SEATTLE— Five games into his first season at Washington, Huskies head coach Chris Petersen still isn’t sure where Shaq Thompson belongs on the field.
What Petersen does know; what is evident to anyone watching the Huskies, is that Thompson, whether he’s a linebacker, his listed position, a safety or an occasional running back, is often the best player on the field.
“He’s a heck of a player, he really is,” Petersen said. “Whether he’s at safety, linebacker, he’s a ball hawk, just a really good, instinctual player. He’s fun to watch.
“It’s really hard to put your finger on it when you’re recruiting that and trying to figure out what that is, but he certainly has the it factor. Sometimes the more space he’s around the better he is. That’s why you can make the case for him playing safety. He tackles like a linebacker and can cover like a safety. He might be able to be a better ball hawk back there, I don’t know. We’ll continue to look at that and move him around.”
For his part, Thompson would prefer to focus on mastering one role, but he also is more than willing to do what helps the team, and right now that involves him playing multiple positions. It’s the blessing and the curse of being a freakishly athletic 228-pound man whose football instincts seem to match his considerable physical gifts.
For what it’s worth, one NFL scout who was at the game said he sees Thompson as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, noting that in today’s pass-happy NFL, speed is more important than size at that position, comparing Thompson to Tampa Bay All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David.
And in a season already full of highlights for Thompson, he came up with two more massive plays that nearly were enough to help the Huskies overcome a poor offensive performance in a 20-13 loss to Stanford. In the second quarter, Stanford was moving the ball looking to add to a seven-point lead, but when Cardinal running back Remound Wright was fighting for extra yards following a 2-yard loss, Thompson not only stripped the ball from Wright, he picked up the loose ball and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. The score was Thompson’s fourth of the season to go with another fumble return, an interception return and a rushing touchdown, matching receiver John Ross for the team lead in touchdowns.
“The ball was loose, and he was stacked on the pile, he wasn’t down, so I just went for the ball and it came out,” Thompson explained.
Thompson also forced a fumble with Stanford driving for a potential go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, hammering Kevin Hogan after the Stanford quarterback rushed for four yards. Thompson finished the game with seven tackles, a big stop on kick coverage, and a pass breakup/near interception that forced the Cardinal to settle for a short field goal.
“Shaq is one of our playmakers, and in big games like this playmakers are going to step up,” said nose tackle Danny Shelton, who recovered the other fumble forced by Thompson. “We expected Shaq to do some things, and he did it.
Added defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski: “He’s just one of those guys, man. Playmakers show up in big games, and he’s done that. That strip, scoop and score was huge. We need more of those.”
With the offense struggling, the Huskies could have indeed used more big plays from Thompson and the defense, but asking for that when he and the defense played so well would have been asking too much, even of the Huskies’ most versatile and talented player.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.