We’ll continue the post-spring position reviews with the spot that may be the most unsettled — linebacker.
There is one sure thing — senior Cort Dennison (pictured above in a Dean Rutz photo in the Holiday Bowl) — returning to start at middle linebacker.
But that’s about it as the official post-spring depth chart revealed six different players as potential starters at the other two spots where UW is searching for replacements for graduated starters Mason Foster (at weakside linebacker) and Victor Aiyewa (at strongside linebacker).
First, a look at the official post-spring depth chart:
Jamaal Kearse, 6-2, 230, RFr/OR
Princeton Fuimaono, 6-0, 201, So./OR
John Timu, 6-1, 225, Fr./OR
Cooper Pelluer, 6-3, 221, So.
Cort Dennison, 6-1, 236, Sr.
Thomas Tutogi, 6-1, 251, So.
Tim Tucker, 6-1, 221, So.
Victor Burnett, 5-11, 232, RFr.
Garret Gilliland, 6-0, 215, So./OR
Jordan Wallace, 6-0, 225, Jr./OR
John Timu, 6-1, 225, Fr.
NEWCOMERS ARRIVING IN THE FALL
Travis Feeney, 6-4, 201
Jarett Finau, 6-3, 235
Matthew Lyons, 6-2, 188
Corey Waller, 6-2. 210
Dennison is the rock of this unit, a two-year starter who is the leading returning tackler on the team with 93, and is also the leader on the field calling signals. With another solid season, he could emerge as an all-conference candidate, though the Pac-12 is loaded with good linebackers this season.
JC transfer Tutogi emerged as potentially Dennison’s backup as spring ended after starting out on the weakside. His size may make him a better fit for the middle. Coaches expect he could make a big leap in the fall after having had the spring to get comfortable with the defense and to the step up in competition. Tucker and Burnett are young players who have shown some promise but have yet to make a real move on the depth chart. Fall camp will be critical for each to make a mark.
Gilliland was moved to WLB, Foster’s spot a year ago, to begin the spring and pretty much was the starter there throughout. But the coaches said the competition there is far from over, as evidenced by the depth chart listing. Coaches have said they will work to get the best three LBs on the field, and they’ll have a better sense of who those three are when Fuimaono and Pelluer come back healthy in the fall after being limited in the spring due to shoulder injuries. That said, Gilliland appears the favorite for the position in the fall. Wallace remains in the running, but has been mostly a special teams player his first two seasons. Timu is a wildcard at both SLB and WLB, officially a true freshman after grayshirting last fall. Like Tutogi, he could make a big step up in the fall after having had a spring to get acclimated.
The SLB spot was even more unsettled throughout the spring. Fuimaono, who started one game last year when Aiyewa was injured, appeared in position to be atop the depth chart but was limited throughout due to shoulder surgery. He got lots of non-contact repsm however, and will be right in the hunt when fall camp begins, and given his previous experience may be the favorite for the spot.
Kearse had a good second half of spring ball to emerge as the starter for the spring game, and it’s worth recalling last year was his first as a linebacker after playing safety and receiver in high school. Pelluer, like Fuimaono, got lots of non-contact reps in the spring but was held out of contact, making his status hard to read other than that he’ll certainly have a chance to get right in the mix of things with a good fall.
In general, this is a position that obviously appears to have a lot of promising young players, but that will need to develop some specific answers in the fall. Coaches seemed a little more open as the spring progressed in saying they were looking for some players to step up and were hoping to get some more clarity. That could include one or two of the incoming freshmen, though a few of those guys could also end up as Josh Shirley-style rush ends.
Speaking of which, the five-man line that UW worked with often this spring could help mitigate some of the uncertainty at linebacker. When UW goes to that look, there are usually just two “true” linebackers on the field (Dennison always one of them). How the linebacking spot evolves in the fall could go a long way toward determining in which direction the Huskies focus the defense in 2011.