It seems Washington’s football program has finally entered the offseason.
Assistant coaches have been hired (and fired). NFL draft decisions have been made. Rosters have been updated.
But the questions never end. And because of that, let’s dive into another edition of the UW Huskies mailbag.
The short answer is no.
The longer answer is that it’s interesting. This hire makes a lot of sense for Washington State, since Rolovich — who served as Hawaii’s coach for the past four seasons — brings a penchant for developing underrecruited prospects from both the islands and the West Coast at large. He’s also a dynamic, engaging personality implementing a prolific and player-friendly run-and-shoot offense in Pullman. And, coincidentally, Honolulu St. Louis High School three-star quarterback Jayden de Laura just signed with Washington State as well.
And yet, don’t forget that in Rolovich’s four seasons as Hawaii’s coach, he never once signed a top-five player from the state (according to 247Sports’ rankings). Washington has long maintained a player pipeline in Hawaii, and an outside hire — regardless of the program or coach — is not likely to upend that. UW first-year coach Jimmy Lake and co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe, a Hawaii product who also played for the Huskies from 1993 to 1996, will not be intimidated. If they feel a player matches their program, they are going to aggressively pursue said player.
In 2021, that player appears to be four-star inside linebacker Wynden Ho’ohuli, who owns an offer from UW as well as Washington State, Oregon, USC, Utah and Hawaii. 247Sports recruiting analyst Blair Angulo’s crystal ball currently predicts that Ho’ohuli will sign with Washington (though those things tend to change every hour).
UW signed a whopping six players from Hawaii in the 2018 and 2019 classes — including a trio of four-star prospects in defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele, offensive tackle Julius Buelow and defensive tackle Sama Paama in 2019. But the Huskies also struck out on the state’s top three prospects — inside linebacker Jordan Botelho (Notre Dame), outside linebacker Nick Herbig (Wisconsin) and wide receiver Roman Wilson (Michigan) — in the 2020 cycle.
The Huskies still have work to do in Hawaii, and don’t expect Rolovich’s hire to alter their approach.
Lake, specifically, does not feel good about UW’s current quarterbacks room — but that may be more of a numbers game than anything. When asked about the possibility of adding a quarterback via the transfer portal on 950 AM KJR on Wednesday, he said the following:
“As soon as a guy is not the starter … it’s not like back in the old days, where they’d go, ‘OK, I’m just going to work harder, and maybe I’ll unseat him after week 4 or week 5 or whatever.’ They just up and leave. So we’ve had a couple guys do that here, which put a huge gaping hole in that quarterback room. So I think there is a potential. You do want to look at that and maybe you do have to fill in a guy or two to make sure we’re back at full strength.”
Of course, Lake is referring to former UW quarterbacks Jake Haener and Colson Yankoff — who transferred to Fresno State and UCLA, respectively, last offseason. In the wake of Jacob Eason declaring for the NFL draft, that leaves the Huskies with just three scholarship quarterbacks — redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman early enrollee Ethan Garbers — when practice kicks off this spring. Of that group, I’ve been told Sirmon would be the heavy favorite to start the season opener against Michigan on Sept. 5.
But is the quarterback room complete? Lake could have emphatically swatted the possibility that the Huskies add a transfer quarterback this offseason; he didn’t do that. In fact, he voluntarily used the words “huge gaping hole” to describe the state of that room. Remember, also, that before Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Jamie Newman announced Georgia as his landing spot earlier this month, he included Washington in the list of schools he was considering — implying mutual interest.
As far as graduate transfer quarterback candidates, the two most popular names are Stanford’s K.J. Costello and Houston’s D’Eriq King. The 6-5, 222-pound Costello is a proven Pac-12 commodity, having thrown for 6,151 yards with 49 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 29 career games. He was also a team captain both in 2018 and 2019. King, on the other hand, became just the third player to throw for 25 or more touchdowns and run for 13 or more scores when he did it in 2018 — throwing for 2,982 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions, and running for 674 yards and 14 scores, all while missing two-and-a-half games with a torn meniscus.
There will be ample competition for both quarterbacks, and UW may or may not be involved. It’s exceedingly possible — likely, even — that Sirmon seizes the position this fall. But Lake has certainly left the door open for further additions to the roster.
We’ve written enough about John Donovan for the time being, so let’s talk about Terrence Brown.
There’s potentially a lot to like about UW’s new assistant defensive backs coach. In Brown, you’ve got a young coach coming off two years as a full-time assistant with an SEC program (Vanderbilt). While he was there, he tutored a 2019 second-round pick in current New England Patriots corner Joejuan Williams, who took a clear statistical step in his only season under Brown’s wing. He was also a graduate assistant at UW from 2015 to 2017, which gives him a clear understanding both of Lake’s system and the culture he’s attempting to cultivate on Montlake.
From a recruiting standpoint, Brown — a Compton product and Stanford graduate — has clear ties to California, the most essential state (arguably outside of Washington) in every UW class. He can continue to learn from Husky defensive backs coach Will Harris, who held his same position each of the past two seasons, as well.
Washington returns four starting defensive backs from the Las Vegas Bowl this fall. The Husky secondary is more filled with future NFL talent than any other area on the field.
Now, with Lake running the show, it’s time for both Harris and Brown to prove their worth.
The safe answer is probably the secondary. But since we just discussed that, let’s look at the defensive line.
In the middle, Levi Onwuzurike — a first-team All-Pac-12 performer in 2019 — is returning for his senior season. Josiah Bronson, who started 11 games last fall, has also been granted a sixth year of eligibility and will be back at UW. Redshirt sophomores Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani each received significant reps last season, with Letuligasenoa specifically surging as the season went on. And don’t forget, either, that UW signed three more four-star defensive linemen — Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes and Sama Paama — who redshirted last fall. Add it all together, and you have an abundance of both depth and potential.
As for the pass rush? Washington appears suddenly stout at outside linebacker, with starters Joe Tryon (12.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks in 2019) and Ryan Bowman (9.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT) returning in 2020. Sophomore Laiatu Latu should take another step as well, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see five-star Kennedy Catholic signee Sav’ell Smalls play immediately as a freshman.
With the arguable exception of inside linebacker, there’s a lot to like on defense.