of defensive tackle Sam “Taki” Taimani (Oregon) and EDGE Cooper McDonald (San Diego State) coax UW’s coaches to seek reinforcements along the defensive line? On the outside, UW’s 2022 outlook at the EDGE position hinges somewhat on the status of junior Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who is participating in the Huskies’ winter conditioning program but might still be a threat to test the transfer waters. Otherwise, Bralen Trice, Sav’ell Smalls, Jeremiah Martin, Jordan Lolohea, Maurice Heims and Lance Holtzclaw bring obvious upside … and just three combined career sacks.

On the interior, junior starter Tuli Letuligasenoa and sophomore contributors Faatui Tuitele and Jacob Bandes return, and Voi Tunuufi and Kuao Peihopa both flashed at times as true freshmen in 2021. But given the right fit, Washington would welcome another big, disruptive body on the defensive line.

The same might be said of the tight end position, where Cade Otton declared for the NFL draft and Mark Redman transferred to San Diego State in the past several months. UW seems set to rely on some combination of juniors Devin Culp and Jack Westover, sophomore Quentin Moore and true freshman Ryan Otton in 2022. But if a playmaking tight end enters the transfer market, might Washington throw its hat in the ring?

Which brings us, finally, to special teams — where Race Porter is out of eligibility after finishing fourth in the nation in punting average (48.53 yards per punt) in 2021. UW has a junior punter on scholarship in Triston Brown, but he has yet to see the field in two seasons in Seattle. If the coaching staff doesn’t feel Brown is the answer at that particular position, it could certainly pursue a punter in the transfer portal.

Even despite the transfers of Terrell Bynum (USC) and Sawyer Racanelli (Montana), and the post-signing day departure of Germie Bernard (Michigan State), Washington is fairly well situated, with eight scholarship wide receivers — junior Giles Jackson, sophomores Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Taj Davis, redshirt freshmen Ja’Lynn Polk, Lonyatta “Junior” Alexander and Jabez Tinae and true freshman Denzel Boston.


Of that group, McMillan, Odunze, Polk and Davis are the early favorites to earn significant targets next fall, with Jackson again contributing via gadget plays and in the return game.

But where does that leave Alexander, the former Kennedy Catholic standout and four-star recruit who announced a transfer from Arizona State to UW on Saturday morning?

That all depends on whether the 6-foot-2, 200-pound wide receiver develops into the player he was projected to be. Alexander possesses a physical frame, soft hands and the ability to consistently find the soft spot in defensive secondaries. But he also noticeably lacks elite top-end speed and failed to catch a pass as a true freshman last fall.

Given UW’s returners, it’ll be a challenge for Alexander to earn a regular spot in the rotation in 2022. But, with development from new wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard, there’s hope he can eventually fill a role as an invaluable possession receiver and red-zone menace with reliable hands.

And Washington could always use one of those.

I can’t answer that question for you.

I can tell you that UW’s offense should immediately improve next fall, that it has enough returning talent for a speedy turnaround. I can tell you that its strength and conditioning advances should pay immediate dividends. I can point to a relatively loaded list of prospective play makers — McMillan and Odunze and Polk and Cameron Davis and Michael Penix Jr. and Edefuan Ulofoshio and Carson Bruener and Zion Tupuola-Fetui, etc.

But hope, in the end, is a subjective sensation. It can’t be forced. It has to be felt.

In “The Shawshank Redemption,” wild-eyed inmate Andy Dufresne describes hope as “something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. It’s yours.”

In “Ted Lasso,” the title character tells his upstart soccer team: “I’ve been hearing this phrase y’all got over here that I ain’t too crazy about. ‘It’s the hope that kills you.’ Y’all know that? I disagree. I think it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you. See, I believe in hope. I believe in belief.”

I can’t make you hope. I can’t make you believe.

Once you believe there’s hope, then there will be.