SEATTLE – The Washington Huskies football team begins spring practices at 8:15 a.m. Monday. Here are five questions to ponder as the Huskies embark upon their 15 workouts, which culminate with the April 25 spring preview at Husky Stadium.
1. Quarterback, anyone? – This is Chris Petersen’s second spring practice as the Washington Huskies’ coach, and for the second time he enters the spring with the quarterback position far from settled. Cyler Miles, who started 12 of UW’s 14 games last year, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the program, which means the Huskies will have three scholarship quarterbacks available in the spring – fourth-year junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and freshman Jake Browning.
Lindquist is the only member of that group who played in a game last year. Carta-Samuels drew praise from coaches for his performance on UW’s scout teams during his redshirt season. And Browning, who graduated early from Folsom (California) High School so he could enroll at UW and practice in the spring, is a record-setting, highly-decorated recruit who some believe might already be good enough to compete for the starting job. They should all get their opportunity to prove something before the summer.
2. Who fills in on the O-line? – The Huskies graduated three full-time starters here – Micah Hatchie, Colin Tanigawa and James Atoe, in addition to sometimes-starter Mike Criste – and return only fifth-year senior Dexter Charles from last year’s starting unit. Candidates to step into starting spots include third-year sophomore Coleman Shelton, who started seven games at right tackle last year; Siosifa Tufunga, a fifth-year senior who made five starts at guard last year; and fourth-year junior Jake Eldrenkamp, who spent last season as Hatchie’s backup at left tackle. Keep an eye, too, on Jesse Sosebee, Dane Crane and Shane Brostek.
3. Who plays on new defensive front? – Just like the offensive line, the Huskies’ defensive line will be comprised entirely of new full-time starters. Gone are All-American defensive tackle Danny Shelton and All-American outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, in addition to tackle Evan Hudson and end Andrew Hudson. The Huskies’ front four anchored their defense last season. It will not be nearly as experienced in 2015. Junior JoJo Mathis seems a likely candidate to see a lot more playing time, after recording 16 tackles and two sacks in spot duty last year. Elijah Qualls, a 6-foot-1, 305-pound third-year sophomore, saw limited playing time last year as Shelton's backup at nose tackle, and is the most logical replacement there – but 6-foot-5, 329-pound redshirt freshman Vita Vea is another intriguing prospect. Jarett Finau, Will Dissly, and Taniela Tupou are other names to keep in mind.
4. Is Dwayne Washington the guy at tailback? – He certainly looked like it at times last year, taking hold of the starting running back spot during the final weeks of the season and finishing with 655 yards and nine touchdowns – and a per-carry average of 5.5 yards. He was difficult to tackle in the open field – he scored touchdowns on rushes of 51, 58, 60, 66 and 68 yards – but, like the rest of the Huskies, ended the season with a lackluster performance in the Cactus Bowl (13 carries, 42 yards). After battling an injury midway through the 2014 season that held him out of nearly three full games, Washington will look to use spring as an opportunity to create more separation between him and third-year sophomore Lavon Coleman (who led the team last year with 138 carries) and sixth-year senior Deontae Cooper (who began to look more and more last season like his former self, before the three ACL reconstructive surgeries).
5. Competition in the secondary? – With six of UW’s seven starters gone from its defensive front, the defensive backfield is all of a sudden the most experienced position group on that side of the ball. Starting safeties Kevin King and Budda Baker return, along with starting cornerback Sidney Jones. But there will surely be competition from incoming junior-college transfer Ezekiel Turner, as well as sophomore cornerbacks Naijiel Hale and Darren Gardenhire, fifth-year senior safety Brian Clay and junior safety Brandon Beaver. Jermaine Kelly could be in the mix, too, after having his 2014 season cut short by an ankle injury. And while John Ross III had offseason knee surgery and is listed again at receiver, don’t be surprised to see him (eventually, if not this spring) factor into the mix at cornerback. Trevor Walker, a junior safety who tore his ACL in October, isn’t likely to be available in the spring.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple