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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

December 15, 2014 at 3:42 PM

UW notes: On Budda Baker’s snaps count, John Ross III’s future as a two-way threat and Vita Vea’s potential

 

Freshman free safety Budda Baker (32), with senior linebacker John Timu, played more snaps than any UW player this season — 1,019 in all. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle TImes)

Freshman free safety Budda Baker (32), with senior linebacker John Timu, played more snaps than any UW player this season — 1,019 in all. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle TImes)

Cleaning out the notebook on an off day for the UW football team …

First, a few tidbits on the Huskies’ appearance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State on Jan. 2:

  • Washington will earn a payout of $1 million for playing in the game, a UW spokesman said. It’s the same payout UW received for its appearance in the Fight Hunger Bowl last year (now called the Foster Farms Bowl).
  • The Huskies have an allotment of 8,000 tickets for sale for the bowl game, available at gohuskies.com or through ticketcity.com.
  • UW coach Chris Petersen earned a bonus of $75,000 for the Huskies’ bowl berth. It’s his only performance bonus to kick in, per the contract he signed with UW in December 2013. (He can earn a bonus of up to $125,000 per season based on the team’s academic progress.)

Injury updates:

  • Deontae Cooper suffered a concussion in the Huskies’ Apple Cup victory over Washington State, but he has recovered and should be fine for the bowl game. His is the second known concussion of the season for UW; quarterback Cyler Miles had the other, forcing him to miss the Arizona State game in October.
  • Shaq Thompson has an injured thumb, but it’s not considered serious. He practiced over the weekend and is expected to be fine for the bowl game.
  • Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly, a starting cornerback in the first two games of the season, is recovering nicely from a broken ankle suffered in September, and there’s a chance he could even be ready for the bowl game. “It’s slowly moving progress right now,” UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said Sunday. “We’re piece-mealing him right now, having him go 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 50 minutes, kind of building up his stamina to make sure his leg’s feeling better. But he’s been real productive over these last few practices. He’s getting better.”

Based on his success at Bellevue, and based on his makeup and character (and his speed), many thought Budda Baker had a chance to be productive early in his career for the Huskies.

But this productive?

As a true freshman free safety, Baker finished the regular season third on the team with 76 tackles, plus one sack, six passes defended and two forced fumbles.

He also played more snaps than any other Husky this season — 1,019 total on defense and special teams. That is 56 more than senior Hau’oli Kikaha, who had the second-most snaps on the team. It’s hard to imagine many, if any, players in the country playing many more snaps that that. (UW defended 992 plays this season; only four FBS teams in the country defended more plays, in large part because of UW’s 13-game schedule.)

“It just starts with the guy’s effort. With (Baker), it’s just in his nature to play hard,” Lake said. “It’s no different from when you were a little kid and there was that one guy that would always just play harder than everybody else. And it’s the same thing at the top level in the NFL. There’s guys that will just play harder than you. They may not be as talented, but they’re going to out-work you. Then you roll that in with a player that’s also talented, that’s also very, very smart and tough, then you have a very, very special player on your hands.

“And I think Budda has a high, high ceiling to be a great football player here, as long as he keeps that work ethic. And I don’t see that work ethic going anywhere. It’s in his blood; it’s in his veins; it’s how he plays. And it rubs off on everybody. You can always point to him on film on go, ‘This is how it’s done. This is how you fly around.’”

Baker and Lake have both said a priority for the free safety this offseason will be to add some weight to his a 5-foot-10, 173-pound frame.

“It’s just going to be fun watching him keep on growing, put on some more weight,” Lake said. “It’ll be nice to have another 10 pounds of impact behind (Baker’s hits). Hopefully he can have that neck like Earl Thomas here in a couple years.”

John Ross III was UW’s leading receiver when he was asked to help out at cornerback following Marcus Peters’ Nov. 6 dismissal. Ross wound up starting the final three games at cornerback and Lake, for one, believes Ross has NFL potential on defense.

Ross, a 5-10, 179-pound sophomore, would like to continue to play both offense and defense going into next season.

“In the future, I want to be able to go into the (NFL) draft as an athlete. I want people to be able to say, ‘He can do both,’” Ross said. “I just want to utilize all my talents the best way possible. And Coach Lake and Coach Pease and even Coach Pete, they’re doing the best they can in that aspect of it. I really enjoy doing it all for these coaches. …

“I’m going to need to have a big offseason. I just have to work hard. You never know: I might wake up one morning and say, ‘I want to be a DB. Or I want to be a receiver.’ So you never know. I’m going to work very hard to get bigger, faster, stronger and watch more film.”

UW’s first four bowl practices have been dedicated largely to giving younger players extra opportunities. That has meant more snaps for freshman quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, who was named the scout-team player of the year (as voted on by member’s of UW’s defense).

“He’s done some good things,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “Anxious to see him continue to develop. … I know he worked really hard (this year) and watched a lot of film of the other opponent, trying to replicate (that offense).”

UW’s senior defensive linemen were so dominant this season that it was almost impossible at times for D-line coach Jeff Choate to take them out of the games. That adds some uncertainty, and intrigue, for the next wave of young linemen — guys like Elijah Qualls, Joe Mathis, Taniela Tupou, Jarett Finau, Damion Turpin and Will Dissly, among others — who will have to step into much larger roles next season.

“It’s going to be very different,” Choate said. “We’re not going to be able to say we’ll get the type of production from any one individual. I think collectively we’ve got some depth there and some good young players who have matured, the guys we’ve had a chance to play this year. And we’ve got some guys who have done a nice job preparing themselves during the redshirt process as well.

“So it’s going to be a different challenge. Instead of getting out of the way (as coaches), we’re going to be very hands on and have to do a really good job of being specific about what the expectations are with these kids and putting them in position to be successful. But I do think the future’s bright and I think a big part of that is the kids having a chance to have some unbelievable mentors” in Kikaha, Danny Shelton, Evan Hudson, Andrew Hudson and Drew Schultz.

Choate called Mathis a “splash player,” because “he’s a guy who’s going to make a lot of plays just because of the nature of his effort.”

On Dissly, Choate said he has a “really high football intellect and he’s going to be able to get guys lined up and be a really productive, consistent player.”

Among the young D-linemen who redshirted this season, Choate had high praise for Vita Vea, who is listed at 6-4, 346 pounds on the UW roster.

“That guy has more physical talent than Danny does,” Choate said. “But he’s not where Danny’s at in terms of the reps he’s had and really understanding the game Danny does. So that’s the challenge for us as coaches, to push him in that direction.”

One notable line change: Kaleb McGary, the touted Fife High School product who began his redshirt season on defense, has moved to the offensive line, according to UW sources. While recruiting him, Petersen told McGary he saw potential in him as an NFL left tackle. McGary, listed at 6-7, 291 on the UW roster, wanted to give defense a try first.

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