CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: 5 UW Huskies we aren’t talking enough about

Jun 23, 2023, 12:54 PM

UW Huskies...

Jack Westover of the UW Huskies runs the ball on Sept. 30, 2022. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

With expectations so high for the UW Huskies in 2023, it’s easy to focus on returning stars and projected NFL Draft picks like Michael Penix Jr., Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Troy Fautanu, Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui.

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But who are the players we haven’t talked about enough this offseason — players who might have missed part of the spring, or quietly produced in 2022, or are attempting to replace a veteran starter in 2023?

Here are five examples that come to mind.

TE Jack Westover

Did you know Westover played more snaps last season (511) than tailback Wayne Taulapapa (430), UW’s leading rusher? Westover finished fourth on the team in receiving, too, with 31 catches for 342 yards and one touchdown, a crucial score midway through the third quarter of UW’s tense 24-21 victory over Oregon State. He also earned the highest run-blocking grade on the team, per Pro Football Focus.

Westover will presumably split snaps with fellow tight end Devin Culp, who also returns for his sixth and final year of eligibility. Both will be important cogs in Washington’s offense. But Westover, who nursed a minor injury this spring, might deserve more attention than he’s getting, based on the role he played last season.

C Matteo Mele

The relatively scant attention given to offensive linemen often seems to go to the tackles, which makes sense, because those are the players most often tasked with blocking the defense’s best pass rushers. But as UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb will remind you, an o-line’s performance protecting the passer always comes back to the center. In 2023, that means it will always come back to Mele, a sixth-year senior who has played in a reserve role save for one career start, as a redshirt freshman in 2019.

Corey Luciano thrived in the role last year, after Luke Wattenberg became a fifth-round NFL Draft pick following his two-year stint at center in 2020-21 … and that was after Nick Harris starred there as a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 pick … after center Coleman Shelton made first-team all-conference in 2017. In other words, center has usually worked out for UW and o-line coach Scott Huff, so it might be easy to assume Mele will simply continue the trend. His play will be crucial.

CB Davon Banks

It was easy to forget about Banks this spring, as he sat out due to injury while Jabbar Muhammad, Elijah Jackson, Thaddeus Dixon and Jaivion Green took most of the cornerback reps with the Nos. 1 and 2 defensive units. But Banks did play 233 snaps in nine games as a redshirt freshman last season despite being banged up, and he does possess some intriguing athletic traits. The Huskies also added Oregon transfer Darren Barkins, who, like Banks, was a 2021 signee, so there is even more competition for a spot on the depth chart.

If Banks enters preseason camp fully healthy, he should at least have an opportunity to prove he belongs in the cornerback rotation, even if he’ll have to do it against a far different group of players than last season.

DL Jayvon Parker

At first glance, there should be plenty of veteran depth ahead of Parker on UW’s D-line depth chart: returning starters Tuli Letuligasenoa and Faatui Tuitele, plus sixth-year senior Ulumoo Ale and fifth-year junior Jacob Bandes. But Parker played enough to not redshirt as a true freshman last year, notching his first career sack in the Apple Cup, and took plenty of reps with the No. 2 defensive line this spring as Letuligasenoa and Tuitele each worked their way back from injuries.

Parker’s twin brother, Armon, is another defensive tackle coaches are excited about, but Jayvon’s experience might give him an edge this season.

K Grady Gross

Do we ever talk about the kickers enough? Gross still is competing for the starting job with fellow walk-on Addison Shrock, but since Gross is the one who spent most of his true freshman season handling UW’s kickoffs, we’ll focus on him.

Peyton Henry held down UW’s starting kicking job for five seasons, and left as the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer. He also made some pretty big kicks last season, and was fairly reliable inside of 40 yards throughout his career. It can be easy to take that sort of thing for granted, but in reality, someone with Henry’s consistency doesn’t come along too often.

Chris Sailer graded Gross as a scholarship-caliber kicking prospect out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Horizon. To what degree might he or Shrock fill the void created by Henry’s departure? At this point, it’s a mystery. But if UW’s 2023 season is anything like 2022, it’s going to need its kicker to help decide some close games.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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