The 2019 Washington football season is here.
That means more news conferences, more tailgates (and sailgates), more breakout stars, more upsets — and, yes, more mailbags.
Before the Huskies host Eastern Washington on Saturday, let’s address a few of your most pressing questions.
Sorry JMG, I think you misspelled “players.” You were asking for multiple players, right? No? Well, that’s what you’re going to get.
I think the most popular answers here are a pair of true freshmen — wide receiver Puka Nacua and outside linebacker Laiatu Latu. UW head coach Chris Petersen hasn’t hesitated to acknowledge Nacua’s strong August, and he also affirmed on Monday that there are questions regarding the quality of Washington’s wide receivers. The depth chart at that position is riddled with upperclassmen — starters and seniors Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia and Chico McClatcher, followed by senior Quinten Pounds, sophomore Terrell Bynum and possibly-injured junior Ty Jones.
There’s no shortage of mouths to feed. But how many of them can expose a secondary? How many can beat double coverage? How many can draw penalties and pile up yards after the catch? It can difficult for true freshmen receivers to make an immediate impact, but perhaps Nacua is an explosive exception.
As for Latu, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound outside linebacker … is 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds. Don’t gloss over the kid’s rare combination of size and nimble feet. But more than that, both Petersen and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake praised Latu’s ability to understand his assignment and absorb the Huskies’ defense this month. Joe Tryon, Ryan Bowman, Ariel Ngata and Myles Rice will all get early opportunities to sack the quarterback. But if Latu stands out in September, he could avoid a redshirt.
As for a less appealing (but maybe more realistic) answer, 6-6 sophomore offensive tackle Henry Bainivalu played in all 14 games last season but was mysteriously left off the depth chart. If he’s healthy, the Skyline High School alum would likely be the first man off the bench in case of an injury on the offensive line. But is he healthy? Petersen said Monday that “he’s another one of those guys where we’ve made progress and we’ll see how this thing continues to evolve.” So that obviously clears things up.
Honorable mentions: junior running back Kamari Pleasant, redshirt freshman running back Richard Newton, redshirt freshman tight end Devin Culp, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Sam Taimani.
This is the last depth chart — or “seating chart” — question, I swear. I think the player media members were most surprised to see in a starting spot is senior defensive lineman Josiah Bronson, who was awarded a scholarship this offseason. But even that is not overly surprising. Washington rotates waves of defensive linemen, and senior converted outside linebacker Benning Potoa’e — who is technically listed behind Bronson — will also play plenty, per Lake.
In all, I expect the following defensive linemen to be regular contributors this season: Levi Onwuzurike, Bronson, Potoa’e and redshirt freshmen Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani. Redshirt freshman Draco Bynum and true freshmen Jacob Bandes and Faatui Tuitele could eventually crack the rotation as well.
The only other minor surprise, besides Bainivalu’s unexplained absence, was that true freshman Asa Turner was slotted ahead of junior Isaiah Gilchrist as Elijah Molden’s back up at the nickel spot.
But more on that below.
Here’s what Petersen had to say about Turner on Thursday:
“I think all of those (freshman defensive backs) have done a really nice job picking up the system, first and foremost. They’ll continue to get that ingrained in their DNA so they can just play faster. But he’s a really good athlete — tall and rangy.
“He’s one of those guys who was not here early, and there’s not a ton of learning going on in the summer even. It’s just really school and a little bit of lifting and running. So for him to come in 20-some days and really get this into his bloodstream is good, and (he’s) only going to continue to improve.”
For Petersen, that qualifies as high praise. A former four-star prospect, Turner (6-3, 187) has the athletic tools to find the field both as a nickel and eventually as a safety. But I think to do that for more than four games this fall, he’ll have to be a willing participant in specials teams coverage units. His inclusion also raises further questions about the status of redshirt freshman Julius Irvin, who was limited with an injury in the spring and was “banged up” — Petersen’s words — in August as well.
In the practices the media was allowed to view early in camp, Irvin was often practicing as the third-team nickel. Is he unavailable because of an injury, or has Turner simply leap-frogged him with less than a month of college practices? The answer is unclear.
Ah, yes. Petersen has been asked multiple times this preseason about his stated goal of simplifying the offense in 2019. Here’s what he said — or, more accurately, didn’t say — in a press conference on Monday:
“We looked at everything. We try to play to our strengths, and away we go.”
In other words, if Petersen and second-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan do intend to unveil significant strategic/schematic changes on Saturday … then we’ll all have to confirm that with our eyes on Saturday. But with a new quarterback in Jacob Eason, it would certainly seem like Washington would benefit by paring down its offensive playbook — at least initially. Stay tuned.
To be completely transparent, sophomore outside linebacker Joe Tryon — a 6-5, 262-pound Transformer in shoulder pads — is my pick to lead the Huskies in sacks this season. But I also think it can be dangerous to fall in love with measurables and overlook past production.
Take junior Ryan Bowman, for example. Pitted against Tryon, the 6-0, 277-pound junior would not fare well in a Mr. Universe competition. But he produced 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman in 2017, before falling off last season. If Bowman can regain his form, there’s no reason why he can’t lead this team in sacks.
It’s natural to gape at Tryon, or Latu, or redshirt freshman Zion Tupuola-Fetui (6-3, 266), and project prolific totals. I’ve been guilty of that as well. But safety Taylor Rapp led the team with five sacks last season.
Point being, it doesn’t always come from the obvious player, or position.
Just as hot as the dilapidated door Rose laid on — and completely hogged, by the way, directly resulting in Jack’s death — floating in the Atlantic Ocean at the end of “Titanic.” Just as hot as Jack Torrance’s body temperature in the closing moments of “The Shining.” Just as hot as Patrick Ewing’s shooting touch after his powers are stolen in “Space Jam.”
Translation: it’s cold. Chris Petersen isn’t going anywhere.