CHRISTIAN CAPLE

State of competition: What will UW Huskies’ spring position battles look like?

Mar 29, 2023, 10:47 AM

UW Huskies Kalen DeBoer...

UW Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer watches players warm up before the 2022 Alamo Bowl. (Tim Warner/Getty Images)

(Tim Warner/Getty Images)

The UW Huskies return several veteran starters in 2023. For those players, the resumption of spring practices Wednesday morning mostly will be about refining technique and continuing to grow within the offensive or defensive system.

Caple on UW Huskies: A key transfer to watch for each Pac-12 opponent

Others are trying to win a starting job for the first time, or simply a spot on the depth chart.

Who is battling — and for what — at each position this spring? Let’s examine.

Quarterback

The only competition here might be for the No. 3 spot, which remains unsettled as the UW Huskies resume spring practices.

Austin Mack, the four-star quarterback from Folsom (Calif.) High, will join the program this summer, but he’s so young — he reclassified from 2024 to 2023 — that it would be ideal for the Huskies to have somebody else available as an emergency option. So UW either will try to find a No. 3 among its four walk-ons — the newest is JUCO transfer Alex Johnson, who joins Camdyn Stiegeler, Tyson Lang and Teddy Purcell — or dip back into the portal after spring.

Returning starter Michael Penix Jr. and backup Dylan Morris took all the 11-on-11 snaps during the first three practices. We’ll see if coaches want to get a look at anyone else over the next four weeks.

Running back

This is probably the most unsettled position on the team, even if you can probably identify a top trio.

Cam Davis returns, and he likely will combine with transfers Dillon Johnson and Daniyel Ngata — in some order — to take the bulk of the carries. Who will be the lead back, though, and who will make up the rotation? And can someone like sixth-year senior Richard Newton or fourth-year sophomores Will Nixon or Sam Adams II get involved? What about 2023 signee Tybo Rogers, who impressed through his first three practices? Johnson just enrolled and will practice with the Huskies for the first time Wednesday morning. I’m curious to see how reps are divided between him, Davis and Ngata, in particular.

Receiver

The first competition that comes to mind here: Who will lead the team in receiving yards between Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan? The second: will Taj Davis, Giles Jackson, Germie Bernard or Denzel Boston cut into Ja’Lynn Polk’s target share? That would be a good problem to have.

Kalen DeBoer said last season that he’s willing to go seven deep at receiver if that many deserve to play, and that could be the case for the UW Huskies in 2023. Bernard and Boston, in particular, can use this spring to push their way into the rotation, and Jackson and Davis each showed their value last year. My assumption is that Polk’s role as the No. 3 receiver is secure, but others are going to make their case — and you saw last season how involved even the No. 4 and No. 5 options can be within this scheme.

Tight ends

With Jack Westover and Devin Culp each back for a sixth season, the competition mostly will be for the No. 3 spot, between fifth-year junior Quentin Moore and Josh Cuevas, a third-year sophomore transfer from Cal Poly. I thought Cuevas made a strong first impression during the Huskies’ first three spring practices, and Moore played 228 snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus. Ryan Otton, a redshirt freshman, should also get some chances this spring.

Offensive line

The competition now and likely into August will be at the guard spots vacated by Jaxson Kirkland and Henry Bainivalu.

Fifth-year juniors Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow might be the frontrunners, though fourth-year sophomore Geirean Hatchett should push Buelow for snaps. Sixth-year senior Matteo Mele should start at center, with fifth-year junior Troy Fautanu a stalwart at left tackle and fourth-year sophomore Roger Rosengarten holding down right tackle.

The remaining competition will be for second-string spots, particularly at tackle. Hatchett has taken some snaps at right tackle, and third-year sophomore RJ Wyrsch has been the second-team left tackle. Fourth-year sophomore Samuel Peacock has practiced at tackle, too, as has Buelow in the past.

Defensive line

Tuli Letuligasenoa and Faatui Tuitele return after forming the starting duo last season, but Ulumoo Ale, Jacob Bandes, Jayvon Parker and Armon Parker all will compete for a spot on the depth chart. Those four players saw the bulk of the first- and second-team snaps through the first week of spring, with Letuligasenoa and Tuitele limited due to offseason medical procedures. We’ll see how much either might be able to participate once practices resume. Keep an eye on the Parker twins. Coaches have been excited about their potential.

