University of Washington

Which UW tight end stands to benefit the most if Sample can’t play?

Will Dissly (98), the tight end from the University of Washington, was celebrating Saturday after the Seahawks made him their fourth-round choice in the NFL draft.
Will Dissly (98), the tight end from the University of Washington, was celebrating Saturday after the Seahawks made him their fourth-round choice in the NFL draft. jbessex@gateline.com

Watching true freshmen Hunter Bryant and Jacob Kizer struggle the first few weeks of fall camp, you would have thought the pair were both strong redshirt candidates.

The young tight ends, while possessing different skill sets, ooze with potential. That made it more likely they would have found the field for the University of Washington this season.

Circumstances have rearranged the tight-end depth chart. Once senior David Ajamu was lost midway through preseason camp with a career-ending foot injury, suddenly Bryant and Kizer were needed.

And now starting tight end Drew Sample is “week-to-week,” UW coach Chris Petersen said, with a right leg injury, suffered on the opening drive Saturday in the Huskies’ 63-7 victory over Montana.

If Sample sits again Saturday, both could see the field a lot against Fresno State at Husky Stadium.

As the third tight end, Bryant was going to have opportunities against Montana, regardless of Sample’s status. But his uptick in usage was significant — from 10 plays in the first game against Rutgers, to more than double that against the Grizzlies, Huskies tight ends coach Jordan Paopao said. Bryant has caught a Jake Browning pass in each game as well.

Kizer played mainly in the second half, and made his first career reception — an 8-yarder — early in the fourth quarter from backup quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels.

“For those guys, they are still finding their comfort level, just in terms of being able to fit things the right way, being a little more detailed in alignments and just kind of refining a little bit of the smaller details,” Paopao said. “Both of these young men are extremely talented ... but there is much, much room for improvement.”

You would expect that from two players new to the college game.

Bryant, 6-foot-2, 239-pound all-state performer out of Eastside Catholic, is one of the blue-chip gems from this recruiting class. Blessed with good burst and sure-catching hands, he is a potential matchup problem lining up in the slot, or even splitting outside.

Yet, he struggled in practices, dropping passes and looking uncertain what his responsibilities were.

“Hunter is a real hard worker. He’s going to go 110 miles per hour every time he gets on the field,” said UW senior tight end Will Dissly, who scored two touchdowns against Montana. “But it’s different than high school. There are a lot better guys out there. He might get beat once in a while, and how you respond is a big test for your character.”

The one area of Bryant’s game that needs big improvement in in his blocking — something he was rarely asked to do in high school, Paopao said.

“Anytime you transition a guy playing receiver predominantly in high school, and then put him inside the box, I think it’s a different world,” Paopao said. “Things move faster. People are a little bit bigger. Just getting your eyes right, and trusting your first instinct is really, really important. He has improved constantly.”

As for Kizer (6-4, 244), who arrived at the UW last winter quarter after graduating from West Salem High School, he fits more of the true tight-end prototype. Assuming Sample is not lost for an extended period, the Oregon native is locked in as the No. 4 tight end on the roster.

“They did a lot of good things on Saturday,” Dissly said. “That just shows their ... preparation throughout the week. They are hungry to learn.”

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