UW Football 2011: The Big Questions

Before spring practice started, the Good Guys decided these were the key questions for the Huskies 2011 season.  We looked at them again mid-summer, and now that fall camp is over, let’s see where the Dawgs stand entering the season.  From all reports, they had a very good and surprisingly uneventful camp.  Other than Deontae Cooper, there were no major injuries.  James Johnson is still hobbled a little bit and there’s a chance he’s not at full speed or even doesn’t play against BYU, but he should be back before long.  Kalani Aldrich is still working his way back from knee surgery.  He hasn’t had any set-backs, but his rehab isn’t going quite as quickly as hoped, especially when compared to fellow defensive end Everette Thompson, who has come on in the last week to establish himself as a likely starter at BYU.
Speaking of BYU, Saturday is now less than a week away, so let’s jump right in!
  1. Can the offense become a consistent threat?  Maybe the offensive line can answer this for me.  Their development is all that’s keeping this offense from being among the best in the country.  I have high hopes, but until they take the field, the line is a question mark.  The loss of Kavario Middleton hurts, but it’s unclear how much.  For all his potential, his production hasn’t exactly been staggering.  Chris Izbicki is a decent replacement, and true freshman Michael Hartvigson has shot up the depth chart as a true pass-catching tight end.  All the ingredients are here; now we just have to see how they come together.
  2. Can the Dawgs field a defensive line that will stop anyone?  From the sounds of it, the defensive line was introduced to the weight room this summer.  Seemingly every player made huge weight gains or losses since last season.  The focus of the summer lifting program was to make the team more explosive, and the coaches feel they’ve made big strides in that area.  And while there are stories like this out of every camp every year, I’m inclined to believe this one, because if there was one this the Huskies defensive line wasn’t last year, it was explosive.  Alameda Ta’amu dropped something like 30 pounds and from the sounds of it might make a run at the all-conference team.  Talia Crichton has cemented himself at one defensive end spot, and Thompson’s quick recovery puts the other spot in good hands for the majority of the snaps.  Cameron Elisara is solid at both tackle and end, and the depth looks surprisingly good considering the position they were in this spring.  All that said, they have a lot to prove on the field.  The signs are positive, but if they give up 500 yards to BYU, that’s all that will matter. 
  3. Will quality depth emerge on offense?  The loss of Cooper certainly hurts, but overall, the depth looks good.  Callier and Fogerson are quality running backs, and if Polk is healthy all year and they can be used in situations that best fit their skills, they should thrive.  D’Andre Goodwin looks poised to return to something closer to his 2008 form, although I wouldn’t expect him to jump past the three starters.  Bruns, Polk, and freshman Kevin Smith have impressed too, and all offer something different.  Tight end is a little shallow after the loss of Middleton, but the line has increased experience and two talented true freshman running with the number two line in Erik Kohler and Colin Porter.  Even the young quarterbacks have played well, with Keith Price likely taking the back-up role after a couple of good scrimmages.
  4. Can the defense take the next step?  Simply put, yes.  The question is, how big of a step will that be?  We’ve covered the line, and there are good bodies everywhere else (more on that below).  I don’t know how they couldn’t be better overall, but whether that means they’re good enough to win 7 games or good enough to challenge for the Pac-10, I have no idea.
  5. Will special teams find any playmakers?  The loss of Cooper strikes again, but there are plenty of other capable return men.  The bigger difference maker might be the increased strength and athleticism, which should open a few more holes to run through and also help in coverage.  It’s been a long time since Husky Stadium has seen a kick return for a touchdown.  Maybe this will be the year.
  6. Will we see any changes in Nick Holt’s defensive game-calling in his second year? Again, there’s no way to know this until they take the field, but Sarkisian and Holt have both talked about playing more man-to-man coverage, so my guess is yes.  Ultimately, it will depend on how the players play.
  7. Who will emerge at safety and linebacker?  Will Shamburger and Victor Aiyewa, step right up!  Safety first: in the surprise of camp, Shamburger, who redshirted last year while recovering from knee surgery, has been running with the starters.  Nathan Fellner has started when Shamburger hasn’t, and it sounds like a toss-up as to who will play more.  Nate Williams has locked down the other safety spot, with freshman sensation Sean Parker being groomed as his back-up before he steps in next year.  A heated linebacker competition became Victor Aiyewa’s job to lose when Alvin Logan decided to retire for health reasons.  I have high hopes for Aiyewa, a converted big-hitting safety, but he’s in his first year at the spot and will surely experience some growing pains.  One other note: true fresman Garret Gilliland has come out of nowhere to become a key back-up at middle linebacker.  There’s pretty solid depth here, but losing Mason Foster or Cort Dennison would be very painful.
  8. How much of the team’s success is dependent on Jake Locker?  How far can he lead them?  The Huskies are no long a two-win team without Jake, but they’re also probably not a bowl team without him.  With him, I’d be disappointed with less than eight wins, and they have an outside shot at winning the conference.  This season is starting to feel like it has a bit of magic.  The players just have to turn that into reality.

We have several more season preview posts planned as we lead up to game day, so stay tuned this week.  If there’s anything you want us to touch on, as always leave it in the comments and we’ll give it our best shot.

Go Dawgs!

-Matthew

2 Comments

Filed under Huskies Football

2 responses to “UW Football 2011: The Big Questions

  1. Derek

    Yeah I do think the last one was when Louis Rankin’s opening kickoff return went back for a TD in the apple cup… Man what an amazing start to an awful game!

    • Matthew

      Hey Derek! I forgot about that one. That seems like an incredibly long time ago. I guess that’s good. Kind of puts into perspective how much we’ve improved while WSU hasn’t.

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