You already know that if the Washington Huskies are going to have a successful football season in 2016, they will need major contributions from Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Budda Baker and Azeem Victor.
But while the Huskies return their starting quarterback, starting tailback and seven defensive starters, they could have some key players who haven’t yet contributed in a significant way. Here is a look, in no particular order, at five such players who helped themselves during fall camp.
1. Aaron Fuller, Fr., WR, 5-10, 198
If there is any position group on the team in which a freshman could earn immediate playing time, it’s among UW’s receivers. The Huskies return only two players who caught more than 20 passes last season, when their downfield passing game wasn’t exactly impressive.
So it makes sense that a steady freshman such as Fuller, who caught 86 passes for 1,176 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior at Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas, could come in and impress the coaching staff.
“The one guy who has jumped out to me is Aaron Fuller,” UW coach Chris Petersen said last week. “He’s a pretty poised guy. He doesn’t make many assignment errors. And he catches the ball every time you throw it to him. If he can continue to progress, I think that’s a really good thing for us.”
It’s noteworthy that Petersen chose to single out Fuller, because he typically declines to answer questions asking for names of individual players who have impressed. But Fuller shows up during 11-on-11 periods, finds ways to get open and, as Petersen said, catches everything he can get his hands on.
It remains to be seen just how much Fuller might play this season, but given how willing an unprompted Petersen was to praise him, it seems a pretty safe bet that Fuller will at least see the field.
2. Quinten Pounds, R-Fr., WR, 5-11, 174
UW coaches thought highly enough of Pounds to play him as a true freshman. He appeared in the Huskies’ first three games — he didn’t record a statistic — but had his season cut short by a tear in an anterior cruciate ligament.
All things considered, it’s impressive that Pounds was able to practice at the beginning of fall camp without limitation. He’s made the most of it. And given the lack of experienced depth at the position, the Huskies are expecting him to be a part of their receiver rotation this season.
“At the end of the day, that’s a guy that’s got to step up,” receivers coach Bush Hamdan said. “You look at kind of that first group, we’re really relying on some of those younger guys to step up. So it’s been a good camp for him. He needs to keep continuing to grow, and we’re excited about it.”
3. Jordan Miller, So., CB, 6-1, 176
Miller’s playing time this season might end up as a testament to just how deep the Huskies are in the secondary.
There’s no doubt he’s talented. He led the team in interceptions during the spring, and was good enough to play last season as a true freshman. But with Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Darren Gardenhire still ahead of him on the cornerback depth chart, it could be difficult for defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake to find a way to get Miller on the field as a starter.
That said, this coaching staff loves to rotate players and use the team’s depth, especially on defense. So Miller, one of UW’s regular fall camp standouts — he had two interceptions on the first day — will see the field plenty, even if he isn’t a starter. Lake has said as much. And Miller seems to have the right attitude about it all, anyway.
“I’m never going to have a better example than those guys, in any DB corps in the nation,” Miller said of the players in front of him. “That’s how it was for me in high school. I had two guys in front of me that went (to) Pac-12 (schools), and I was like, ‘Oh, when am I going to play,’ and my senior year came and I balled out. Can’t be mad about it.”
4. Kaleb McGary, So., OL, 6-7, 308
It’s not accurate to say McGary is just now coming into the picture, because he started six games last season at right tackle and played in 12. So he was already a part of UW’s plan on the offensive line.
But he has the chance this season to start at right tackle from wire to wire, and give the Huskies a large, (more) experienced set of bookends with McGary on the right side and sophomore Trey Adams returning at left tackle.
After Andrew Kirkland spent the first few days of camp at right tackle with the No. 1 unit, McGary moved into that spot and hasn’t let it go. There is always competition on the offensive line, and O-line coach Chris Strausser has never been hesitant to shake things up. But for now, it appears the Huskies like what they have in McGary at right tackle.
5. Tevis Bartlett, So., LB, 6-2, 230
Bartlett is another guy who played some as a freshman, but should expect a bigger role this season as a sophomore.
He’s mostly played with the No. 2 defense at outside “sam” linebacker, behind senior Psalm Wooching, but the earlier thought about Miller applies to Bartlett. The Huskies know he can help them as a pass rusher with some speed off the edge, so even if Wooching holds onto that starting spot, Bartlett is going to see the field.
UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said Bartlett had “a really good scrimmage” on Friday night.
“The game’s slowing down for him,” Kwiatkowski said. “Just understands all the nuances better of the defense and, in turn, he’s able to play faster and be in the right spot and make plays.”
Bartlett had more than a few touch sacks during 11-on-11 periods open to the media, and coaches have said a lot of nice things about him since the day he signed his letter of intent. Petersen, in particular, loves that he has a wrestling background.