As the Huskies enter the last two weeks of spring practice, among the major hopes of the coaches is for some linebackers to emerge.
UW has one sure thing at that position — senior middle linebacker Cort Dennison, shown above last year against Syracuse in an Otto Greule picture.
Sophomore Garret Gilliland has also taken something of a foothold in the competition for the weakside linebacker spot, held last year by Mason Foster.
But the strongside spot, where Victor Aiyewa played a year ago, remains in flux.
And the coaches are pretty frank that they’d like to see an uptick in play for the entire group of those fighting for the two open positions.
“Someone’s got to separate themselves,” said defensive coordinator Nick Holt on Thursday. “There’s still really a lot of unknowns there. But we’ve got to keep fighting through and keep practicing, and hopefully something will happen.”
Linebackers coach Mike Cox says the sheer numbers of bodies at the position is an encouraging long-term sign. But he agrees that for the immediate future, some players need to step it up.
“The one positive thing is we are going to create some depth out of this,” he said. “The thing we do have to get better is we’ve got to raise our level of play. … The one thing I see is I see us developing more depth than maybe we have had. But it’s young guys and kind of working through the growing pains. I see us down the field having some capable bodies with some depth. So there is some good competition there right now.”
While practice has revealed some players getting significant time at specific spots — such as Gilliland and JC transfer Thomas Tutogi at WLB and guys like Princeton Fuimaono (limited to non-contact drills after off-season shoulder surgery), John Timu and Jamaal Kearse at SLB, Cox says everything is still negotiable.
“At the end of the day we are going to put our best players on the field, so (Fuimaono) is learning a couple of different spots and Garret is playing a couple of different spots and we are going to continue to do that, to mix and match,” he said. “This is the time to do that, in spring ball, so when we get back here for two-a-days maybe we have some guys solidified where they are going to be. So we are just looking to see who fits where. They are all young guys — it’s Cort and a bunch of younger guys, so it’s kind of the time we are mixing and matching to see who fits where and how it all fits together. … As frustrating as practice might be with the newness of everything, a couple of years from now I will have a group of guys who have seen it all. So that’s all part of it.”
In further breaking down some of the players and positions, here’s some more of what Cox said:
On backups to Dennison: “Tim Tucker and Victor Burnett, and if something were to happen, Garret has also played that position, so we have some depth in there, so it’s all different kind of combinations we are looking at in there.”
On Gilliland taking a foothold on the WLB spot: “He has, and he’s getting a lot more reps this spring with the injury that Princeton had fixed, so he has had a lot of those reps and he’s doing a really nice job. He knows how to play and he’s had a little bit of experience and did play in games last year.”
On who would be ahead at the SLB spot: “I think Princeton is, with the stuff he did coming into the spring and the stuff he did at the end of the season — he was really coming on. His whole thing now is to get into the weight room and getting caught up. But I think he will be.”
Thoughts on some other LBs “Thomas Tutogi is going to really help us — it’s all brand new to him, so once he kind of gets through the terminology and learn all that stuff he’ll be able to play a little faster and we will have a better idea of what he will do. I’m encouraged by the overall depth. Cooper Pelluer (limited for the spring after having off-season shoulder surgery) is someone who is going to really help us in the fall, too, and Johnny Timu. He is a very smart player and he has the ability to play a couple of different positions as well. Jamaal (Kearse), too. He was a receiver in high school, so this is all brand new to him as well, so he’s coming along. Every day he gets a little better. I think maybe Cooper and Jamaal will be the outside linebacker type guys but also see Johnny Timu and Princeton playing multiple spots, and that’s a way to create a lot of depth without a lot of bodies is to have everybody playing multiple spots. Jordan Wallace is a guy who can play a couple of different spots.”