With spring football approaching, I asked readers last week to vote on the position groups they feel the most concern about heading into the beginning of practices.
Here are the results and I apologize for what may have been some initial misunderstanding between the headline for the blog entry and that on the poll — I’ll blame the Arizona sun that was still beating on my head and sadly no longer is. That surely increased the margin for error from, say, Luis Aparicio territory to Yuniesky Betancourt turf.
But I think the results as they read today probably pretty accurately reflect the general feeling of the fan base about which positions create the most angst heading into the season.
No. 1 on the list is linebacker, which as I type this is leading in most of the precincts and stands at 49.22 percent (and even with my math skills, I can tell that means half of you are worried most about the LB spot).
That’s no surprise given that the linebacking corps (featured in the picture above are two of the returning LBS — John Timu and Thomas Tutogi) was hardly stellar last year and loses its best player and leader in middle linebacker Cort Dennison. And with the new defensive coaches coming in and what appears to be a gradual (if not even speedier) shift to a 3-4, lots of unknowns about this spot. I’d agree with those who voted for linebacker — until proven otherwise, it is the biggest question mark on the team in terms of wondering if it can produce at the level needed for the Huskies to compete at the upper echelon of the Pac-12.
Defensive line came in second on the list at 21.01 percent, and I wouldn’t argue with that, either.
A shift to a 3-4 might mitigate some of the concern on the defensive line. But while there are some younger players on the line who have generated some excitement up front (notably, Josh Shirley, Andrew Hudson, Danny Shelton) as well as the expected return of Hau’oli Jamora, the results of last year and the loss of stalwarts Alameda Ta’amu and Everrette Thompson have to raise lots of caution about the line until improvement is seen on gameday.
Coming in third was quarterback at 8.87 percent, and this ranking I assume is the main casualty resulting from the differing headlines (again, sorry — I’ll run some extra laps after the first practice or something). That said, it’s possible a few people clicked on quarterback due to worries over Keith Price’s durability and questions over the backup spot, which is now wide open with the transfer of Nick Montana, and will feature someone who has never before taken a snap. As with most things in college football, you never really know for sure until the situation materializes on gameday. But as of now, you’d say that the gap between starter and backup is the widest at quarterback of any spot on the team. Put another way, Price would be the player UW could least afford to lose (and one could argue that’s often the case of quarterbacks on any team, but in this particular situation it seems like it may be a little more pronounced).
The secondary came in fourth at 6.36 percent, and this seems about right. With every key player back but Quinton Richardson and lots of highly-touted talent coming in, the secondary appears on maybe its most sound footing in a decade or so. Still, as with the rest of the defense, the results of last year mean there’s still lots of room for growth and improvement everywhere and fans can’t be blamed for being a little skeptical until they see the DBs play at a consistently high level.
The offensive line was fifth at 5.28 percent, and I was a little surprised it wasn’t slightly higher. Four of five full-time starters are due to return (assuming Colin Tanigawa makes a full recovery from the knee injury suffered against Oregon State). But the line was hardly dominating last year and loses left tackle Senio Kelemete. Even with Chris Polk, the Huskies had trouble last year generating a consistent run game against the best defenses it played, and now will have to try to do that without him. Gauging the progress of the young players on the line will be among the more intriguing aspects of spring and fall practice.
Running back finished sixth at 4.7 percent, fans apparently comfortable enough that the Huskies have replacements for Polk in the likes of Jesse Callier, Bishop Sankey and, if healthy, Deontae Cooper. I think it’s a little risky to think a guy who produced the way Polk did will be easily replaced. But given some of UW’s other issues, it makes sense that this isn’t at the top of the worry list.
Next is receiver, seventh on the list at 2.69 percent. This makes sense, even though the Huskies have some not insubstantial departees in Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, each among the top seven career receivers in school history. It’s also hard to know what Kevin Smith’s status will be this year as he comes off an ACL injury. On the other hand, Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns as potentially the best tight end in the Pac-12 heading into the 2012 season (there’s a good chance he’ll be the only Husky generally listed on the pre-season all-conference first teams published by the various preview magazines). And the assumption is Kasen Williams will take a huge leap in year two to become the new go-to receiver, complemented by vets like James Johnson and Cody Bruns and a bevy of young talent.
Special teams came in last (or first, depending on your perspective) at 1.83 percent. Given that the Huskies lose both kickers and the snapper, it might seem there’d be a little more angst about the special teams. But special teams are always such an unknown when new kickers are involved — who could have ever really predicted that Kiel Rasp would turn into the leading punter, statistically anyway, in UW history? And some of the confidence in the special teams may also be due to a feeling that the rest of the unit — the returners and coverage guys — turned a corner last season and should only get better with the continued influx of new talent.
While spring and fall camps will bring some clarity to some of the issues above, the reality is that we’ll probably all have to wait until September to really know where UW’s areas of concern really are.