Beware the ides of August.
At the halfway mark of the month, it may feel like Washington’s season opener Aug. 31 may never actually arrive. The days are long and hot and boring. Football seems too far away.
But fear not: that’s what mailbags are for.
You asked. We answered. Let’s roll.
Nobody withholds precious details quite like Chris Petersen. For proof, see the sixth-year Husky coach’s response to a specific question on whether redshirt freshman defensive back Julius Irvin is currently injured.
“Julius is a little banged-up right now,” Petersen said this week. “He is dealing with an injury. We’ll report on all that stuff later.
“My thing on that is always going to be, if there’s something to report long-term we’ll let you guys know. And if there’s not, (he’s) week to week.”
OK then! Irvin is “banged up.” Hope that provides some clarity.
In all seriousness, the 6-foot-1, 191-pound defensive back had been practicing primarily with the third team at nickel back — not safety — during the team’s five practices open to the media this month.
But, to your second question, Washington’s starters in the entire secondary did not change during the aforementioned practices. They consisted of corners Keith Taylor and Kyler Gordon, nickel back Elijah Molden and safeties Myles Bryant and Cameron Williams. The second safety group was made up of junior Brandon McKinney and sophomore converted wide receiver Alex Cook, while freshmen Asa Turner and Kamren Fabiculanan worked with the third team.
The expectation is that Bryant (previously a nickel back) and Williams (a true freshman) will hang onto the starting jobs. But McKinney also provides plenty of experience at the position, and both Cook and Turner flashed at times early in August. This group may be deeper than we originally anticipated.
Let’s start up the middle, with senior inside linebacker Kyler Manu. I certainly understand the skepticism: here is a guy who has been on campus for four seasons and has yet to start a game. Here’s a 6-1, 246-pound former three-star prospect who was ranked as the No. 104 outside linebacker and the No. 1,523 overall recruit in his class by 247Sports in 2015. Here’s a guy who has made 12 tackles in 24 career games. (Ben Burr-Kirven, by comparison, compiled 13 tackles in the opener against Auburn last season.)
Isn’t it possible that Manu could — and this might sound crazy — actually succeed? The 6-1, 246-pound inside linebacker held his starting spot through the entirety of the spring and the early part of August. It’s easy to anoint a more highly touted redshirt freshman like Jackson Sirmon or M.J. Tafisi (and, to be clear, I expect both to contribute). But maybe we shouldn’t overlook the guy slated to start at inside linebacker against Eastern Washington just yet.
Honorable mentions: defensive linemen Josiah Bronson and John Clark, outside linebacker Ryan Bowman, running back Richard Newton, tight end Devin Culp and cornerback Trent McDuffie.
For the season-opener? Can I use a percentage less than zero?
I get the Laiatu Latu hype. Admittedly, I helped create it. The former four-star outside linebacker started fall camp as a physically mature 6-4, 275-pound freshman. And, more than that, defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake told the media that Latu has “been so into the playbook and has rarely made any mistakes for such a young guy, which is impressive.” He will have a role this season, and that may not involve a redshirt.
But Ryan Bowman is the starter. The 6-0, 277-pound junior has earned that spot, despite tallying just a single sack and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2018. Bowman bulked up this offseason, and there’s reason to believe he can return to 2017 form. And, like Latu, redshirt freshman Zion Tupuola-Fetui is a physical specimen — a 6-3, 266-pound Hawaiian with a high motor.
In my book, sophomore outside linebacker Joe Tryon is still the best bet to lead this team in sacks. But Bowman and sophomore Ariel Ngata are both capable, and it’s worth remembering that a safety — Taylor Rapp — led the Husky D with five sacks last fall.
The Latu hype is warranted, but it should also be limited — for now.
I’m taking this opportunity to tackle the entire UW tight end position (not that those guys are easy to tackle).
UCLA’s Caleb Wilson led all tight ends nationally with 60 catches and 965 receiving yards last season.
Assuming Bryant stays healthy — and that may be a foolishly optimistic assumption — why can’t the 6-2, 239-pound tight end from Eastside Catholic approach 60 catches, 900 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 13 or 14 games? Bryant led all FBS tight ends with 3.45 yards per route last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s been healthy in August, and has noticeably developed chemistry with assumed starting quarterback Jacob Eason.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins set UW’s season tight-end records for receptions (69) and receiving yards in 2012 (850). I’m not bold enough to predict Bryant will get there, but that better be the goal.
As for the rest of the tight-ends room, expect sophomore Cade Otton to build on his impressive freshman season. The 6-5, 246-pound athlete is developing into a complete tight end and will be used often along with Bryant in two-tight-end sets. With junior Jacob Kizer out indefinitely with a back injury, redshirt freshmen Devin Culp (6-3, 262) and Jack Westover (6-3, 241) and converted offensive lineman Corey Luciano (6-4, 268) could all conceivably be used in different roles.
There are three acceptable answers here: sophomore place-kicker Peyton Henry, redshirt freshman tight end Jack Westover and redshirt freshman inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio.
Through two weeks of fall camp, it appears that Henry — a 5-11, 197-pound sophomore from Danville, Calif. — will hang onto the Huskies’ starting place-kicking duties. Henry was mostly passable in 2018, completing 16 of 22 field goals with a long of 41 yards. He was reliably accurate during the spring and bested scholarship freshman Tim Horn during the five practices open to the media in August.
It’s worth noting, though, that just 32.9 percent of Henry’s kickoffs resulted in a touchback last season. The Huskies may opt to use Horn’s strong right leg on kickoffs, freeing Henry up to focus on field goals and extra points.
Westover, as previously stated, could be thrust up the UW depth chart in the wake of Kizer’s injury. The 6-3, 241-pound tight end and Bellevue product is not physically imposing, but it appears more and more that he’s earned the trust of the Washington coaching staff. The Huskies love to roll through tight ends, and the more prototypical trio — Bryant, Otton and Culp — might not be enough.
Ulofoshio’s athleticism makes it hard to imagine the redshirt freshman inside linebacker was ranked as a two-star prospect by 247Sports and received all of two scholarship offers — from Northern Arizona and Robert Morris — before opting to walk on at Washington in 2018. In three games last season, the 6-0, 231-pound freshman forced a pair of fumbles on kickoffs. He’ll be a special-teams staple again in 2019. But is that all he’ll be?
The door is open for Ulofoshio, considering UW’s glaring uncertainty at the inside linebacker spot. Earlier in August, he was regularly practicing with the third team. But he also displayed a knack for pass-rushing in practices last spring. Ulofoshio has tools worth developing, but it’s unclear if — or when — he’ll convert potential into production.
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