Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Team Breakdown: Washington Huskies

Washington Guru: Tim Huddleston
Email me at: Washington.guru@pac10guru.com           

Pre-Season Sporting News Ranking: 

Last year overall record (conf and overall):
5-7 (4-5)

Bowl Game (victor or loser):

Trending up, down or flat: 

Total Returning Starters:  
14Total: 8 on offense, 6 on defense

Key Returnees:
Jake Locker – Senior, QB; Chris Polk – Sophomore, RB; Jermaine Kearse – Junior, WR; Mason Foster – Senior, LB

Key Losses:
Donald Butler, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim

Key Incoming Transfers: 
Although, not a transfer in the truest sense of the word because he never suited up for the UCLA Bruins before joining the Husky Team, Josh Shirley could provide an immediate impact to the linebacking corps. A marquee recruit that originally considered UW, Shirley could be a tremendous late addition for the Dawgs.

Key Incoming Freshmen:
Nick Montana, QB – Joe Montana’s son will battle in fall camp for the back-up role behind Jake Locker. If he wins the job, the Huskies may find themselves with a true freshman under center if the unthinkable happens and Locker becomes unavailable.

Victor Burnett, LB – Along with Shirley, could be another early contributor to an inexperienced group of linebackers

Deontae Cooper, RB – A January enrollee who opened a lot of eyes during spring practice, Cooper could find himself in line to spell incumbent starter, Chris Polk.

Jamaal Kearse, LB – Joining his brother on the team, the immensely talented Kearse could play a number of positions. A receiver and safety in college, Kearse has bulked up and is in the mix for possible playing time at linebacker.

Players Ready for a Breakout Season: 
Senio Kelemete, LT, Jr. – Get used to this name because Senio could very well become a highly touted left tackle prospect over the next two years.

Desmond Trufant, CB, So. – It could be argued that Trufant broke out as a true freshman last year, but expect him to take another step, possibly into national prominence as a sophomore. He showed all the skills and moxie needed from a corner at the collegiate level.

Players who need to step up this season:
Chris Izbicki, TE, Jr. – Izbicki may have fit into this category based on his performance compared to his recruiting ranking regardless, but the dismissal of Kavario Middleton has further magnified his role. Considered a better blocker than Middleton, Izbicki may have become the starter either way, but he’ll need to establish himself more as a reliable receiving threat.

Jake Locker, QB, Sr. - It’s hard to call a Heisman candidate and potential number one NFL draft pick a letdown, but hear me out. Locker came into the program as something of a savior; a local hero sure to return the Huskies back to the glory days. To date, he has yet to lead the team to a bowl game or a winning record. The pressure will be on this year to fulfill his unlimited potential and keep the UW program trending up.

Key Position Battles:
Strong Side Linebacker – Who will line up on the strong side next to Cort Dennison is anyone’s guess. The candidates included a converted safety (Victor Aiyewa) a senior with minimal game experience (Matt Houston), and a slew of freshmen (Shirley, Burnett and Kearse).  None of the options instills a great deal of confidence, but the competition should elevate the level of play.

Back-Up QB – I can’t understate how much Husky fans want this “battle” to be a non issue this season. In a perfect world, neither Keith Price nor Nick Montana will see significant playing time this year. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch to see if one player gains an edge over the other since these two are likely to be battling for the starting job for the next few years.

CB – Desmond Trufant is entrenched as a starter on one side. Who will start opposite him remains to be seen. Up and coming sophomore Adam Long outplayed and unseated veterans Vonzell McDowell and Quinton Richardson last year. The three of them will duke it out to see who starts, but look for all three to contribute in nickel and dime situations.

The 2010 Husky football team carries with them something unseen in Seattle for quite some time: expectations. Coming off an 0-12 season, very little was expected from Coach Sarkisian’s first season. Now that they have had a modicum of success and their QB has received national attention, how will UW fare now that they won’t sneak up on anyone?

Fun Fact:
On July 24, 2010, Jake Locker’s hometown of Ferndale, Washington celebrated “Jake Locker Day”. The town annually holds an Old Settlers Picnic and Parade. This year, Jake was on hand for the festivities and rode through the parade route on a fire truck with a few teammates.

Major Injuries:
While neither of them is facing extremely serious injuries, the health of defensive ends Talia Crichton and Kalani Aldrich is something to keep an eye on. If either of those two faces lingering health concerns, the depth on the defensive line could be extremely suspect.

