Call them “breakout” players if you want. I’m not a big fan of that word, but I do think these six Huskies won over some new fans this spring:
LAVON COLEMAN, redshirt freshman running back, 6-0, 215: As one of just two healthy scholarship running backs available for the ‘Spring Preview’ on Saturday, Coleman unofficially had 18 carries for 99 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown run on day’s final play from scrimmage (after he had bumped into Troy Williams in the backfield). Minor injuries to sophomore Dwayne Washington and senior Jesse Callier meant a lot of work for Coleman and Deontae Cooper the last two weeks of spring. Washington and Cooper probably have the best chance to succeed Bishop Sankey as the featured back, but Coleman’s solid spring means he’ll continue to be in the mix heading into August. There’s a good chance the Huskies will open the 2014 with a running-back-by-committee approach, too.
DARRELL DANIELS, sophomore tight end, 6-4, 241: Daniels appeared in 11 games as a true freshman, contributing mostly on special teams. He transitioned from receiver to tight end midway through the season, and he’s still learning some of the fundamentals of blocking at the new position. And while I’d be surprised if Daniels leaps all the way ahead of Joshua Perkins and Michael Hartvigson on the depth chart, I do think he’ll be a factor at tight end at some point in 2014. Daniels wrapped up a nice spring with a 15-yard touchdown reception from Jeff Lindquist in Saturday’s finale at Husky Stadium.
SIOSIFA TUFUNGA, junior left guard, 6-2, 305: One of the biggest surprises of the spring, in my mind, was seeing Tufunga regularly with the first-string offensive line at left guard. Incumbent starter Colin Tanigawa moved around a bit, from second-string center to first-string right guard, and it will be interesting see how that left guard battle shapes up in August.
TANIELA TUPOU, junior defensive tackle, 6-1, 277: You’d be hard-pressed to find a defensive tackle capable of tracking down John Ross on a bubble screen the way Tupou did on Saturday. The result was a 7-yard loss, and the play was an exclamation point to a great spring for Tupou. With a deep and experienced group coming back — led by Hau’oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton and Evan Hudson — the defensive line might be the strength of this team heading into fall camp. There is, of course, no such thing as too much depth, and Tupou could be a valuable reserve at both tackle spots next fall.
JERMAINE KELLY, redshirt freshman cornerback, 6-1, 188: The Huskies will introduce four freshmen cornerbacks into the mix this summer — Darren Gardenhire, Naijiel Hale, Sidney Jones and Brandon Lewis — but Kelly put himself firmly ahead of that class heading to the fall. Senior Travell Dixon had a nice start to spring, but Kelly emerged in the second half as the regular second corner (opposite Marcus Peters) with the No. 1 defense. Kelly has the combination of size, length and speed you like at the position. He also spent time with both the punt- and kick-return groups.
BRANDON BEAVER, sophomore safety, 6-0, 192: Beaver was as good as anyone this spring until a shoulder injury limited him for the last few practices. Even so, it’s probably safe to pencil him in as the starting free safety entering fall camp — though, like Kelly at cornerback, Beaver figures to face stiff competition from the incoming freshmen: Budda Baker, Jojo McIntosh and Lavon Washington.
Others who caught my eye this spring: Senior WR DiAndre Campbell, senior DE Andrew Hudson, junior OLB Travis Feeney, junior CB/S Brian Clay, sophomore SS Trevor Walker, redshirt freshman LT Coleman Shelton, sophomore DE Joe Mathis, redshirt freshman DT Elijah Qualls, redshirt freshman C Dane Crane, sophomore K Cameron Van Winkle.
As you can see, I didn’t include some of the already-established guys. Shaq Thompson and John Ross both had a great spring, and both could be three-way threats for the Huskies in the fall. We wrote at length about the two young quarterbacks, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, who were up and down throughout the spring. I tended to stick with some younger, unproven types who could play more meaningful roles next fall.