We’ll continue our previews of UW’s position groups heading into spring practice with a look at the linebacker spot, which might have been the most improved on the team in 2012.
A LOOK BACK AT 2012
The linebacking corps was one of UW’s biggest question marks entering the 2012 season with the Huskies needing to replace middle linebacker Cort Dennison and looking for an upgrade in production everywhere. There was also a new coach in Peter Sirmon, hired to replace the fired Mike Cox.
Sirmon left no stone unturned in attempting to remake the group, moving John Timu from an outside spot to the middle, and several players from safety to try to get more speed at the outside spots, such as Nate Fellner, Taz Stevenson, Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson.
Ultimately, the Huskies settled on a pretty set trio of Timu in the middle (he started all 13 games there in 2012), Thompson at a nickelback/weakside linebacker spot (he also started every game) and Feeney at strongside linebacker (he started nine games). Princeton Fuimaono also started three games when Feeney was injured, Thomas Tutogi got one start when the Huskies went with a bigger defensive alignment against Stanford, and Cory Littleton started two games at a defensive end/OLB role.
Timu, Feeney and Thompson each finished among UW’s top five tacklers — Timu was first with 91, Feeney tied for third with 76 and Thompson fifth with 74 — and and all also earned all-conference honorable mention helping the Husky defense make dramatic improvement from the 2011 season.
A LOOK AHEAD
With every player who started a game at LB in 2012 returning in 2013, the Huskies enter the season with a much more experienced and stable linebacking corps. Timu, Thompson and Feeney will each enter the season atop the depth chart at their respective spots, though Feeney will miss the spring while rehabbing from shoulder surgery — Fuimaono got the starts in his place in 2012 and would likely ascend to the top spot there to start spring.
Thompson now seems permanently set at linebacker, with UW coach Steve Sarkisian saying in a chat with the Times on Wednesday that his off-season workouts were tailored to getting him more physically ready for playing linebacker. Timu, voted a team captain last season as a sophomore, will be counted on even more this season to be a leader on and off the field. And Feeney might have been the biggest surprise of any UW player in 2012.
Fuimaono and Tutogi, meanwhile, each give UW some experienced depth as well as some versatility to mix things up scheme wise, as does Littleton. As he did last year, Tutogi could again be called on more when UW plays power running teams. Under Sirmon and coordinator Justin Wilcox, the UW defense will continue to stress versatility and grooming a lot of different players for different roles to defend the widely divergent offenses the Huskies see in the Pac-12.
While the six players mentioned above head into the spring figuring to see the bulk of the action, Scott Lawyer, now a sophomore, will also have a chance to get more in the mix this season, as will Evan Zeger, also a sophomore. (Spring should bring more clarity to the roles of Lawyer and Zeger, as well as Stevenson, who was also being used at tailback when the 2012 season ended — we’ll see next week where all those guys line up). UPDATE — I should also have mentioned Jamaal Kearse here, as well. He was hampered all last season with an injury and made just one tackle. But he’s another one who we’ll need to see in the spring exactly where he is.
UW also hit the linebacker spot hard in recruiting, signing four players — Keishawn Bierria, Sean Constantine, Connor O’Brien and Azeem Victor. None, however, will be available in the spring so it won’t be known what role any of those players will have on the team in 2013 until fall camp.