By Christian Caple The News Tribune
As the Washington Huskies prepare to begin their first fall camp under new head coach Chris Petersen, they must replace more than just the sense of familiarity that vanished when Steve Sarkisian left for USC.
They also have to replace a record-setting quarterback (Keith Price), a record-setting running back (Bishop Sankey), a record-setting tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins) and three starters in the defensive secondary.
With practice scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Monday, here are five storylines to monitor prior to UW’s Aug. 30 season opener at Hawaii.
1. Who gets the reps at QB?
Petersen announced at Pac-12 media days that third-year sophomore Cyler Miles won’t play against Hawaii, but made it clear that Miles is otherwise back in good standing with the team after his well-publicized offseason transgression. That means Miles — who was suspended throughout spring — will practice on Monday for the first time since the 2013 season ended.
But what does that mean? Does he begin as the third-string quarterback behind Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist and work his way up? Either Lindquist or Williams will start at Hawaii, so it figures each will take some meaningful snaps throughout camp. Beyond that, though, it’s entirely possible that Miles, the most experienced quarterback on the roster, will be the guy. So it will be interesting to monitor how many reps he’s given compared to Williams and Lindquist.
Petersen was asked at Pac-12 media days about dividing the quarterback reps, and he answered: “It’s going to be interesting. I don’t know. Because they all need to get reps. We’ve got to figure out who can do this, and who’s going to get better. So we’ve got to kind of treat them all similar, and Cyler just won’t play the first game, but if we’re thinking he can do something … but we’ve got to get whoever it’s going to be ready to play in that first game.”
It should be a balance, then, between establishing Miles’ capabilities — assuming he does wind up the best option of the three — and preparing either Williams or Lindquist to make their first collegiate start. There will be one freshman in camp — K.J. Carta-Samuels — but it would have to be considered a pretty big surprise if he doesn’t redshirt.
2. Who emerges at running back?
Lavon Coleman and Deontae Cooper were the only healthy scholarship options by the time spring ended, with Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington both sidelined by injuries. But if both Washington and Callier come back 100 percent healthy for camp — and that’s the expectation — this could be a four-man battle.
Petersen said he isn’t beholden to choosing one starter and guaranteeing him 20-25 carries per game, though it does sound as if he prefers one back to have more carries than the rest. Still, a by-committee approach, to some extent, isn’t out of the question.
“We’ve done it all those ways. I think it’s nice when a guy … he’s got to be able to get into a rhythm,” Petersen said. “You like to get him enough so he can start to feel the game a little bit. But I don’t think a back should have all the carries and no one else is getting in there and getting a little something done.”
Callier is obviously the most experienced. Washington showed flashes of promise in 2013, especially in that donnybrook at Oregon State, but he also had some problems with ball control early last season and lost the backup tailback job because of it. Cooper looked as good in spring as he has since his first ACL tear — he’s had three, remember — but you still have to wonder how much contact he’ll be able to sustain as a regular contributor. And Coleman is the unknown, though he was highly-recruited and had his share of impressive days during spring.
Then, there’s the question of where and how linebacker Shaq Thompson fits into everything. He took a few snaps at running back during 11-on-11 periods in the spring, and it’s pretty obvious by now that Petersen plans to use him on offense at least a little.
3. Welcome back, Kasen Williams
Petersen said wide receiver Williams, who broke a bone in his leg during UW’s game against California on Oct. 26, should be ready to go for the beginning of camp. He started doing some jogging and light running on the sidelines at spring practices. If he’s healthy, he could be one of the Huskies’ top receivers as a senior, with 142 catches and 34 games on his resume.
The question is how quickly Williams can shake off the rust after not participating in a football practice for nine months. He’s obviously had the playbook just as long as his teammates and has been able to watch film and all that, and he’s had the offseason to practice routes and such. Now it’s a matter of applying it to a team setting and proving he’s got the offense down well enough to step back into the playmaker role he occupied before his injury — and have the kind of senior season fans envisioned when he signed as a 5-star prospect in 2011.
4. Marcus Peters … and?
The secondary will be occupied by unfamiliar faces, for sure. Aside from Peters, a fourth-year junior cornerback with All-Pac-12 potential, the Huskies will rely on three new starters in the defensive backfield.
At safety, Brandon Beaver, Trevor Walker and Kevin King should all be in the mix, along with impressive walk-on Brian Clay (though you might see him more at cornerback) and highly-touted freshman Budda Baker, who wouldn’t surprise many if he competed for a starting spot.
Beaver was hampered by injury toward the end of spring, but drew praise from coaches and appeared to take a step forward prior to getting hurt. Clay bounced back and forth between corner and safety due to depth issues. King was in a yellow, no-contact jersey throughout spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, but played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2013 and should be a factor this season. Walker played in six games as a freshman, and saw plenty of reps in the spring.
At cornerback, Jermaine Kelly and Travell Dixon were each given a good look during spring, and so was Clay, whom coaches spoke highly of and could be in the mix come late-August. Keep in mind, too, that the Huskies signed seven defensive backs in the 2014 recruiting class, and considering how thin the defensive backfield appears to be, freshmen should have a chance to earn playing time.
5. O-line full strength?
Petersen was asked at media days about the depth on both the offensive and defensive line, and he quickly said that he believes the Huskies’ O-line depth to be superior to what they have on their experienced defensive line.
The return of starting left tackle Micah Hatchie and left guard Dexter Charles should only improve the outlook of that position. Both players were limited throughout spring practices by offseason surgeries, so their task once practice begins is similar to Kasen Williams — get back in the mix and prove they’re ready to slide back into their starting spots on the offensive line.
With Hatchie and Charles fully healthy, the Huskies’ offensive line could feature a two-year starter at left tackle (Hatchie); a two-year starter at left guard (Charles); a fifth-year senior center with a year-and-a-half of starting O-line experience (Mike Criste); a fifth-year senior with nearly two years of starting experience (Colin Tanigawa); and a two-year starter and fifth-year senior at right tackle (Ben Riva). Fifth-year senior James Atoe is very much in the mix here, too. Juniors Siosifa Tufunga and Shane Brostek, and third-year sophomore Jake Eldrenkamp will also battle for a spot on the two-deeps.
So, experience won’t be the issue here. Instead, it will be about how efficiently Petersen and staff breed cohesion within their first-year teachings — and Hatchie and Charles are obviously a big part of that.