A new era of Washington football begins on Tuesday with the opening of spring practice under coach Kalen DeBoer. The Huskies hit the reset button after Jimmy Lake’s two-year run leading the program in Seattle ended in mid-November, opting for a complete change in culture and direction. DeBoer was one of the top Group of 5 coaches at Fresno State, building a high-powered offense and a team that finished 9-3 in the regular season. DeBoer has to prove he can win at the Pac-12 level and recruit well enough on a consistent basis to beat Oregon and USC, but his background on offense and track record of success has optimism running high this spring.
DeBoer and his staff have several issues to address this spring, starting with an anemic offense and an unsettled quarterback situation. The Huskies struggled mightily on offense last year, but the coaching change should allow this team to better maximize its talent. The defense also opens spring practice with concerns. Just four starters are back and a few significant voids must be filled in the secondary.
What’s on tap for Washington this spring? Here are five things to watch in Seattle:
5 Storylines to Watch During Washington's Spring Practices
1. The Quarterbacks
As with any new coaching staff and scheme change, it’s safe to say all jobs are open on the depth chart in spring practice. Of course, the quarterback spot always draws the most attention, and rightfully so in Washington’s case. The Huskies averaged 21 points a game and just 4.8 yards per snap in Pac-12 action last year. DeBoer and coordinator Ryan Grubb should get more out of this offense in ’22, but a major jump in production will hinge on the quarterback room.
Dylan Morris returns after throwing for 2,458 yards and 14 touchdowns to 12 picks last year, while former five-star product Sam Huard aims to battle for the job after limiting snaps to four games to use a redshirt year. Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. was brought in to push both players, and the senior has familiarity with DeBoer’s scheme after working in this offense in ’19. Talent isn’t an issue for Penix, but he’s suffered four season-ending injuries over the last four years.
Will a front-runner emerge after spring practice?
2. Maximize the Skill Talent
Struggles along the offensive line hindered Washington’s ground game to an average of 3.2 yards per carry and just 98.4 rushing yards a contest, but the new staff has to get better overall play from its running backs. Sean McGrew (434 yards) and Kamari Pleasant (308) have finished their eligibility after pacing the offense in rushing yards last fall. Cameron Davis (308) and Richard Newton (138), New Mexico transfer Aaron Dumas, and redshirt freshmen Caleb Berry, Jay’Veon Sunday, Sam Adams II and Emeka Megwa are the front-runners for carries this fall. However, determining a pecking order this spring will be challenging. Davis, Newton and Megwa are all out due to injury. This spring is a good opportunity for Dumas or one of the other redshirt freshmen to make a fast impression.
The Huskies have playmakers at receiver, but Grubb, DeBoer and new receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard have to get more out of this group. Jalen McMillan (39 catches) Rome Odunze (41), Taj Davis (26), and Giles Jackson (eight) headline the top returning options with Terrell Bynum transferring to USC. Ja’Lynn Polk (five catches) was limited to just three games in his Washington debut after injury last fall. The former Texas Tech receiver should be a bigger part of the offense in ’22, and Arizona State transfer Lonyatta Alexander Jr. is another name to watch this offseason. Devin Culp is expected to start at tight end after the departure of Cade Otton.
3. Offensive Line Improvement
Uncertainty surrounds this group after a disappointing 2021 season. Two starters – guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Victor Curne – are slated to return, but this unit could get a boost if left tackle Jaxson Kirkland is awarded a waiver to play his super senior season. In addition to the paltry per-carry performance, this unit was a big reason why quarterbacks were sacked 23 times and allowed opponents to record 62 tackles for a loss. Myles Murao, Geirean Hatchett and Corey Luciano are expected to battle for snaps at center, while Nate Kalepo, Julius Buelow (four starters last year and Troy Fautanu (one start) could factor into the mix somewhere along the line.
Can the new staff maximize the talent more in the trenches this fall?
4. Fill a Few Voids Up Front on Defense
Defense has been a strength in recent years for Washington. From 2014-21, this unit finished inside of the top four every year in the Pac-12 in scoring defense. Can new co-coordinators William Inge and Chuck Morrell pick up where the last staff left off? To maintain its place near the top of the conference, new faces are needed at every level with just four starters back. Lineman Sam Taimani transferred to Oregon after registering 43 tackles last fall. Ryan Bowman, Cooper McDonald and Jackson Sirmon have departed at linebacker, with projected starter Edefuan Ulofoshio out this spring and part of the 2022 season due to injury.
Although there were considerable losses here, a return to full strength by edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui (seven sacks in four games in 2020) is huge, and former top recruit Sav'ell Smalls is also ready for a bigger role in ’22. Pitt transfer Cam Bright and Carson Bruener will have to lead the way at linebacker until Ulofoshio is back in the lineup.
5. Rebuild the Secondary
Washington started five defensive backs in the majority of its games last fall, but a secondary that limited teams to just six touchdown tosses last year is under construction this spring. Additionally, there could be scheme tweaks and the need for hybrid defenders in a “Husky” spot as the new staff implements its plans. Standout cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, along with nickel Brendan Radley-Hiles, have departed Seattle.
At cornerback, UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman, Mishael Powell and Jacobe Covington hold an inside track for the top spot on the depth chart going into spring ball. Alex Cook is a returning starter at safety, and the new staff has other experienced options with Kamren Fabiculanan, Cameron Williams, Julius Irvin and Asa Turner also in place.
How quickly will the new staff find the right mix at cornerback and safety to keep this unit near the top of the Pac-12?
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