SEATTLE The school’s career and single-season sack leader is currently plying his pass-rushing trade for the New Orleans Saints, so the Washington Huskies must use this fall camp, in part, to assign and develop the heir to Hau’oli Kikaha’s throne at “BUCK” linebacker.
The hybrid-linebacker-rush-end position proved to be a perfect fit for Kikaha in defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s scheme last season, when, as a fifth-year senior, he totaled 19 sacks and became the fifth unanimous All-American in school history, then landed in New Orleans as a second-round draft pick.
So it makes sense that as fifth-year senior Travis Feeney prepares to assume the BUCK position in 2015, he’s reached out to Kikaha for guidance.
“I had a couple conversations with Hau’oli,” Feeney said after the Huskies began fall camp with a two-hour practice Saturday morning at Husky Stadium. “I’m actually going to be sending him stuff to evaluate, tell me what I can do to work better at it. He has all the moves, so he can help me out.”
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Kikaha, of course, was already a proven pass rusher — he had 13 sacks in 2013 — and as a career defensive end, he seemed a logical fit for the BUCK spot. He’s also 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds. Feeney, at 6-4, 226, carries a bit of a different frame.
But Feeney is the Huskies’ most experienced linebacker — 20 starts in three years — and one of their better athletes. A converted safety who signed with UW as a 200-pound, two-star prospect out of Richmond, California, in 2011, Feeney ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds at the 2014 Husky Combine, and his proclivity for big hits has shown up a few times on kickoff coverage.
He’s also the only returning starter from last season’s ultra-talented front seven, four of whom are now in the NFL. Feeney started nine of UW’s 14 games in 2014 and finished the season with 60 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
“He’s long, he’s fast, he’s explosive,” Kwiatkowski said. “So if we can get him rushing the passer and then he’s done the dropping (coverage) stuff. He should be good and be able to do all that stuff.”
Kikaha did have some coverage responsibilities, per the hybrid nature of the position. But as a former defensive back, it seems that Feeney might be better suited for those duties.
“You want to put that doubt in the offense’s mind — is he coming or not?” Kwiatkowski said. “But definitely, you’re trying to play to guys’ strengths, for sure.”
Still, the Huskies want to use Feeney’s speed and athleticism as a pass-rushing weapon off the edge.
“I’m definitely going to be in some more coverages, and I’m still going to be rushing the quarterback, just like Hau’oli did,” Feeney said. “It’s a big step I’ve got to fix and replace, so I’m ready to take the challenge and I’m ready to go.”
Said head coach Chris Petersen: “From that BUCK position, if it’s played right, you can make a bunch of plays. So it really is an interesting position, because it’s a hybrid, and it’s probably a big outside linebacker-type of a guy, and that’s what Travis is.”
Feeney said he’s known since the spring that coaches wanted him to play BUCK this season, though he missed all of spring practice while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Now, he’s healthy and ready, as he put it, to “get after the quarterback a little bit.”
“They told me it’s something the team needs me to do,” Feeney said, “so I just accepted it and just was willing to work and try to be the best I can at it.”
The Huskies split their roster into two groups for two practices on Saturday — veterans at 10:30 a.m., and newcomers and younger players at 4 p.m. Quarterbacks Jeff Lindquist and K.J. Carta-Samuels practiced with the veterans, while freshman Jake Browning worked with the newcomers. … Sophomore safety Budda Baker missed practice due to illness. All other players on the roster were present. … UW resumes camp Sunday with another 10:30 a.m. practice, followed by a newcomers workout at 4 p.m.