3 certainties and 3 question marks:
1)     The UW offense will score plenty of points. The combination of Locker, loaded skill positions, a solid line and a second year in coach Sark’s system should produce a prolific offense.
2)      Husky stadium will be loud. Optimism among UW fans is once again high following a stretch of down years. The environment on September 18 when Nebraska comes to town will be electric.
3)     The 2010 Husky football team is bowl bound. While a trip to Pasadena is not likely to be in the cards, Husky fans should be looking at a trip to a destination like El Paso, San Antonio or Vegas this winter.
Question Marks:
1)     Can the defense get enough stops? The defense will have to show marked improvement over last year to help the offense and not force them into a shoot-out every week.
2)     Will Jake Locker be a Heisman finalist? The East Coast media tour is complete and the hype machine is humming along. The time is now for Locker to live up to the hype on the field.
3)     Can UW beat Oregon? The border rivalry between these two programs has gotten progressively more heated over the years, but the Ducks have been dominant recently.

Schedule Toughness:
The Dawgs’ schedule is unfavorable at best.  For a team that struggled badly on the road last year;  trips to BYU, USC, Oregon, Arizona, Cal and a potentially snowy WSU cannot be a welcome sight.  Games against BYU and Syracuse are winnable, but closing out the non-conference slate against Nebraska will be a true test of whether or not UW is ready to play with the big boys.

Make-or-Break Game:
 October 16, Oregon State. A home game against a team that blew out the Huskies last season will be a key factor in whether or not the Huskies are ready to take the leap to becoming a bowl team.

Key 3-game Stretch:
October 16 - Oregon State (home), October 23 - at Arizona, October 30 - Stanford (home). In a conference as competitive as the Pac 10, several teams have designs on being a sleeper team to win the league. These three opponents, along with UW, represent those teams. These three weeks in October are likely to determine the Dawgs’ place in the conference.

Most Challenging Half of the Season: 
The First Half. With games against BYU and USC on the road and home games against Nebraska and Oregon State, the Huskies need to be ready early. A trip to Autzen Stadium in the second half almost makes it a push.

Team Overview: 
The Turnaround on Montlake came much quicker than anyone could have expected in Steve Sarkisian’s first year as head coach.  Going from 0-12 to 5-7 in just one year was impressive to say the least and it has fans ready for more.  A fan base that has suffered through several lean years is now expecting the program to take another jump to the next level.  UW has made big splashes in recruiting and has a quarterback that now has national cachet.  Clearly steps are being taken towards restoring the Dawgs to the heights the program was accustomed to.  Will the 2010 season be just another step in the right direction or is this team already prepared to announce its arrival and start piling up wins? 

Defensive Overview:
The Husky defense gave up 30 points or more 6 times last year. They gave up 40+ in two of those games.  These are not statistics typically associated with a Nick Holt defense, but the talent on the defensive side of the ball hasn’t come around as quickly as the offense.  With the talent and explosive ability the offense has, the defense won’t need to be elite.  The defense will lock up wins by coming up with stops at critical moments in games.  If they are unable to do so, the offense will be asked to carry the load time and again in high scoring affairs.  Replacing two outstanding players among the front seven in Te’o-Nesheim and Butler will be critical.  Mason Foster will be the lynchpin in that regard.  He’ll be surrounded by young talent that will need to come of age quickly.

Front-4 Analysis:
The front 4 figure to be strong up the middle with starters Alameda Ta’amu and Cameron Elisara returning at the tackle positions.  Elisara could even see time on the end with sophomore Semisi Tokolahi rotating in.  Questions come at defensive end, where Kalani Aldrich, Talia Crichton and Everette Thompson will be asked to pressure the QB and hold the edge.  Seemingly a formidable rotation, there are some red flags due to injury.  Aldrich and Thompson both missed spring ball, but should be ready for fall.  As it stands now, the front four is a question mark. If Aldrich and Thompson are unable to shake their injury problems, the defensive line will become a huge concern.

Linebacker Analysis:
If you’re looking for a full-fledged weakness on this team, look no further than the linebacking corps.  While Mason Foster is a legitimate talent, there are concerns virtually everywhere else in the unit.  The recent loss of projected starter Alvin Logan virtually ensured that a freshman (either: Josh Shirley, Victor Burnett or perhaps Jamaal Kearse) will be competing for a starting role. Cort Dennison is a fairly pedestrian option at Middle Linebacker. Jordan Wallace is a versatile option that can play all three positions and will likely be the go-to guy if any starters come out.

Secondary Analysis: 
There is plenty of talent to go around in the secondary, which should lead to an interesting competition when fall camp opens. Desmond Trufant’s name can be put in ink as one starter at corner.  The other starter could be any of three players: Senior Vonzell McDowell and Junior Quinton Richardson are experienced, but were both surpassed last season by sophomore Adam Long.  If McDowell and Richardson are pushed to reach the potential with which they arrived, this could be a very deep unit.

Offensive Overview: 
Head coach Steve Sarkisian cut his teeth as quarterbacks coach and offense coordinator at USC.  His credentials there speak volumes and if his first year at UW is any indication, he’s continuing to build on that success.  Along with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, “Coach Sark” has embarked on the project of turning gifted athlete Jake Locker into polished quarterback Jake Locker.  That project went well enough in year one to make Locker a potential future number 1 pick in the NFL draft. Further progression in year two could make this offense downright scary.  It doesn’t hurt that he is surrounded by formidable talent at every other position in the offense.  Expect big plays on the ground and in the air and plenty of points from this offense.  To fully translate into overall success, the offense will have to shake bouts of inconsistency that plagued them last season.

