CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Stability rankings: Which positions will be UW Huskies’ strongest?

Feb 23, 2024, 10:55 AM

UW Huskies transfer Arizona Jonah Coleman...

Arizona RB Jonah Coleman runs with the ball against Stanford in 2023. (Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

(Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

You’ve heard plenty about the Washington’s lacking offensive-line numbers. You know the UW Huskies need to add a couple interior defensive linemen, too. Also, that tight end needs another body or two.

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Some of Washington’s position groups are more stable than others as winter conditioning continues, and spring practices loom in a little more than five weeks.

For the sake of comparison, here’s how I would have rated the Huskies’ 2023 position groups by stability, in hindsight:

1. Quarterback: The best to ever do it at UW, backed up by a 15-game starter.

2. Receiver: Three NFL Draft picks in the starting lineup.

3. Offensive line: Joe Moore Award … after their sixth-year senior center went down with an injury.

4. Tight end: Two senior starters who will probably play in the NFL, plus two dependable rotation options.

5. Edge rusher: Two veteran starters, one of whom is a potential early-round pick, another who was invited to the combine. A bit of a dropoff between those two and the depth.

6. Linebacker: Four solid rotational players, one of whom was a Butkus finalist.

7. Running back: A 1,000-yard rusher, yes, but the national title game showed a glaring lack of depth behind Dillon Johnson (and Cam Davis’ injury didn’t help).

8. Cornerback: A second-team All-Pac-12 pick, but some inconsistent play around him — although this position would have ranked higher had the offense not been so loaded.

9. Defensive line: A lingering injury to Tuli Letuligasenoa, plus Faatui Tuitele’s ongoing injury troubles, made things a little harder here.

10. Safety: Dominique Hampton was a stalwart, but Asa Turner and Kam Fabiculanan each battled injuries of varying degrees, and there wasn’t much proven depth behind them.

Of course, when a team wins its first 14 games and plays for a national championship, even the least stable positions still had to perform pretty darn well. Anyway, here’s how I see it now, post-coaching change, with several scholarships still available for players who might join via the spring portal window — but the roster more or less set for those 15 workouts in April/May.

Which positions are firmed up? Where are the holes? Let’s examine.

1. Running back

The Huskies appear strong here, despite Johnson’s departure to the NFL. Davis is still with the program as he recovers from injury, and new coach Jedd Fisch brought Arizona’s top back, Jonah Coleman, with him from Tucson.

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Plus, Tybo Rogers opted not to transfer after exploring portal options, and veterans like Will Nixon, Daniyel Ngata and Sam Adams II are still hanging around, too, though none really broke through as a regular complement to Johnson last year. I assume Davis won’t be available for spring, but we will get our first look at Coleman in a UW uniform. Coaches continued to host portal visitors even after adding Coleman (and former 2024 Arizona signee Adam Mohammed), so it’s possible they aren’t done yet, either. But the current group should be a strength on its own.

2. Linebacker

Two of UW’s four primary linebackers have moved on from the 2023 roster, but a reliable duo — Carson Bruener and Alphonzo Tuputala — returns, and senior San Jose State transfer Bryun Parham helps replace the outgoing veterans. Drew Fowler is back as a sixth-year senior, too, and redshirt freshmen Deven Bryant and Jordan Whitney (and 2024 signee Khmori House) could challenge for time. They’ll miss Edefuan Ulofoshio, but this position should still be just fine.

3. Cornerback

Losing Jabbar Muhammad to Oregon is a tough blow, but it’s eased some by adding Ephesians Prysock from Arizona, and he’s joining a pretty interesting room. Elijah Jackson is back after starting every game last season. Thaddeus Dixon returns, too, after functioning for much of last season as the No. 3 corner. We’ll see where Davon Banks might be in his recovery from a season-ending injury, but he showed promise before he got hurt. And Indiana/Arizona transfer Jordan Shaw joins UW’s promising trio of 2023 signees.

4. Quarterback

If the Huskies had any experience behind Will Rogers, I’d place this position higher — and maybe even No. 1. As it stands, though, Rogers will be backed up by a pair of true freshmen in Demond Williams Jr. and Dermaricus Davis, which knocks the stability rating down a couple notches. Still, all three passers will be available this spring, so I’m eager to see if either Williams or Davis might show something in their first college practices.

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5. Receiver

If nothing else changes, UW could start a receiver trio of Jeremiah Hunter, Giles Jackson and Denzel Boston, with redshirt freshmen and true freshmen battling for snaps behind them. The top line of the depth chart feels relatively stable at present, though they could use another experienced player from the portal and need to develop some depth. To some degree, the Huskies will likely ask a younger player like Rashid Williams, Keith Reynolds, converted safety Vincent Holmes, Jason Robinson Jr., Justice Williams or Audric Harris to contribute this season.

6. Edge rusher

This will be one of the most interesting positions to watch this spring. It’s made up of some returning rotational players like Voi Tunuufi, Lance Holtzclaw, Jacob Lane and Maurice Heims, and added Arizona transfers Isaiah Ward and Russell Davis II. Plus, Zach Durfee is free from NCAA constraints and fully available. They might not have a proven star pass rusher just yet, but there’s potential — and depth, barring attrition.

7. Safety

Between Fabiculanan, Tristan Dunn and Makell Esteen, the Huskies should be able to settle on a reliable enough starting duo here, though they’d probably like to have a little more experience alongside Fabiculanan. There also isn’t much college experience behind Fabiculanan and Esteen. Dunn played only 64 snaps of defense last season, per Pro Football Focus, though the previous staff loved his potential. I wonder if Dyson McCutcheon might move to the back end after playing the husky/nickel position last season. Peyton Waters is a true freshman to watch.

8. Defensive line

If everyone is healthy and nobody else leaves, the Huskies could at least put a serviceable group on the field here, between Sebastian Valdez, Jacob Bandes, Arizona transfer Bryce Butler and the Parker twins. Younger players like Anthony James and Elinneus Davis could eventually help, too. But there isn’t much experienced depth, so stability is in question until coaches can get back in the portal this spring.

9. Tight end

Quentin Moore, Ryan Otton, Decker DeGraaf — that’s it for scholarship options at present, and Moore is the only one with any real college experience. Obviously, the numbers are going to change, but the loss of Josh Cuevas to Alabama further destabilized a position that already lost Jack Westover and Devin Culp to graduation. John Frazier is the only walk-on listed on the roster. The Huskies did recently offer Arizona tight end signee Charlie Crowell, a three-star prospect from Bend, Ore., who was granted his release earlier this week.

10. Offensive line

With only 10 scholarships committed for o-linemen so far — and with two of those players, Gaard Memmelaar and Landen Hatchett, still recovering from injury — the offensive line is about as unstable as it can get, at least for now. I’m curious to see which of the 2023 signees (Hatchett excluded) might make a move this spring. My money is on Zachary Henning, at the very least. San Diego State transfer Drew Azzopardi should lock down one of the tackle jobs. Who will take snaps at center, with Hatchett sidelined? Fisch said he wants to add four or five more offensive linemen before the start of the 2024 season. Lots of questions to answer here.

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

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