Huskies Insider Blog

No. 3 receiver? Outside linebackers? Kick returners? Here’s who should win these UW position battles

Washington wide receiver Andre Baccellia (19) makes a catch at the University of Washington Spring Football Game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, April 22, 2017.
Washington wide receiver Andre Baccellia (19) makes a catch at the University of Washington Spring Football Game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, April 22, 2017. jbessex@gateline.com

While crisp and fast-moving (except on Saturdays), the University of Washington preseason football camp has been rather suspense-free.

Much of that has to do with the fact that much of the depth chart was neatly in order before practices even began.

That happens when you return as many starters as the Huskies did — nine on offense, led by standout quarterback Jake Browning; six on defense, including most of the front seven; and most of the key personnel on special teams other than placekicker Cameron Van Winkle and kickoff returner John Ross.

Here are three position battles I’d like to see settled this week:

1. Third starting wide receiver

In competition: Andre Baccellia, Aaron Fuller, Ty Jones, Brayden Lenius, Quinten Pounds.

Skinny: Each of these pass catchers has had head-turning moments the first two weeks in trying to join Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher in the starting lineup.

If one has done it most consistently, it is Baccellia, who has started with the first-team offense in two-receiver sets during live-period work.

Baccellia, a redshirt sophomore from Thousand Oaks, California, has had one of the best fall camps of any player, regardless of position. He regularly makes tough catches look easy, even coming against good coverage. He has both the speed, cutting ability and the hands to be a reliable target for Browning.

Fuller and Pounds almost mirror what Baccellia does, just not as consistently. The X-factors are Lenius — who has had his best days of preseason practices late last week — and Jones, the true freshman from Utah. Both are 6-foot-4 or taller, giving the offense something it lacks: A massive target on the outside.

Pick: Baccellia.

2. Starting “SAM” and “BUCK” linebackers

In competition: Tevis Bartlett, Connor O’Brien, Benning Potoa’e, Jusstis Warren.

Skinny: Earlier in fall camp, UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said all of these guys were interchangeable, and could play both outside linebacker spots in this defense.

But after back-and-forth movement the first week of camp, all four have seemed to settle into regular spots.

O’Brien seems the most certain to start at Buck. That is where he started seven games a season ago before being sidelined by a knee injury, suffered in the Apple Cup. He has looked healthy in his return, too.

You cannot discount Bartlett’s ability to rush the passer, even at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. He should play a lot on both sides.

Kwiatkowski seems to like his strong-side linebackers big, and that is where Potoa’e, a former three-time All-Area standout from Lakes High School, has been stationed the past 10 days or so. He is a huge guy to see over and around in zone coverage, and he obviously can blitz, too.

Warren, a Lincoln High School graduate, has been the most-improved outside linebacker of camp, Kwiatkowski said.

This will certainly be a playing-time rotation, with O’Brien likely seeing the most snaps this season.

Picks: Benning at Sam, O’Brien at Buck.

3. Starting kickoff returners

In competition: Salvon Ahmed, Jomon Dotson, Austin Joyner, Chico McClatcher.

Skinny: I nearly went with No. 3 tailback, which would have also included one of the guys in this competition as well — Ahmed.

If it is speed you want, McClatcher and Dotson possess big-play breakaway speed, although McClatcher — The News Tribune’s All Area player of the year in 2014 — seems to have better zig-zag vision and instinct.

Joyner started on the kickoff return team two years ago, but suffered a devastating knee injury in the second game. He also appears to be in line for more playing time on defense, too, over Dotson.

That brings me to Ahmed, who has clearly been the best of the newcomer bunch. He just seems to have that indescribable “it” quality, and this would be the best mode in which to put it on display.

Picks: McClatcher, Ahmed.

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