University of Washington

Down another starter, Huskies plug away to find Hunter Bryant’s replacement

If healthy, Washington tight end Drew Sample, who has missed three games with an injury, could be part of UW’s plan to replace the injured Hunter Bryant at tight end.
If healthy, Washington tight end Drew Sample, who has missed three games with an injury, could be part of UW’s plan to replace the injured Hunter Bryant at tight end.

Let’s recap. Washington coach Chris Petersen and his staff were already down two starting cornerbacks, a star left tackle and a veteran receiver.

Now they’re missing an emerging freshman star tight end in Hunter Bryant. The former four-star prospect turned starter is likely out for the rest of the year with a leg injury.

The No. 12 Huskies (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) have found ways fill holes by either developing their younger players or further refining their more experienced personnel.

It’s an approach which has served UW well this season and it’s the strategy Petersen and his staff are taking to find Bryant’s replacement leading up to the 7 p.m. Saturday kick against Oregon (5-4, 2-4) at Husky Stadium.

“Same guys. We’ve got no new guys. This isn’t the NFL where we’ll bring in guys,” Petersen said Thursday after practice. “So, it’s the same guys we’ve been going with. We got a lot of different pieces that we’ve moved around whether it’s at tight end or wide receiver.”

UW’s primary options to replace Bryant consist of freshman Jacob Kizer and junior Drew Sample. The 6-foot-4 Kizer was a three-star prospect who has played in seven games with two receptions for 17 yards.

Sample, who is 6-5 and 259 pounds, has more than 25 games of playing experience. He’s started around 20 games and started in the 44-23 win over UCLA last week.

If there’s a caveat with Sample, it’s the fact he missed three games due to a leg injury and is still somewhat on the mend.

Whether it is Kizer or Sample, they’ll likely be paired with venerable senior Will Dissly. Dissly, who has consistently performed in both a blocking and receiving role, has 12 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

“First thing is first, on our tight end unit, we take a lot of pride in run blocking,” Dissly said. “Even when Hunter came in, a lot of the fans thought he was a pass-catching (tight end) predominantly but he got involved in the run game early.”

Each position comes with its own set of responsibilities and it can be argued tight end might be the most demanding position within UW’s offense.

A tight end’s first priority is to block so they can either provide an extra lane for a running back or give a quarterback time to get a pass off.

There’s also smaller things they do within the offense that often go under the radar. Like pulling off a “chip block” which means they block either a defensive lineman or a linebacker before getting into the open field to catch a pass.

Having two capable tight ends creates depth and it allows the offense to have a bit of freedom. It allows UW the chance to run two tight-end sets which gives the running game two extra blockers to assist the offensive line.

Or, when required, it gives quarterback Jake Browning two more receivers downfield.

“They gotta play physical football. That’s what tight ends have to do,” Petersen said. “Those guys, I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys. They, I think, they all like to catch balls but there here first and foremost to have that O-Line mentality and block and all that.

“They do a great job with all the different things we do with them.”

Look at what the Huskies have done this season when they’ve been faced with injuries.

After losing Chico McClatcher to a season-ending ankle injury at Colorado, the Huskies used Bryant to give Browning a secondary receiver.

The move worked. Bryant was second on the team with 22 receptions for 331 yards plus a touchdown.

UW made up for the loss of cornerbacks Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy by trusting Myles Bryant and Austin Joyner. Both Bryant and Joyner were steady in the team’s 44-23 win over UCLA.

In the case of replacing Trey Adams, the Huskies took a two-prong approach by alternating Andrew Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg at left tackle. They each played a part in helping the Huskies run for 333 yards and five touchdowns.

“Coach (Petersen) does a great job week by week, so, we’re just doing what we do,” Dissly said. “We gotta work on Tuesday and Wednesday and get ready to go on Saturday.

“No matter what happens, we’re all in it together and we’re just trying to be the best team we can.”

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark