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5 Stages of (Mariners) Grief

1.  The Heartbreak

I arrived at my seat, with some family members, about an hour before game time.  I was in such a hurry to buy tickets last night, they weren’t at all where I thought that’d be but we had a great view of the Seattle skyline and we were sitting by people who cared in game 162 of the season so it didn’t really matter.  As we took our seats, Oakland took a 2-0 lead.  Not the best start to the day, but it didn’t seem to be a crippling blow as it was only the second inning in that game.  There were a lot of people there but the energy in the building was definitely a nervous one.

The first ‘moment’ of the day was when Felix came in from the bullpen after his warmup tosses.  As has been customary this season, Aloe Blacc’s ‘The Man’ blared through the Safeco PA as Felix walked in, Zunino by his side.  My wife had just ran in to a friend from her hometown that I’d met a few times before.  She stood and talked to her, while I stood behind her.  As they were having a conversation the crowd rose to it’s feet, saluting the man who’s been here when these games didn’t matter.  The yellow towels were swirling and the crowd was roaring.  Felix didn’t flinch, he just kept walking.  A man on a mission.  I slowly backed away from my wife and her friend so that they didn’t see the tear in my eye.  I’m not sure why I got emotional.  Maybe it was the Dave Niehaus call I had heard about half in hour earlier that I had been reflecting on ever since.  Maybe it was the stress from the last 2 weeks in my personal life finally having an outlet.  Most likely it was the realization that my favorite player was pitching in the last game of the season and it finally mattered.  Felix and Seattle have been joined at the hip for a long time and I think we’ve started to empathize with each other.  Whatever it was that got to me, I brushed it aside and got in my seat.

Watching the game was a mix of waving my yellow towel around when the game necessitated it and following the A’s-Rangers game on my phone.  There was the joy of seeing Felix rise to the occasion and the Saunders double.  There was the hope of the Rangers having first and third with no outs followed by chants of ‘Let’s go, Rangers!’ by the Safeco crowd.  But, in the end it wasn’t enough.  The Rangers just couldn’t get anything off of Sonny Gray.  As the Mariners were taking care of business, the sobering thought that this was the last game of the season took hold faster than a Felix fastball reaches Mike Zunino’s glove.  The A’s had scored 2 more in the top of the 9th.  It was all over and it was only the 5th inning.

2.  Anger/Sadness

Once the shock wore off, it was followed by a wave of sports depression.  The Rangers game was just about to go final, they weren’t mounting a comeback, and thoughts of all the missed opportunities wandered over to my head.  Just one more game.  If the M’s had just scored 2 runs for Walker on Wednesday.  Or if Brad Miller hadn’t flipped the ball over Cano’s head on an April night in Arlington.  Maybe if John Buck had been better at catching baseballs.  What if Rodney had been able to throw strikes in the 10th against the A’s a few weeks ago?  Or what if he hadn’t prematurely shot an arrow over the Anaheim dugout right after the All-Star game?  Never mind on that last one, that was cool.

Maybe it’s the Seattle fan in me.  I think the long-time Seattle fans fit in well with the Legion of Boom.  We always feel slighted, regardless of if we should.  I truly believe we don’t catch half as many breaks as other teams do.  I believe that we get jobbed by umps more than any team.  I have no idea if it’s true but I believe it is.  What if we had just caught a few more breaks or had a few calls go our way.

The Texas-Oakland game went final.

Those were only some of the games where the Mariners had a chance.  And as the brain thought about those terrible wasted games, it moved on to players.  Did Kendrys Morales not pick up a bat all winter long?  Did he just eat the whole time?  Why have Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia not had an extra base-hit in what seems like 2 months?  Why was James Jones playing so much after it was apparent he was ineffective?  Why was Sean Barber a major league umpire?  There were so many things to be upset about but it clashed with another emotion. Gratitude.

3.  Gratitude

In the midst of the sadness that there wasn’t going to be baseball in Seattle tomorrow, there was a whole lot of appreciation to.

I was 5 years old when Edgar hit ‘The Double’.  I was an 11 year-old who didn’t have cable TV at his house during the 2001 season.  2007 was okay but I was busy playing baseball myself and then there was that terrible losing streak.  And Jose Vidro.  2009 was the season I remembered best.  I still love that team but they were built on nostalgia, quite a bit of luck (check out that run differential), and they were never really in the pennant race despite their parade around the field after the last game.

This was finally my team.  A team I followed through thick and thin.  Whether I was in a cabin in the mountains without internet or in a theme park in Orlando I always knew what this team was doing.  There were so many moments to remember.  Watching Opening Night with the rest of the Good Guys, followed by a sweep of the Angels.  There was the Seager walk-off and resurgence after the 8 game-skid.  Roenis Elias’ complete game against the Tigers, those routs of the Red Sox in Safeco, and Felix’s unbelievable run.  There were the 2 times the Mariners came back to score 5 runs in the top of the 9th when they were down to their last out.  There was the Robinson Cano home run in front a sell-out crowd that tied the game up against the A’s.  And there were the last 3 days.  As much as the last road trip hurt, the last 4 games were a joy.  They also described this team.  A young, resilient team with character that just didn’t quite have enough.

Felix Hernandez was pulled from the game shortly after Oakland had clinched a playoff spot.  He received an ovation fit only for royalty.  That’s what he is in Seattle.  As he left the field I (and I’m guessing any Mariner fan) felt so many things – pride, sorrow, joy, hope, anger, gratitude.  We felt those things for Felix and Felix felt those things for us.  Empathy between the king of a city and his loyal subjects.

Robbie came off the field a few outs later and as I watched him and Felix embrace I felt more hope and gratitude than I did sadness.  Although, the sadness was still there.

4.  Letting go (or not)

As I was driving home after a few stops, the Mariners post-game show was wrapping up.  Gary Hill and Shannon were talking about how it was all over, they sounded a little shocked still.  It was time to end the season, let go and get ready for next year.  As the show ended they played a montage of moments throughout this season.  All the great moments from this season came through the car’s stereo one last time.  I could have listened to that all day.  I wanted to get home to watch highlights from my favorite games.

During the game, once the Mariners chances at the playoffs were gone, I cracked a few jokes.  “This will probably be the last time I see Kendrys hit in a Mariners uniform!”  “Hey dad, what dates are you taking me to Spring Training again?”  It was my way of getting over this season and looking ahead to the next one.

I’m probably not going to let go of this team though.  Depending on the next few years, this will either be the team that jump started it all or missed a big opportunity.  I probably won’t be letting go of this team but I will look ahead because the future is pretty bright.

5.  Hope

At the end of the day, the Mariners missed out on a big opportunity.  But at the end of my day, I went to go see my nephew who was born 3 months early in the hospital.  I got to see him open his eyes for the first time.  It makes sports seem pretty small and puts them in their place.  Sports are important to me but they can’t ever bring me the joy that I have when I get to see that little guy.

Selfishly, I hope the Mariners just decided to wait until next year.  That way my brother can enjoy the run more than he was able to this year, and he can do it with his son on his lap.

Surely, this was disappointing but there’s reason to be hopeful.  We have a manager who understands his team, which might be more important than I thought.  We have a star second baseman and third baseman.  We have the young pitchers who were promised to us that came up big down the stretch, Paxton and Walker.  We have Ackley, LoMo, and Saunders who all look like they’ve found something in the last few months.  We’ll have those same arms in the bullpen.  And there’s a good amount of talent aside from that too.  There’s also Felix.  He’s ours.  The foundation was laid this year, now it just has to be built upon.

I’ll save an off-season post for later hopefully, but the age old Seattle Sports Insider question of ‘Can this player win me a pennant?’ is turning more and more in the Mariners favor.  So, I’ll look forward to next year.  I’ll be sad tomorrow night around 7 when I wish I could hear Dave Sims say goofy things and Blowers come back with his increasingly good insight.  But for now, I just look forward to the off-season and next year.  Go M’s!

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Your 2014 UW Huskies Defensive Preview

Defense wins championships, I’ve heard. I’m not sure that’s always true, but should the Huskies win a championship, the defense will likely be the main reason why. This is the most loaded UW has been on this side of the ball in a long time. It does have some issues on the back end I’ll discuss below, but if they can sort those out, points could be few for UW opponents. Offense was covered here, if you missed it.

Defensive Line

With the coaching change, it’s hard to be sure what the defensive alignment is going to look like. Players and positions are being moved around a bit, but it’s unclear how that will actually look onfield. For my purposes, I’m considering players where they played last year. For example, and as a good place to start, Hauoli Kikaha was a defensive end last year, but they’re listing him at linebacker now. I imagine his new role will be similar to Wilcox’s Rush End, where he can be moved around some and plays in space and coverage a bit more. Whatever the specifics, Kikaha will be rushing the passer, and if last year was a starting point and not a peak, he will cause massive amounts of havoc. Kikaha overcame knee issues and lots of time off to turn in one of the better pass rushing seasons in UW history. He had the most sacks of any returning player in the nation, and if he builds on 2013 at all, he could be an All-American and 1st round pick.

While Kikaha gets more credit, big Danny Shelton is the true key to the defense. The massive tackle blossomed last year, eating up blockers for other guys to get into the backfield. At his best, Shelton occupies two or three blockers, clogging the inside of the line and preventing running plays from going whichever direction was planned. Shelton was extremely effective last year, but if he can find a bit more burst and get into the backfield with regularity, he’ll be in the discussion for the best D tackles in college football. It’ll be important to keep Shelton on the field, because the depth behind him is quite young. RS frosh Elijah Qualls has loads of potential, so it was surprising to see less heralded true freshman Greg Gaines listed above him on this week’s depth chart. That may be as much about Gaines having a bigger body as anything to do with their performance. Both have good to great potential, but there will be a noticeable drop-off when Shelton leaves the field.

Completing the line are the Hudson brothers (not really brothers) Evan and Andrew. Both are cool stories. Evan was a walk-on from Bothell who started out at TE. Last year they moved him to the line, and he started most of the year as a big end/smallish tackle. I kind of think of him as playing a similar role to what Red Bryant did for the Seahawks, where he did more to hold the edge or occupy guys than make plays in the backfield. That said, I have no idea what his role will be this year, or what kind of upside he still has in him. He could become a star or lose his job to a younger guy and I wouldn’t be surprised. Andrew Hudson was a starter early in his career before rarely seeing the field last year, leading the old staff to decide it was time for him to move on. Peterson had other thoughts and invited him back, and now he’s slated to start. He never showed a huge amount of explosiveness, but he used to be a serviceable starter. No idea what he’ll do this year. LIke at tackle, the depth here is talented but young. I’d feel better about guys like Jojo Mathis, Jarrett Finau and Psalm Wooching seeing the field, though. They’ve at least gotten their feet wet, and there are some interesting skills there.

Linebacker

This could be as good as any backer group in the conference. John Timu is finally a senior and has developed into a dependable leader in the middle. He’s not an elite athlete, but he makes up for it with great instincts and a nose for the ball. Shaq Thompson has not quite delivered on his talent and athleticism, which isn’t to say he hasn’t been excellent. He has. He just has so much potential, that anything short of a dominant year would be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe that’s not fair, but he’s capable. The third spot is a bit undecided, but it’s not for a lack of good options. At times, Travis Feeney has looked like the best backer on the roster. He’s listed as a co-starter with RS freshman Keishawn Bierria. Both are lighter guys who can cover ground and be effective in pass protection. Bierria’s fellow RS freshmen Azeem Victor and Sean Constantine are in the depth and should see time. Victor in particular is developing a rep as a big hitter and could become a fan favorite before long. Scott Lawyer is the long experienced reserve besides Cory Littleton, who’s become a bit of a forgotten man with some minor injuries in camp. I don’t know if he’ll serve as more a linebacker or a rusher, but he should make his presence felt at some point.

Secondary

If there’s one area that could hold the team back (other than QB), it could be the secondary. UW is replacing 3 of 4 starters along with some key reserves, and all of the contenders for those spots are young. Luckily, the one returning starter is CB Marcus Peters, and he’s one of the best in the country. Peters is the latest and maybe the best in the Dawgs’ recent run of excellent corners. If he has the season everyone expects, he’ll likely go pro and be picked in the top round or two. Opposite him, RSFr. Jermaine Kelly looks to be the guy. He’s a tremendous athlete who’s received nothing but raves since he showed up on the recruiting radar. He’ll likely have some growing pains at times, but I expect him to look like the Huskies’ next star corner by the end of the year. Depth will come from senior Travell Dixon, who seems to have responded well to the coaching change, and some true freshman. Naijiel Hale and Sidney Jones are first up, and both have the talent to excel. Whether they can do so this year is the question.

