Washington has 82 scholarship football players … and opportunities to add.
Even after two-time All-Pac-12 left tackle Jaxson Kirkland’s eligibility was restored Thursday, the Huskies still are three spots shy of the 85-man limit (and more if any additional Huskies exit the program).
So, which positions should UW potentially pursue in the transfer portal?
Here are six possibilities, ranked from most to least pressing need.
An avalanche of unfortunate events — namely, standout Edefuan Ulofoshio’s offseason injury (which could cost him games this fall), Jackson Sirmon, M.J. Tafisi and Josh Calvert’s transfers, Will Latu and Miki Ah You’s departures, and UW’s inability to sign a linebacker in the 2022 cycle — have put the Huskies in a compromised position.
They enter the summer with six scholarship linebackers: senior Pitt transfer Cam Bright, juniors Ulofoshio and Cerritos College transfer Demario King, and sophomores Carson Bruener, Daniel Heimuli and Alphonzo Tuputala. Of that group, Bright, Tuputala and Bruener shared starting reps this spring.
(Sophomore Drew Fowler — who chose to walk on at UW despite offers from UCLA, Utah, Air Force, Utah State and Wyoming — also received spare first-team reps in last Saturday’s Spring Preview.)
If Bright makes an immediate impact, Bruener continues to ascend, Tuputala proves to be more than a spring sensation, Ulofoshio returns in the regular season, Heimuli provides valuable depth and everyone stays healthy, UW could survive — even thrive — at linebacker.
But adding another option sure wouldn’t hurt.
2. Edge rusher
Eric Schmidt said last week that you need five productive edge players to be a championship team.
And according to UW’s first-year edge coach, the Huskies currently have three — senior Jeremiah Martin, junior Zion Tupuola-Fetui and sophomore Bralen Trice. He added that sophomore Sav’ell Smalls and redshirt freshman Maurice Heims “are the next two guys we have to really, really develop and get those guys ready to play for the fall.” (Sophomore Jordan Lolohea is somewhere in the mix as well.)
But with just six scholarship edge players and so little margin for error, might UW attempt to dip back into the transfer portal to improve its pass rush?
Fans will remember that Washington ranked just sixth in the Pac-12 in tackles for loss per game (5.17), seventh in sacks per game (1.67) and 10th in opponent yards per carry (4.76).
Tupuola-Fetui’s return to full health, Trice’s further emergence and Smalls’ development would all help in that department. An edge addition would certainly help as well.
3. Tight end
UW’s coaching staff appears to have faith in its top two tight ends, juniors Devin Culp and Jack Westover.
After that, it’s hard to say.
Sophomore Quentin Moore flashed in the “Spring Preview” but appeared in just two games while dealing with injuries in his debut season at UW last fall. He has the size (6-4, 249) and athletic ability to stretch the field vertically and be a tantalizing red zone target, too. But does he have the consistency?
Redshirt freshman Caden Jumper (6-3, 249) was recruited to UW to fill the H-back role that no longer exists in the Husky offense, so it’s unclear where the Eatonville product ultimately fits. True freshman Ryan Otton (6-6, 224) is also an intriguing prospect, but it may be too much to expect instant success — especially considering he didn’t enroll early.
Granted, the tight end position won’t be asked to carry quite the load it did in John Donovan’s offense. But with a thin depth chart, this may be a place where reinforcements are welcome.
4. Defensive line
Even considering Sam “Taki” Taimani’s transfer to Oregon, UW has no shortage of defensive linemen.
But does quantity equal quality in this case?
Junior Tuli Letuligasenoa and sophomores Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes and Voi Tunuufi have all played plenty, and redshirt freshman Kuao Peihopa spent the majority of the spring as a starter beside Letuligasenoa. Converted offensive lineman Ulumoo Ale (6-6, 344) could conceivably dominate as a run-stuffer as well.
Still, a year after surrendering 4.76 yards per carry and 194 rushing yards per game, UW’s run defense remained a concern for head coach Kalen DeBoer throughout much of the spring. If a productive defensive lineman hits the portal, Washington would be wise to give him a long look.
Trent McDuffie is gone. Kyler Gordon is gone.
Now, Jacobe Covington is gone too.
Granted, Covington — who entered the transfer portal this week — spent most of April with UW’s second team defense. Senior UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman and sophomore Mishael Powell remain the likely starters at cornerback, and redshirt freshmen Elijah Jackson and Davon Banks appear capable of competing as well (followed by fellow redshirt freshmen Zakhari Spears and Dyson McCutcheon).
Still, UW’s cornerback corps suddenly lacks the blue-chip pedigrees that permeated the Jimmy Lake Era.
Even if Perryman and Powell lock down those positions, it would behoove UW to bolster its depth chart at corner.
6. Running back
I know, I know. UW has already added three transfer running backs this offseason in New Mexico’s Aaron Dumas, Virginia’s Wayne Taulapapa and Nebraska’s Will Nixon.
Surely the Huskies are done reshaping their running backs room … right?
That might depend on if UW suffers further attrition, after redshirt freshman Caleb Berry entered the transfer portal this week. Though the deadline to declare for the portal and maintain eligibility this fall has come and gone, further departures at a position overflowing with eight scholarship players would hardly qualify as a surprise.
From a numbers standpoint, UW may already have too many running backs. And yet, DeBoer said Saturday that the status of his running backs room is “probably the biggest thing that’s on our minds” heading into the summer.
That doesn’t sound like a coach who’s content with the personnel at his disposal.
Forget three additions. How about four?
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