By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Throughout spring practices, and again so far throughout fall camp, Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen has referred to his team as a “work in progress.”
Of course, any football coach at any level anywhere could say the same thing about any facet of their own team. No amount of improvement is ever enough. But Petersen’s assessment is more true in certain areas than others, given the offensive talent the Huskies lost from a year ago.
Even with just 12 days remaining until the Huskies begin the season at Hawaii, Petersen says: “I still see us in camp mode, to tell you the truth. We got a lot of work to do. Just honing in on that game mode.”
First of all, they’ll have to settle on a new quarterback, either Troy Williams, Jeff Lindquist or Cyler Miles — and Miles is suspended for the opener. That position has been discussed at length since fifth-year senior Keith Price finished his statistically impressive career in December.
But there are a few other positions with plenty to sort out before that Aug. 30 game in Honolulu. Here’s what to expect at said positions as the Huskies close their practices to media and begin developing their initial depth chart.
With Bishop Sankey now vying for the starting running back job with the Tennessee Titans, the Huskies find themselves with four candidates to replace the record-setting back in 2014.
Redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman, sophomore Dwayne Washington and seniors Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier have each been given first-team repetitions throughout camp, and Petersen maintains that he’s likely to favor a by-committee approach once the season begins. Still, someone has to start, and Petersen would ideally like one player to emerge at least enough to be able to develop an in-game rhythm.
Coleman was a standout in spring and a highly-touted recruit. Washington, Cooper and Callier each had their moments during Saturday’s open scrimmage, with Washington (22 yards) and Callier (five yards) each scoring touchdowns.
“You could see flashes of all those guys doing some good things,” Petersen said. “I think Dwayne has some very good speed, is explosive. I like how Jesse was slithering in there and finding some good creases. Coop did some things in there, and some of the young guys, so you guys kind of saw what we saw.”
The Huskies will enter the 2014 season with three new starters in the defensive backfield alongside junior cornerback Marcus Peters.
The first-team defensive backfield has remained the same throughout fall camp. Jermaine Kelly, a redshirt freshman, seems to have a strong hold on the cornerback position opposite Peters. Third-year sophomore Brandon Beaver has impressed at free safety since the beginning of spring, while sophomore Trevor Walker has manned the strong safety spot.
There is competition behind those four. Freshman Budda Baker, the gem of UW’s 2014 signing class, has already played his way into the second-string free safety spot, and has also worked with the first-team defense as a nickel back. Another freshman, Naijiel Hale, has taken reps with the second-team defense, and sophomore Kevin King has made plays with the No. 2 group at strong safety.
“I think our secondary is pretty interesting,” Petersen said, “what’s going on back there with some of the guys that have been here and some of our young kids.”
Petersen noted last week that he thought former Huskies kicker Travis Coons was “an unsung hero” for the versatility he provided in 2013.
After Cameron Van Winkle’s season was cut short due to a back injury, Coons — who already kicked the team’s field-goals and punted — added kickoff duties to his plate. So his departure obviously leaves a few voids.
Van Winkle seems to be next in line. The sophomore has showed a pretty consistent leg inside of 40 yards throughout camp, and was particularly impressive during Saturday’s scrimmage. He nailed five or six consecutive field goals and also put a pair of kickoffs through the back of the end zone. Freshman Tristan Vizcaino, who is on scholarship, is also competing for the kicking job(s).
As for punter? Korey Durkee’s leg looks stronger than ever, and he proved that on Saturday with a kick that traveled about 70 yards. Consistency and accuracy, then, will be key for the junior from Gig Harbor.