It’s not hard to identify the positions the Washington Huskies most need to replenish in 2014.
Their quarterback last season, Keith Price, was a fifth-year senior. Their record-setting running back, Bishop Sankey, is preparing for the NFL draft. Same for Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who won the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top tight end.
In fact, of Washington’s 6,491 yards of total offense in 2013, 4,836 of them — just less than 75 percent — came on a carry by Sankey or a pass by Price. That’s a lot of production to replace.
Add to that the graduation of both of UW’s starting safeties last season (Sean Parker and Will Shamburger), as well as their all-purpose kicker/punter (Travis Coons), and there are obviously a few positions that will be occupied almost entirely by inexperienced faces this season. With spring practice in the books, let’s take a look at where the Huskies stand at each of them.
Gone: Keith Price (Threw for 2,966 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs in 2013)
— Jeff Lindquist (RS-So.): Appeared in three games in 2013, all in ultra-mop-up duty, and did not attempt a pass.
— Troy Williams (RS-Fr.): Redshirted in 2013.
— Cyler Miles (RS-So.): Most experienced quarterback on the roster, with eight appearances last season, including one start. Completed 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards, four TDs and two INTs, and rushed for 200 yards on 23 carries. Has been suspended since early February after post-Super Bowl altercation, and did not participate in spring practices.
The skinny: Is it presumptuous to label Miles a contender in this race? Maybe a little, but I don’t think it’s a huge stretch. Chris Petersen has yet to issue a verdict on the status of Miles and Damore’ea Stringfellow, but the more time that passes without an announcement, the more likely it seems that both players will be around, in some capacity, when the Huskies begin preseason practices in August. And assuming Miles returns to practice and is cleared to play (at some point), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he still has a chance to vie for the starting job. Experience is on his side, and while Lindquist and Miles had perfectly fine spring performances, neither did anything to jump out as the clear choice to replace Price. So I still see this as a three-man race, even without knowing how Miles’ off-field situation will resolve.
As far as Lindquist and Williams go, here’s what Petersen said on Saturday: “I think they both did a good job. They got a lot of reps, which was really, really nice. I think they probably feel like they improved as much as anybody.”
Petersen said a couple times after practices that the quarterbacks’ decision-making was to his liking, but that the next step will be to make those decisions quicker and deliver the ball earlier. Both obviously have a 15-practice head start on Miles, who no doubt will have some catching up to do. But this still feels like a wide-open competition, one that Miles’ return would only make more intriguing.
Gone: Bishop Sankey (Rushed for school-record 1,870 yards in 2013)
— Deontae Cooper (RS-Sr.*): Finally made his debut in 2013 after missing three full seasons due to three separate ACL tears. Rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries. His best game was an 11-carry, 166-yard performance at Oregon State that included carries of 68 and 70 yards.
*It’s his fifth year in the program, but he’s been cleared for two more seasons after 2014 due to his injuries
— Lavon Coleman (RS-Fr.): Four-star recruit who redshirted in 2013.
— Dwayne Washington (So.): Began 2013 as UW’s backup to Sankey, but early fumble troubles limited his touches. Like Cooper, Washington had a huge game at OSU, where he rushed for 141 yards on 11 carries and had touchdown runs of 71 and 32 yards. Also had a 52-yard touchdown run against Colorado. Finished with 332 yards rushing on 47 carries for a per-carry average of 7.1. A left leg injury kept him out of most of the second half of spring practices.
— Jesse Callier (RS-Sr.): Carried 48 times for 213 yards and three touchdowns while competing for the backup job last season. But has also missed a chunk of spring practices with an injury.
The skinny: Shaq Thompson figures to see at least a few carries in 2014, but we’re talking strictly about who’s competing for the starting job, so Thompson doesn’t qualify. Anyway, this is another spot that seems to be pretty wide open. Washington and Callier each spent time as Sankey’s backup in 2013 and could have used the spring to separate, but both players missed significant practice time due to injuries. Meanwhile, Coleman and Cooper each had plenty of reps, with both showing pretty impressive burst at times. Cooper’s development seems to be particularly encouraging, as he looks to have added a little something since last season. Petersen says he can get better. Coleman has looked good enough this spring to think he’ll be some kind of a factor in the offense, even if he isn’t the starter (which he very well could be).
