The Washington Huskies have completed six practices in fall camp.
So, obviously, the 2019 season’s starting lineups are set in stone.
The quarterback competition has concluded. The secondary shuffle has been sorted out. The kicker duel has been decisively decided. In fact, the team has even opted to surrender its remaining practices and play the season opener this weekend!
OK, so maybe none of that is totally (or even marginally) true. But why should that stop us from speculating?
Football is back, and so is The Times’ UW mailbag. Let’s go.
Remember, a player can now participate in up to four games and still use a redshirt season. With that caveat, let’s count down the top five.
5. WR Puka Nacua
In the first week of fall camp, the 6-foot-1, 204-pound Nacua has showcased the hands, elusiveness and body control that allowed him to set Utah state records for career receptions (260), yards (5,226) and receiving touchdowns (58) in a prolific four-year run at Orem High School. Physically, there’s little doubt that Nacua could produce immediately this fall.
But can the four-star freshman climb a crowded depth chart? UW already boasts an array of more proven options, including Aaron Fuller, Ty Jones, Andre Baccellia, Chico McClatcher and Quinten Pounds. And during the first five practices, Nacua never lined up with the No. 1 or No. 2 offenses.
But Puka may also prove to be the Huskies’ most formidable downfield threat. Ultimately, I’d be surprised if Bush Hamdan, Junior Adams and Co. can keep him off the field.
(Not-particularly-football-related side note: Watch him dunk and tell me this kid’s not playing as a freshman.)
4. CB Trent McDuffie
After Wednesday’s practice, UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake confirmed that McDuffie — a 5-11, 185 pound former four-star prospect out of St. John Bosco High — will play in at least four games this fall. That, in itself, is an accomplishment, considering the bevy of blooming talent returning to the UW secondary. To this point, McDuffie has been working with the second team behind redshirt freshman cornerback Kyler Gordon.
He lacks the coveted length of fellow corners Keith Taylor and Dominique Hampton, but McDuffie’s college-ready technique should allow him to earn game reps early on. But will he play in four games, or 14?
Check back in December.
3. K Tim Horn
It might seem like a strange move to place Horn on this list and concede that I don’t expect him to win the ongoing place-kicking competition.
But here we are.
It’s early, but to this point sophomore Peyton Henry has been the more consistently accurate kicker in practice. If the coaches feel Henry is the most game-ready on Aug. 31, that’ll be your starter.
Still, it’s worth remembering that Henry’s kickoffs resulted in a touchback just 32.9 percent of the time last season (11th in the Pac-12). His accuracy may be inconsistent, but Horn’s leg strength is undeniable. At the very least, he should claim kickoff duties this fall. The Huskies didn’t hand out a scholarship to a kicker just to stash him on the shelf.
2. OLB Laiatu Latu
You probably don’t need me to list off Washington’s underwhelming 2018 sack numbers again. Twenty-four sacks in 14 games, 100th nationally, worst total in a decade, yada yada yada. I’ll spare you another needless nightmare.
But here’s the relevant question: How are the Huskies going to fix it?
Outside linebackers Joe Tryon, Ryan Bowman and Ariel Ngata better be part of the answer. But another intriguing option is Latu — the 6-4, 275 pound four-star freshman who amassed a mammoth 29.5 tackles for loss in his senior season.
Also telling: Lake hasn’t simply been impressed by Latu’s gargantuan physical gifts.
“Oh, man. Another guy we’re all excited about, that we were excited about when we signed him,” Lake said Wednesday. “He’s been so into the playbook and has rarely made any mistakes for such a young guy, which is impressive. Then just his size and his athleticism really jumps off the tape. So he’s just got to keep grinding away and good things will come his way.”
1. S Cameron Williams
An early enrollee, Williams was perhaps the Huskies’ breakout star of the spring. He ascended to a starting spot near the end of April, and in the five fall practices open to the media, the 6-0, 191 pound freshman has taken every team rep with the first-team defense.
Does that guarantee that Williams will be a fixture in UW’s starting secondary Aug. 31 and beyond? No, of course not. But it’s clear that Lake and Co. have confidence that the former high-school quarterback can operate in that role.
“He still has a long way to go, and thankfully we still have three weeks until game time. But he’s so competitive. He’s so athletic,” Lake said. “We do have a bunch of calls in. Our defense has put a bunch of wrinkles in over the years, so he’s kind of catching up to all the little nuances we do have in our defense. But I’m very excited about what he can bring to the table.”
Honorable mentions: LB Josh Calvert, S Asa Turner, RB Cameron Davis
Now we’re at the part of the program where we acknowledge the absurdity; where we season the conspiracy theories with a dash of salt and see how they taste.
Spoiler: This one tastes pretty rotten.
In short, this quarterback competition is not some grand charade. It’s not a theatrical production being put on by Chris Petersen and Co. If it were, junior Jacob Eason and sophomore Jake Haener would not have split starting reps so evenly throughout the spring and into the fall; their performances would not have been so agonizingly even throughout 15 April practices.
I can say with some certainty that Petersen did not silently decide on Eason as his starter in January, then choose to deny him the lion’s share of the reps for the next eight months to establish chemistry with the team’s other established starters. If Petersen were convinced, it would be in everyone’s best interest not to draw out a highly publicized, highly distracting preseason competition.
With that said, I think Eason has been the better quarterback in fall camp thus far, and I expect the highly touted Lake Stevens product to start inside Husky Stadium against Eastern Washington.
It certainly appears that way.
The Huskies’ first five August practices were open to the media. And in all five of those practices, the same starting secondary for UW remained intact. That group consisted of cornerbacks Keith Taylor and Kyler Gordon, nickel back Elijah Molden and safeties Myles Bryant and Cameron Williams. Bryant — who has racked up 123 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss in three seasons, primarily as a nickel — slid back to safety for the latter half of the spring as well.
Lake has made it clear that he believes Bryant possesses the athleticism and intellect to succeed in any position in the secondary. If healthy, he’ll be a starter in his senior season.
That could be at safety, or somewhere else.
“With a bunch of practices left and a big scrimmage coming up, that’s really when we’ll see where everybody falls,” Lake said. “Right now it’s just a seating chart. Everybody’s sitting in seats. We’re seeing who’s making plays, who’s understanding the defense, and then we’ll see who those starters will be come game one.”
If you missed it, we reported this summer that four-star freshman defensive tackle Faatui Tuitele sustained a torn pectoral during his senior season at Saint Louis High School in Honolulu, and in an unprecedented move he decided to decline surgery and play through the injury.
There was a possibility that Tuitele could still have the surgery upon arriving in Seattle this summer. But to this point, the 6-3, 300-pound defensive lineman has been a full participant in practice. The same goes for fellow freshman interior defensive lineman Jacob Bandes, who enrolled early but missed the spring after having his appendix removed.
So, yes, Tuitele and Bandes are available. But it’ll be difficult to wrestle reps from Washington’s existing array of defensive linemen such as Levi Onwuzurike, Benning Potoa’e, Josiah Bronson, John Clark, Sam Taimani and Tuli Letuligasenoa.
In fall camp, at least, the freshmen have three more weeks to make a favorable impression.
The mailbags, without a doubt.