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Five pressing questions for Washington football in 2019

UPDATED: Sat., June 1, 2019, 7:45 p.m.

By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – More than a week ago, we offered predictions for the upcoming Washington Huskies football season. Today, we ask five important questions.

1. How will the carries be divided among running backs?

On the surface, this seems like a question with an obvious answer. Juniors Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew were the starters during the spring, and they’ll earn the first carries in the fall. But that’s where things get interesting. Junior Kamari Pleasant and redshirt freshman Richard Newton both bulked up this offseason, and both have shown a blend of burst and brute force. In particular, the 6-foot, 213-pound Newton – who was sidelined during his redshirt season with a shoulder injury – could provide an intriguing change of pace from the smaller, shiftier Ahmed and McGrew. Four-star freshman Cameron Davis will also join the competition this summer. Four running backs earned at least 40 carries last season, so we know Petersen and Hamdan aren’t afraid to split reps. But we’ll have to wait to see just how much of a factor Pleasant, Newton and Davis can be.

2. Who will emerge at the wide receiver position?

For Jacob Eason’s sake, there better be more than one answer. But while Aaron Fuller, Ty Jones and Quinten Pounds all missed the spring with injuries, UW’s remaining wide receivers didn’t exactly steal their starting spots. Sure, sophomore Terrell Bynum flashed some potential and Austin Osborne was the most consistently reliable of a redshirt freshman trio that also includes Marquis Spiker and Trey Lowe. Senior Chico McClatcher returned to the team as well, and it appears he brought his trademark athleticism and quickness with him. But is there a truly dynamic threat among that group? Fuller, Jones and senior Andre Baccellia were all solid but generally unspectacular last season. McClatcher hasn’t produced at the same level since leading the Pac-12 with 18.5 yards per catch in 2016. The wild card is four-star freshman Puka Nacua – a 6-2, 196-pound receiver who set Utah state records for catches (103), receiving yards (2,336) and receiving touchdowns (26) in his senior season. The Huskies have plenty of eligible wide receivers. But can they find a star?

3. Is Kyler Manu really a starting linebacker?

Technically, he was one in the spring. The 6-1, 250-pound inside linebacker – who made just 12 total tackles in his previous four seasons on campus – was a constant next to senior Brandon Wellington with the first-team defense throughout April. But can a player who contributed so little for four seasons suddenly sprout into a standout on the second level? It seems unlikely. But what other options do the Huskies have? Redshirt freshmen M.J. Tafisi – who tied for the team lead with seven tackles in the Spring Preview – and Jackson Sirmon have worked mostly with the second team. Early enrollee freshman Josh Calvert also practiced at the position and produced the first interception of the spring. Sophomore Ariel Ngata and redshirt freshman Edefuan Ulofoshio cross-trained both inside and outside, and true freshmen Daniel Heimuli and Alphonzo Tuputala will be added to the mix this summer. None of the above will immediately erase the memory of Ben Burr-Kirven. But that’s not the question. Can they beat out Kyler Manu?

4. Who will start beside Levi Onwuzurike on the defensive line?

Unfortunately for UW, the answer won’t be 2019 fourth-round pick Greg Gaines. Still, Ikaika Malloe has plenty to work with on Washington’s defensive line. The Huskies cycled through starting combinations during the spring, with converted outside linebacker Benning Potoa’e, John Clark, Josiah Bronson, Sam Taimani, Tuli Letuligasenoa and Mosiah Nasili-Liu all receiving reps. True freshmen Jacob Bandes, Sama Paama, Faatui Tuitele and Noa Ngalu will compete in August as well. Let’s assume some combination of Potoa’e, Clark, Bronson, Taimani and Letuligasenoa will work in with the established Onwuzurike this fall. Of that group, keep an eye out for Taimani – a 6-2, 322-pound redshirt freshman who surged throughout the spring. “I thought (Taimani) did a nice job even last year,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “He was right there on the verge (of playing). I think if we didn’t have this new redshirt rule with four games to play last year, he probably would have been a guy who would have not redshirted. “He did a nice job last year, which is really amazing because he wasn’t playing much defense in high school. He was really an offensive lineman that we converted, and usually it’s the other way around. So he’s kind of picked up where he left off and he’s doing a good job.”

5. Who will be the Huskies’ starting placekicker?

Peyton Henry is the incumbent, a 5-11 sophomore who converted 16 of 22 field goal tries in his UW debut in 2018. He also kicked off 73 times, recording 24 touchbacks, last season. Henry was impressive – albeit while primarily attempting field goals between 28 and 40 yards – during the spring, and he converted all five field goal attempts in April’s Spring Preview. Still, fans will understandably dwell on the 37-yard missed field goal at the end of regulation that would have lifted the Huskies over rival Oregon in an overtime loss last October. Come August, Henry will have to contend with freshman Tim Horn – a Honolulu native who 247Sports ranked as the No. 3 kicker in the 2019 class. The Huskies didn’t offer Horn a scholarship just to stash him on the bench. But can he hop over Henry and make an immediate impression as a freshman?

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