The photo didn’t give it away, did it?
Anyway, with the Huskies practicing … elsewhere today, with no media availability, we figured it would be a good time to examine the results of our poll asking you, the fine readers of this blog, whom the Huskies’ most important player will be in 2014.
Unsurprisingly, third-year sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles was the most popular choice, with 37 percent (75 of 207 votes cast) of the vote.
Senior defensive tackle Danny Shelton was a relatively close second with 29 percent (61 votes), and linebacker Shaq Thompson pulled 14 percent (29 votes). Senior linebacker/d-end Hau’oli Kikaha and junior cornerback Marcus Peters received 14 votes each for seven percent.
Let’s take a look at each of those players in order of votes received.
1. QB CYLER MILES (R-So.)
— Maybe the poll question should have been who the Huskies’ most important non-quarterback will be. Then again, Shelton received enough votes to make folks’ feelings pretty clear on that. Anyway, it’s obvious Miles will have a lot of eyes on him throughout camp, not only because he’s the presumed heir to Keith Price as UW’s next starting quarterback, but because he missed all of spring practice while suspended and coach Chris Petersen has made it pretty clear that Miles has a lot of catching up to do. Will he make up for lost time quickly enough to claim the starting job on Sept. 6 against Eastern Washington, after he serves a one-game suspension against Hawaii? Time will tell. Through four days, nobody has really stood out at the position. Of more concern, maybe, is what it might mean for the Huskies if, at the conclusion of camp, Miles simply isn’t the best option at quarterback. The hope from most fans seems to be that Miles will eventually emerge as the clear No. 1. If he does, then there probably isn’t any question that he becomes, by default, the Huskies’ most important player. But if either Troy Williams or Jeff Lindquist win the starting job outright, this whole conversation changes.
2. DT DANNY SHELTON (Sr.)
— Shelton plays a position that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to gaudy statistics. If he’s doing his job as the starting nose tackle, he’s taking up space, occupying the efforts of two offensive linemen, and allowing his teammates behind him — the linebackers — to come in and make tackles. But he was still pretty active in 2013, finishing seventh on the team in tackles with 59, including 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He’s viewed as one of UW’s top NFL prospects. And it says something that Shelton is also viewed as one of the leaders of a defense that will likely start three other seniors on the defensive line. And, to borrow a bit of analysis from the baseball world, Shelton’s true value to the Huskies also lies in how much more valuable (and experienced) he is than their next-best option at nose tackle.
3. LB SHAQ THOMPSON (Jr.)
— Thompson might be the Huskies’ most gifted athlete, though by his own admission, he has much to improve upon from his sophomore season, when he finished second on the team with 78 tackles to go along with four tackles for loss and an interception returned for a touchdown. Of course, Thompson might also add value in the running game, where Petersen has made it clear Thompson will see some time this season. In other words, if Thompson ends up rushing for a few-hundred yards or so while also maturing into a star linebacker, the results of this poll at season’s end would likely be different than they are now.
T4. OLB HAU’OLI KIKAHA (R-Sr.)
— No returning player in the Pac-12 had more sacks last season than Kikaha, who recorded 13 as he became the Huskies’ most proficient quarterback-tackler since Jason Chorak, who notched a school-record 14.5 sacks in 1996 (remember, though, that sack records have only been kept since 1982). So Kikaha certainly deserves a spot on this list, and now that his position has been redefined a little bit — he’s a hybrid “buck” linebacker as opposed to a defensive end — he should be able to impact the game in more ways, provided he adjusts well enough to the added coverage responsibilities he’s been given.
T4. CB MARCUS PETERS (R-Jr.)
— The votes came in mostly how I expected, but Peters is probably the one exception. With him being the only returning starter in the secondary — and coming off a season in which he had five interceptions and was voted second-team All-Pac-12 — I thought maybe he’d receive a few more votes. Without Peters, the Huskies would be debuting an entirely new group of starters in the defensive backfield, and his physical presence at cornerback gives coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and DBs coach Jimmy Lake one less area of the field to worry about. He’s also one of a handful of Huskies defensive players who should factor into next year’s NFL draft, assuming he doesn’t return for his fifth season.
ALSO RECEIVING VOTES: WR Kasen Williams (6); WR John Ross (4); C Mike Criste (2); Other (2)
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple