CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: Ranking UW Huskies positions from most to least established

Jul 14, 2023, 3:44 PM

UW Huskies Rome Odunze Jalen McMillan...

Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan of the UW Huskies celebrate a touchdown in 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

With preseason camp fewer than three weeks away, it’s a good time to revisit where the UW Huskies stand at each position.

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Where are the starters set? Which groups have the most depth? Where might there still be some uncertainty?

Let’s take a look at Washington’s position groups from most to least established heading into August practices.

How do UW Huskies positions rank from most to least established?

1. Wide receiver

It was true before the 2022 season, and it is even more true this year: Washington is as deep at receiver as it’s ever been.

Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan are back after becoming the first 1,000-yard duo in school history. Ja’Lynn Polk is a constant deep threat. Giles Jackson is a versatile senior who will line up all over the formation. Germie Bernard had a big spring after transferring from Michigan State. Coaches have raved about redshirt freshman Denzel Boston ever since he got to campus. And don’t forget about four-star freshmen Taeshaun Lyons and Rashid Williams, though there won’t be many opportunities for younger players to crack that loaded depth chart.

2. Quarterback

This really should be 1B.

Michael Penix Jr. is enough by himself to rank this position fairly high, but the Huskies also are fortunate to have as their backup a fifth-year junior with 15 career starts (Dylan Morris). Coaches have praised Morris’ work ethic and progress, and if he had to play in a meaningful situation, I think you’d see a different player than the guy who struggled throughout the 2021 season.

The No. 3 quarterback spot is maybe less settled. JUCO walk-on Alex Johnson showed some promising traits during spring, and four-star freshman Austin Mack is on campus, too. Assuming coaches want to keep Mack far away from the field this season, Johnson could be an ideal third option.

3. Edge

With two starters — Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui — who have each earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors at some point in their career, you’d think the Huskies would be set here. And while they’re certainly in a better position than most, one injury could really test their depth. College game experience is sorely lacking behind Trice and ZTF, and the Huskies are at some point going to have to rely on the group of Zach Durfee, Maurice Heims, Sekai Asoau-Afoa, Lance Holtzclaw and others to spell the starters.

4. Tight end

The UW Huskies are set with sixth-year seniors Jack Westover and Devin Culp atop the depth chart, and fifth-year junior Quentin Moore will battle Cal Poly transfer Josh Cuevas for No. 3 snaps. If injuries thin the depth, redshirt freshman Ryan Otton could be pressed into action, but otherwise he should get another year to bulk up and learn the offense. Westover finished fourth on the team in receiving last season.

5. Offensive line

UW has a pair of all-conference candidates at tackle — Troy Fautanu on the left side and Roger Rosengarten on the right — but new starters at both guard positions and center. Assuming Matteo Mele (center), Nate Kalepo (right guard) and Julius Buelow (left guard) continue manning those spots, as they did in spring, the Huskies should roll out an interior trio who have spent a combined 16 years in college … but with only nine career starts between them.

Geirean Hatchett, a fourth-year sophomore, likely would be the first lineman off the bench, having practiced at center, guard and right tackle, though redshirt freshman Parker Brailsford could be the backup center. There also isn’t much experience behind Fautanu and Rosengarten at tackle, though Jalen Klemm, a redshirt freshman, transferred from Kansas State and at least should add to the competition.

6. Linebacker

The Huskies should have more talent and depth at linebacker than they have in years, with four players who have Pac-12 starting experience. Alphonzo Tuputala started every game last season, and Edefuan Ulofoshio showed all-conference potential before injuries sidelined him for much of 2021 and 2022. USC transfer Ralen Goforth will push both of them for playing time, and fourth-year junior Carson Bruener is a special-teams ace and key reserve who should play plenty.

7. Running back

Cam Davis and Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson are the most intriguing potential duo here, though Arizona State transfer Daniyel Ngata should factor in somehow, and others such as Will Nixon and Sam Adams II have shown promise in practices. Freshman Tybo Rogers had a nice spring, too, and his progress will be worth monitoring. And don’t forget about sixth-year senior Richard Newton, either. That’s a lot of options, and coaches hope one or two of them can emerge as the kind of explosive, tackle-breaking weapon they didn’t really have in the backfield last season. Since we didn’t get to see much of Johnson during spring, we’ll see what kind of impact he can make on the practice field for the first time.

8. Defensive line

The Huskies return every regular player from last year’s rotation, but are still waiting for someone to break out as a game-changer on the interior. Sixth-year senior Tuli Letuligasenoa is a steady force and one of the team’s most important players. Faatui Tuitele started every game last season and will battle sixth-year senior Ulumoo Ale, former four-star recruit Jacob Bandes and redshirt freshman twins Jayvon and Armon Parker. Junior Voi Tunuufi could factor into that rotation, too, unless coaches move him to edge rusher.

9. Defensive back

If the secondary isn’t better this season, it won’t be for lack of tinkering with personnel. The Huskies will have two new starting cornerbacks after moving Mishael Powell to the “husky” position; Oklahoma State transfer Jabbar Muhammad and fourth-year sophomore Elijah Jackson are the pre-camp favorites at corner, but JUCO transfer Thaddeus Dixon will have his say. They also moved sixth-year senior Dominique Hampton from husky back to safety, and he will presumably start alongside senior Asa Turner. There isn’t much experienced depth at safety, though coaches have been high on third-year sophomore Vincent Nunley, fourth-year sophomore Makell Esteen and redshirt freshman Tristan Dunn (he also could play husky), and fifth-year junior Kam Fabiculanan has played there, too.

10. Specialists

This doesn’t mean Washington won’t be good on special teams. But with either Grady Gross or Addison Shrock taking over for Peyton Henry at kicker, and walk-on Jack McCallister back after punting only 23 times last year, there isn’t a tremendous body of work with which to forecast how the Huskies might fare at those positions. They do return fourth-year longsnapper Jaden Green, and have a number of players — like Giles Jackson, Jalen McMillan and Ngata — who have experience returning kicks or punts. But the kicking and punting positions themselves feel like a big question mark.

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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