Edges

The competition will be for a spot on the depth chart behind sure starters Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui, and to that end, the Huskies do have plenty to sort out. Fourth-year junior Sav’ell Smalls is the most experienced returning reserve, but University of Sioux Falls transfer Zach Durfee should get a look this spring, along with redshirt freshman Lance Holtzclaw and senior Sekai Asoau-Afoa. We’ll see what Maurice Heims’ availability might be following his injury on the first day of practice. And where does Voi Tunuufi fit in, assuming he does move to the edge from the interior? 2023 signee Anthony James is in camp, too, after enrolling in January.

Linebacker

There is a case to be made that any one of Washington’s top four linebackers should be starting, but coaches will have to settle on two of them. Edefuan Ulofoshio and Alphonzo Tuputala have been the first-team duo, but USC transfer Ralen Goforth, a senior, will be hard to keep off the field. Carson Bruener has been a fan favorite since his redshirt freshman season in 2021. Those four should comprise the depth chart, one way or another, but the snap distribution could go any number of ways (Tuputala led the position with 571 defensive snaps last season, per PFF, for what it’s worth).

Cornerback/’Husky’

With Mishael Powell moving to husky, there ostensibly is an open competition for both starting cornerback spots, with four primary competitors: Oklahoma State transfer Jabbar Muhammad, fourth-year sophomore Elijah Jackson, JUCO transfer Thaddeus Dixon and sophomore Jaivion Green, depending on his availability after he came up limping during the first week of practice. Third-year sophomore Davon Banks could be in the mix once healthy.

My best guess is that Jackson has the leg up on the other returners, and that Muhammad, the most experienced corner on the roster, will be given every opportunity to lock down a starting job. Dixon did some nice things in the first three practices, though, and Green will get his opportunities. 2023 signee Caleb Presley also is on campus. Kam Fabiculanan and Dyson McCutcheon could be involved at husky. Lots still to settle here.

Safety

It feels like the Huskies might have their starting duo, as Asa Turner is back for his senior year and Dominique Hampton has moved back to safety after starting last season at husky.

There also are other players here whom the coaches seem to really like, such as Makell Esteen, Vincent Nunley and Tristan Dunn, so maybe we shouldn’t assume anything just yet. Regardless, there will be competition among those three, at least, for a spot on the depth chart.

Regardless, there will be competition among those three, at least, for a spot on the depth chart (though Nunley remains limited as he recovers from injury).

Special teams

Grady Gross and Addison Shrock will compete at kicker. Gross might have the upper hand because he handled kickoffs as a true freshman last season, but Shrock certainly has a shot to win the place-kicking job. Another walk-on, Jack McCallister, returns after handling the punting last year, and the Huskies also have a walk-on commitment from JUCO transfer Adam Saul, plus walk-on Troy Petz from Lynden High. Giles Jackson has the most experience returning kickoffs and punts, but Ngata is an option at kick returner, too, and McMillan also returned punts last season.

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the new home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

Caple: 6 UW Huskies who could make noise in spring football

Christian Caple

UW Huskies football Maurice Heims National Championship 2024 Getty 900...

Christian Caple

Caple: 8 players who could raise UW Huskies’ ceiling

With preseason practices quickly approaching, here are eight players who could improve the UW Huskies football fortunes by producing in 2024.

9 days ago

UW Huskies...

Christian Caple

UW Huskies: 5 recruits to watch who could still join program

With no more limits on the number of prospects who can sign in a single class — and several sought-after recruits still considering the UW Huskies — Jedd Fisch’s 2025 recruiting class isn’t yet complete.

10 days ago

UW Huskies Husky Stadium Oregon general...

Christian Caple

Five things to know about the UW Huskies’ 2025 recruiting class

On Montlake's Christian Caple breaks down how the UW Huskies' 2025 recruiting class is shaping up thus far.

16 days ago

UW Huskies Kamren Fabiculanan...

Christian Caple

Caple on UW Huskies football: A closer look at the 2024 roster

UW Huskies insider Christian Caple of On Montlake breaks down facts and figures behind a football roster unlike any Washington has ever assembled.

17 days ago

Pac-12...

Christian Caple

Caple: Pac-12 Preseason Power Rankings — with a twist

On Montlake's Christian Caple ranks Pac-12 football teams based on how they'll finish in their new conferences.

1 month ago

UW Huskies Husky Stadium...

Christian Caple

Caple: 23 thoughts on UW Huskies football’s 23 June enrollees

The UW Huskies 23 portal additions and remaining 2024 signees are now on campus. On Montlake's Christian Caple breaks it down.

1 month ago

State of competition: What will UW Huskies’ spring position battles look like?