Like the quarterback competition, running back seems way too close to call at this point. If everyone comes back healthy in August, this could be the most interesting position battle on the team. Could always end up a by-committee approach, too.
Gone: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Set school records for career receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end, and caught 36 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013)
— Josh Perkins (RS-Jr.): Caught five passes for 57 yards and three touchdowns in 2013.
— Mike Hartvigson (RS-Sr.): Appeared in every game in 2013, but didn’t have a catch.
— Darrell Daniels (So.): Recruited as a receiver, but switched to tight-end midway through 2013. Played almost exclusively on special teams and did not record a catch.
— Derrick Brown (RS-Jr.): Converted quarterback. Did not record a statistic last season.
— David Ajamu (RS-Fr.): Redshirted in 2013.
The skinny: Perkins and Hartvigson are the only two tight ends on the roster with game experience at the position, and neither have them has a whole lot of experience catching the ball (though you’ll note that 60 percent of Perkins’ career receptions resulted in touchdowns). Daniels showed some potential during spring, the highlight of which was a 70-yard touchdown reception that required a spectacular catch to haul in. He says he still has a lot to learn about the position, but his size (6-foot-4, 241 pounds) and athleticism provide an intriguing combination, if he can prove himself serviceable in run-blocking and pass protection. Ajamu has the body to be a playmaker (6-foot-5, 244 pounds), but has work to do to surpass the others. Still lots to learn for Brown, too.
I would expect Perkins and Hartvigson to get the bulk of the snaps here early, but Daniels is right there, too. Could see any of those three emerging as the starter.
Gone: Sean Parker (three-year starter and one of UW’s most consistent defensive players in 2013); Will Shamburger (started eight games in 2013 and had 47 tackles, but was slowed late in the season by injuries)
— Brandon Beaver (So.): Played in six games in 2013, including one start in the Fight Hunger Bowl. He was one of the more productive defensive backs during spring, and looks like the leader for one safety spot. Was in a yellow, no-contact jersey the last couple weeks of spring practices.
— Trevor Walker (So.): Played in six games last season. Worked with the No. 1 defense quite a bit during spring.
— Kevin King (So.): Played in the first seven games of 2013, but a shoulder injury slowed him after that. He was in a yellow, no-contact jersey all spring, but figures to factor into the safety competition if he comes back fully healed in August.
— Brian Clay (RS-Jr.): Redshirted last season after transferring from Hawaii. Bounced between cornerback and safety during spring practices, and also says he can play nickel.
The skinny: This position will get a boost with the arrival in August of seven freshman defensive backs, including touted prospect Budda Baker, who could compete for a starting spot right away. Beaver had as good of a spring as any defensive player. Hard to see him not having a role. Walker was solid, too, and Clay, a bit of an unknown, provided some versatility. It will be interesting to see how King factors in, presuming he returns at full strength in August.
Gone: Travis Coons, who handled all three kicking jobs for most of last season. He was the only UW player to attempt a punt, field goal or point-after-touchdown.
— Cameron Van Winkle (So.): Van Winkle began last season as the kickoff specialist, but a back injury forced him out of that role and Coons again took over those duties.
— Korey Durkee (Jr.): Attempted 15 punts in four games to begin the 2012 season, but has not punted since.
The skinny: This position can’t be properly analyzed without including Tristan Vizcaino, an incoming scholarship kicker who will likely compete at both kicker and punter. Van Winkle had his ups-and-downs in spring, but had a few strong practices, in terms of field-goal accuracy, toward the end. Walk-on kicker Mitch Johnson, who transferred from UCLA, also took some reps in spring.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple