So a week from today it begins — the season that could (many would say should) make UW football relevant again. The Huskies haven’t been .500 since 2003, haven’t had a winning season since 2002, and haven’t seriously contended for the Pac-10 title since 2001.
But with Jake Locker returning as well as a skill unit that ranks among the best in the conference, a veteran offensive line, and some emerging young players on defense, the Huskies are getting a lot of pub as a team on the rise.
That, however, doesn’t mean it’s a team without issues. So with the season nearing, here’s a look at five questions facing UW.
1, Are the defensive ends healthy?: UW’s defensive outlook gets a lot brighter if Everrette Thompson (who if you remember, played a lot and really well in the season finale against Cal) and Kalani Aldrich (pictured above chasing a fumble against Arizona last year along with Victor Aiyewa in a John Lok photo) are at least healthy enough to show they can contribute significantly once the season begins. Even just getting one of them back will make a big difference on a line that isn’t deep in experience. It’s not an answer that comes on the first day, as the key will be how well they can hold up through the rigors of camp, and hence, give hope they can make it through the season.
2. Who is the strongside linebacker?: This may be the most open position on the team, becoming even moreso with the loss last week of Alvin Logan. Converted safety Aiyewa now becomes the favorite, but he’s battled injuries throughout his career and hasn’t had a full-contact practice at this position. Senior Matt Houston, the other contender of the veterans, has little experience. True frosh Josh Shirley and Jamaal Kearse could get looks. Or as Sarkisian said last week, they could move Mason Foster back to that spot (he played it a year ago) and elevate Jordan Wallace on the other side. Don’t be surprised to see some mixing and matching at this spot early in camp to see what combination looks the best.
3, Can Chris Izbicki become an everydown starting tight end?: He’s going to have to with the recent dismissal of Kavario Middleton. Izbicki earned the starting job at the end of the spring, and coaches have raved about his improvement in the last year. Still, he had just three catches last season for seven yards to Middleton’s 26 for 257. Middleton might have been underachieving, but he had undeniable potential, and in the short-term, the Huskies will have to figure out how to replicate what he gave the team a year ago.
4, Who is the backup quarterback?: This is a hot topic for fans judging by the e-mail I get, many thinking that whoever emerges now becomes the heir apparent to Locker. Two things: It’s a question Sarkisian may never answer now; and even if he does, it may not mean anything for the long term. Sarkisian said last week at Pac-10 Media Day that he might not name a backup — all three QBs will travel to road games, anyway, and if Locker gets hurt, at that point any thought of trying to redshirt Nick Montana almost certainly goes out the window, anyway. I think the conventional wisdom is that they’ll go into the season trying to redshirt Montana and would give any mop-up time to Keith Price. But again, if Locker gets hurt, redshirting goes to the backburner. But Sarkisian also says he’s not going into it with any timetable — he says he could name a backup before the season if someone really steps forward, or might never do it. And as for the backup now being the heir apparent, remember that the foundation of Sarkisian’s program is constant competition. Obviously, if one steps forward this August he’ll have a leg up going forward. But I don’t think the coaches will decide the next three-four years of the position solely on what happens this August.
5, Who is the backup running back?: I’m not sure how important this is in terms of the success of the team, meaning that I think the depth here is such that whoever emerges will be more than good enough to get the job done. But it will no doubt be intriguing to watch freshmen Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper battle with holdovers Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson. My guess is that two or three will see regular time as the Huskies will look for ways to get each on the field in roles that suit their talents (such as happened last year with Fogerson, who — it may be easy to forget — had 17 receptions for 191 yards compared to just 14 rushes (for 46) as the coaches searched for ways to take advantage of his receiving ability.
August 1, 2010 at 11:42 PM
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