Quarterback Analysis:
What more can be said about Locker? He’s really big, really fast and has one really great right arm.  There have been very few players at the position with his physical gifts, if any.  His accuracy showed improvement last year, but Locker will have to avoid his occasional errant throws to truly fulfill his immense promise.  The back-up position will be manned by a freshman. Redshirt frosh Keith Price and true freshman/Golden Boy Nick Montana will compete this fall to compete for the right to be the man that Husky fans hope never ever has to play this season.  In a best-case scenario, Price would come in only for mop up duty while Montana preserves his redshirt.

O-Line Analysis:   
The O-Line returns three starters in junior LT Senio Kelemete, senior LG Ryan Tolar and senior RT Cody Habben. Husky coaches feel that Kelemete has unlimited potential and is a superstar in the making.  The line combinations and positions have fluctuated at times and coaches hope that they can find a unit that works to stick with.  Sophomores Drew Schaefer and Mykenna Ikehara at center and guard respectively project to round out the starting unit, but senior Greg Christine is returning from injury an figures to challenge Ikehara.

Wide Receiver/TE Analysis: 
The wide receiver group is considered one of the nation’s best. Led by junior Jermaine Kearse, it is a unit that is as deep as it is talented.  Junior Devin Aguilar and sophomore James Johnson combined for 81 catches last season, with Johnson in particular showing flashes of tremendous big play ability.  Senior D’Andre Goodwin caught 60 passes in 2008, but fell off and was surpassed in the depth chart last season.  A bounce back year from him would just add to how dangerous this group could be.  The loss of the highly touted Kavario Middleton hurts, particularly in the passing game.  Another big name recruit, Chris Izbicki will start.  Who is back-up will be is in flux and will be closely watched when fall camp opens.

Backfield Analysis: 
Chris Polk surprised just about everyone, including Husky fans, last season with a punishing running style that amassed 1,113 yards, good for seventh best in school history.  Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson are the incumbent back-ups, but the most additional production could come from freshman Deontae Cooper. Fellow early enrollee Jesse Callier could be in the mix as well.

Special Teams Analysis:
Both specialists: junior kicker Erik Folk and senior punter Will Mahan, return after productive 2009 seasons. The Dawgs feel comfortable with the reliable production they expect from this pair.

Team Schedule:
Sept. 4 - @BYU
Sept. 11 – Syracuse
Sept 18 – Nebraska
Oct. 2 - @USC
Oct. 9 – Arizona State
Oct. 16 – Oregon State
Oct. 23 - @ Arizona
Oct. 30 – Stanford
Nov. 6 - @Oregon
Nov. 13 – UCLA
Nov. 27 - @ California
Dec. 4 - @ Washington State

Best Case Scenario: 
“The winner of the Heisman Trophy is Jake Locker, quarterback, University of Washington”.  While an individual award is not normally the best case scenario for an entire program, it is for the 2010 Huskies.  If Jake does take home the Heisman, it will mean that he fulfilled his enormous potential personally, but it will also mean that the Dawgs won enough games to be nationally prominent.  In the best case, the season would kick off by beating local kid Jake Heaps at BYU. Surely, there would be some extra satisfaction in such a feat among several players on the UW roster.  A win against Syracuse the following week could potentially set-up a College Gameday visit at Husky stadium with Nebraska coming to town. A win in that game will really stoke the flames and get U-Dub fans into a frenzy. Such a start would vault the Dawgs to a near-certain bowl appearance.  With trips to USC and Oregon on the schedule, a Pac 10 championship seems too lofty for even a best case scenario.  An Alamo or Holiday bowl appearance would be a tremendous result for the program.

Worst Case Scenario: 
I hate to pin the hopes of an entire team so exclusively on one player, but realistically the words “high ankle sprain” put next to Jake Locker’s name could be all it takes to derail this season.  If an injury occurs during week 1 while the aforementioned Heaps is throwing TD’s against a suspect Husky defense, the young Huskies will really be put to the test.  Of course, no UW related worst case scenario would be complete without picturing an Apple Cup loss on a snowy December day in Pullman.  Should such a disaster strike, Husky fans should be quick to remind themselves that they are only two years removed from a winless season.  Regardless of how 2010 plays out, this is a program on the rise.

My Final Conference Standings Predictions:  
1. Oregon
2. USC
3. Stanford
4. Arizona
5. Washington
6. Oregon State
8. California
9. Washington State
10. Arizona State

Washington Guru: Tim Huddleston

Upcoming Article:  “Team Breakdown: Stanford Cardinal”
Followed By:  “Team Breakdown: California Golden Bears”

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to have to go with Oregon, because they have the coolest mascot: