CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: 8 questions for UW Huskies after spring practices

May 12, 2024, 9:09 AM | Updated: 9:12 am

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

Maurice Heims (45) and Drew Fowler of the UW Huskies during the 2024 CFP title game. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

(Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The UW Huskies’ first spring under Jedd Fisch provided the first sustained look at how the new coach will run the program — and at which players the Dawgs are likely to rely on this season.

Caple: UW Huskies post-spring breakdown

But questions remain, particularly as the Huskies continue to fill their scholarship allotment with additions from the transfer portal. Let’s dive into some of the matters still pressing after 15 practices.

1. Who will start on the offensive line?

What else? If you had to assemble a starting five right this second, one possibility would be: LT Soane Faasolo, LG Enokk Vimahi, C D’Angalo Titialii, RG Zachary Henning, RT Drew Azzopardi. If Landen Hatchett is healthy, he obviously becomes a strong candidate to play center. Same with Gaard Memmelaar at guard. Assuming full health for Memmelaar, I wonder if coaches might give Vimahi or another player a look at tackle, or if Azzopardi’s counterpart will come from the portal. Right now, the bulk of UW’s O-line depth — such as it is — seems concentrated on the interior, especially if you include true freshmen Paki Finau and Michael Levelle Watkins.

The Huskies still could use at least one more tackle from the portal, with Faasolo, Azzopardi and Elishah Jackett the only true tackles on the roster at present. And we need to know more about Hatchett’s recovery timeline to form any conclusions about how the interior will look.

2. Who wins a starting cornerback job?

Ephesians Prysock seems like a lock at one spot. The junior Arizona transfer turned in a solid spring and is of course playing for the same position coach, John Richardson, who recruited him to Tucson. But will it be returning starter Elijah Jackson across from him? Or can senior Thaddeus Dixon build on his own impressive spring to challenge for the job? An injury held Jackson back some this spring, but he still took plenty of reps with the No. 1 defense when healthy. So did Dixon, who capped a great month with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown in the spring game.

Jackson has more FBS experience. Dixon has a knack for making plays. In terms of two players competing head-to-head for a starting job, there might not be a more intriguing battle this August.

3. How will carries be distributed?

Jonah Coleman is going to get a bunch of them; that much seems certain. Beyond the junior Arizona transfer, though, what does it look like? Cam Davis should be a big part of the offense, too, assuming he does report to fall camp at full health. Daniyel Ngata saw a lot of action this spring with the tailback depth relatively thin. The same was true for true freshman Adam Mohammed, who clearly made a positive first impression on the same coaching staff that recruited him at Arizona. Speedy four-star 2024 signee Jordan Washington is flipping from Arizona to UW, too.

Mohammed did enough this spring to make you think he’ll contribute sooner rather than later, perhaps as a change-of-pace option behind Coleman and Davis. Ngata seems primed to battle for that duty, too, though his best path to playing time might still be as a kick returner.

4. Where does Justin Harrington fit in?

The seventh-year senior Oklahoma transfer was listed on the Sooners’ roster as a safety/linebacker, which makes sense, considering his listed size of 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds. He played the hybrid “cheetah” linebacker spot in coach Brent Venables’ defense the past two seasons, earning the starting job there in 2023 before sustaining a season-ending injury in OU’s second game. Harrington also has practiced at both safety and corner.

UW could conceivably pair Harrington with Kam Fabiculanan to form a veteran duo at safety. But his more natural fit might be at nickel, where fifth-year junior Dyson McCutcheon and redshirt freshman Jordan Shaw took most of the reps this spring. Harrington would bring a different dimension to that position with his size and length.

5. Will we see Demond Williams Jr. this season?

There shouldn’t be too much drama surrounding Washington’s starting quarterback job, with senior Mississippi State transfer Will Rogers on board. But Williams was impressive enough this spring to wonder if there might be some kind of role for him as a true freshman, even if coaches still are able to redshirt him. Williams’ athleticism makes him a true dual-threat, though Fisch has not typically asked his quarterbacks to run all that often, and the coach said himself in February: “He’s not someone I would design a lot of run game for, because he’s such a pure passer that we hope to see him sit in the pocket and go.”

So if you do see Williams this season, it likely won’t be in some gadgety wildcat package. In theory, the less you see of Washington’s backup quarterback, the better. But Williams is an exciting young player who appears he could be a big part of the Huskies’ future, so I’m interested to see if Fisch works him into a game or two.

6. Who emerges at edge rusher?

I count eight players who shuffled through the two edge positions with some regularity this spring: Zach Durfee, Maurice Heims, Voi Tunuufi, Isaiah Ward, Lance Holtzclaw, Jacob Lane, Russell Davis II and walk-on Milton Hopkins Jr. That was due in part to a few injuries, but it still speaks to how many capable bodies the Huskies have at the position, and they’ve since added sophomore transfer Jayden Wayne from Miami.

The question is whether any of them will emerge as a difference-maker this season. The new coaching staff clearly is intrigued by Durfee, who began the spring with the starters and remained there until an elbow injury shut him down (he’s expected back for preseason camp). Heims saw a lot of snaps opposite Durfee before getting injured himself (though he returned in time for the spring game) and Tunuufi, Ward, Holtzclaw, Lane and Davis seemed to be the next guys up.

That group does count some starting experience, but not much: Ward started 11 games at Arizona last season; Tunuufi started once last season and twice as a freshman in 2021; and Wayne started one game in eight appearances at Miami last year. Davis came off the bench at Arizona to play 240 snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus. Durfee has appeared in one FBS game, Lane played in six as a freshman, and Heims and Holtzclaw have played fewer than 100 career defensive snaps.

Tunuufi’s 1,003 career snaps lead the room by a wide margin. It’s a young, athletic group with depth and potential, but no established star.

7. How will Keleki Latu impact the offense?

Primarily, what will it mean for tight-end snap distribution between the Nevada transfer (via California) and sixth-year senior Quentin Moore? Last year at Arizona, starting tight end Tanner McLachlan rarely left the field, playing 811 offensive snaps, good for fifth-most on the team and nearly 700 snaps more than Arizona’s next-most active tight end. McLachlan was also an eventual sixth-round draft pick who caught 45 passes for 528 yards last season.

My assumption is the 2024 Huskies will divide snaps more evenly between their top two tight ends, which now figure to be Moore and Latu, who caught 14 passes for 179 yards in six games before getting hurt last season. He caught 18 passes for 207 yards at Cal in 2022. That’s not a ton of career production, but it’s more than any of UW’s current tight ends, and at 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, Latu does give the Huskies another big receiving target.

Third-year sophomore Ryan Otton and true freshman Decker DeGraaf (and perhaps incoming freshman Charlie Crowell) will still compete for playing time — walk-on Owen Coutts moved over from receiver this spring, too — but it feels like Latu probably jumps the line.

8. Aside from the O-line, where else might UW add from the portal?

By my count, the Huskies have 80 or 81 scholarships committed for 2024 (depending upon whether you include Tybo Rogers). Assuming at least one or two more are filled by offensive linemen, it also seems the Huskies could use another defensive tackle, a third-string quarterback and perhaps another tight end, though Latu was a good start. They’ve also addressed a need at safety (Harrington), added young depth at edge (Wayne), linebacker (Hayden Moore from Michigan), running back (Washington) and receiver (Kevin Green Jr. from Arizona), and did add one defensive tackle by apparently converting O-line transfer Logan Sagapolu from Miami. They also added a long snapper (Cameron Warchuck from Colorado).

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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