A disappointing 4-8 record prompted a change at Washington. Jimmy Lake was dismissed, with the Huskies turning to Kalen DeBoer to turn the program's fortune around in 2022. DeBoer - a successful offensive coordinator and head coach at a couple of stops - is a good hire and fit for Washington. The cupboard isn't completely bare, so there should be some noticeable improvement this year. However, the development of the quarterback position and improvement in a couple of areas on defense will decide just how high this team can climb in the Pac-12 North.
How quickly can DeBoer fix the offense and fill a couple of gaps on defense to get Washington back in contention for the North Division title?
For every new coach, the to-do list after the initial press conference is pretty standard. The head coach has to recruit, add through the transfer portal, implement scheme changes, build a staff of quality assistants and coordinators, discuss potential NFL draft impact with juniors and work on any facility or support staff requests. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
While every coach has those goals in mind, it’s never too early to look at some of the personnel concerns surrounding a program and a new coach for the upcoming year.
Here’s an early look at five personnel question marks for DeBoer to address in 2022:
Washington Football: 5 Priorities for New Coach Kalen DeBoer in 2022
1. The Quarterbacks
DeBoer’s track record as an offensive coordinator at the FBS level and as a head coach at Fresno State indicates Washington’s offense should be much-improved in 2022. The Huskies ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in yards per play (4.98), ninth in scoring (21.5 points a game), and tied for last in plays of 40-plus yards (seven) in '21.
Dylan Morris has an edge in experience at quarterback after starting 15 games over the last two seasons but had an uneven ’21 (12 INTs over 363 attempts and just 6.8 yards per attempt). Former five-star prospect Sam Huard played sparingly last year but will get another chance to compete for the starting nod. Also, Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. joined the team in December to make this a three-man competition. DeBoer was Penix Jr.’s offensive coordinator at Indiana in 2019, so there’s some familiarity when it comes to scheme. Penix Jr. threw for 4,197 yards and 29 touchdowns over 20 games with the Hoosiers but missed significant time in all four years due to injuries.
2. Fix the Offensive Line
Washington’s offensive line didn’t play up to high preseason expectations in 2021. Despite returning all five starters, this unit allowed 23 sacks and cleared the way for rushers to average only 3.2 yards per carry. The Huskies recorded more than 100 rushing yards just three times (against Stanford, Oregon State and Arkansas State) and were held to 60 yards or less in three out of the final four games. Adding to the bad news up front is left tackle Jaxson Kirkland and center Luke Wattenberg – arguably the unit’s top two players – decided to head off to the NFL. Henry Bainivalu, Ulumoo Ale and Julius Buelow provide a good foundation at guard, while right tackle Victor Curne returns after starting all 12 games in ’21.
This spring is all about getting this unit back on track, along with plugging key gaps at left tackle and center.
Talent deployment and overall scheme was an issue under the previous staff, but DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb should make better use of the options at running back and receiver next season.
Cameron Davis and Richard Newton figure to be the go-to backs with Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant departing, but New Mexico transfer Aaron Dumas (658 yards in 2021) was added in mid-January.
Although inconsistent quarterback, play-calling and the offensive line had something to do with it, Washington receivers generated only six receptions of 30-plus yards in Pac-12 games last year. The good news for DeBoer and new receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard: The bulk of this unit is set to return. Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Taj Davis combined for 106 receptions last year and should team with Arizona State transfer Junior Alexander, Ja’Lynn Polk and Giles Jackson to form the key contributors. Devin Culp and Ryan Otton figure to be first in line to replace standout tight end Cade Otton.
4. Improve the Rush Defense
Despite having one of the Pac-12’s better defenses in recent years, Washington has ranked sixth or worse (conference-only games) against the run in each of the past three seasons. Opponents in Pac-12 games averaged 200.3 rushing yards a contest and 4.8 yards per attempt against the Huskies last year. Those numbers were a sizable bump from the ’20 totals, as Washington gave up 161.3 rushing yards a game and 4.5 per rush in league play.
Patching up the play of the front got more challenging this offseason with leading tackler Jackson Sirmon transferring to California, along with Sam Taimani departing for Oregon. Tuli Letuligasenoa is back to main the trenches, but the Huskies will need more depth to emerge here under new defensive co-coordinator William Inge. The linebacker unit features Carson Bruener (70 tackles) and Edefuan Ulofoshio (51) in the middle, while a healthy Zion Tupuola-Fetui, along with Sav’ell Smalls, will make a difference in the pass rush. Pitt transfer Cam Bright is another player who could push for snaps next fall.
5. Reload the Secondary
The pass defense has been a strength for Washington, but Inge and co-coordinator Chuck Morrell have to replace three key members of a secondary that led the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Gone are cornerbacks Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie, with nickel Brendan Radley-Hiles also departing for the next level. Cam Williams, Dominique Hampton, Asa Turner and Alex Cook are back at safety, with Mishael Powell, Jacobe Covington and UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman manning the top spots at cornerback.
On paper, there’s enough talent and experience for the coaching staff to feel good about the safety position. However, more work is needed to develop the corner options this spring.
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