Safety is replacing both spots, but it has a bit more returning talent. Of course, the guy turning heads is true freshman Budda Baker from Bellevue. He brings a small body but elite speed and football instincts. He’s slated to start opening night, and he should be the most exciting Husky freshman since Shaq. Opposite him at strong safety is Brandon Beaver. He was a touted recruit who didn’t play much last season, but he’s still only a sophomore. Behind him are two sophomores who saw lots of time as true freshman last year, Kevin King and Trevor Walker. Both played well at time last year. Expect to see all four of these guys on the field in different coverages and as the coaches try to find the right combinations.

Special Teams

UW lost do-everything kicker Travis Coons, so these spots are a little unsettled. Cameron Van Winkle has recovered from back issues to take the lead for field goal duty, and he and Tristan Vizcaino will handle kick-offs. Kory Durkee gets first crack at punter. He has a huge leg but has struggled previously with consistency and getting his kicks off.

John Ross returns as the kick returner, where he’s a threat to break one every time. Budda backs him up and has similar potential. Jaydon Mickens gets the call to return punts. UW hasn’t received much production there, but Mickens and others have the skills to be effective.

Go Dawgs!

-Matthew

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Opening Day! Mariners! Get Excited!

Opening Day is here.  I was going to say it’s finally here, but it feels like it snuck up on me this year. Usually spring training turns into a slog in late March, but for whatever reason I never felt that this year.  Anyway, Opening Day, the best sports day of the year, is here.

The Mariners and King Felix face the Angels tonight.  Jered Weaver’s on the mound for the dumb Angels.  If you’re in Anaheim and can find tickets near third base, Josh Hamilton will keep you cool with his many swings and misses.  Albert Pujols might even come sit with you after he reinjures his foot.  Mike Trout will do stuff with his monstrous neck. The Angels are no Oakland Athletics, but they’re still dumb.

It feels like more casual Mariner fans really want to root for the team, but they just can’t quite bring themselves to do it.  I don’t blame them, given the ineptitude the team has shown over the last decade plus. Still, if we all can find it in our hearts to let go of the dismal memories, we just might find a little magic this year. Henceforth, nothing but positive thoughts!  The Mariners could be good!  Just start with that.  You don’t have to plan on the playoffs yet.  There’s always next year for crazy talk like that.  Just look for some little things.  This might be the year a young player finally does something right.  Maybe Felix won’t lose any 1-0 games.  Just start small and enjoy what you find, and soon enough, we will all believe big together. Go Mariners.

If that’s not working for you, here are a few real reasons to be excited for this season:

Robinson Cano is really good.  He’s the closest thing we’ve had to Edgar since we had Edgar, plus he plays a mean second base.  The only position player close to him in talent Seattle has had recently is Ichiro, and as much as I love Ichiro, Cano’s power is a better fit for this young group than Ichiro’s speed and contact could ever be.  Don’t be surprised if he makes a run at the MVP, but even on an average year, he’s the best second baseman in baseball and one of its best hitters.

The (healthy) rotation is tremendously talented. Once Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker return to the field, this rotation will have as much potential as nearly any in the league. The problem is, outside of Felix and Kuma, it may take a season or two for guys to begin to reach that potential.  I expect many bright flashes from Walker, Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez (or whoever fills that last spot), but we could really be in for special things in 2015. This rotation has four guys with legitimate ace-level stuff, and a slew of kids waiting to fill in behind them. Plus, the 2013 rotation set the bar low, and even an inconsistent season for the kids could bring significant improvement.

Brad Miller is starting to look like a folk hero who will become an all-star.  Miller was not a first round pick, but since he was drafted, he’s done nothing but hit and improve at shortstop. Where many thought he’d have to move off the position, he’s now a solid defender. And he still hits. How good he’ll be remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if he holds down short for the next decade with a few all-star games thrown in.  Add in his “crazy legs” running and team captain attitude, and he should be a fan favorite soon.

This is the year some young guys should break out. Ackley looks ready to shine. People who know seem excited about Smoak. Saunders had jumped a level before his injury last year. That’s not even counting the really young guys. What if Mike Zunino hits even decently? He’ll be the best Mariners catcher in 20 years, that’s what! There’s big upside with most of the roster. They won’t all reach it, but some should. And if they don’t, at least for the Ackley, Smoak, Saunders group, it’ll be time to move on. That means seeing a new crop of young guys come up. Who wants to see Jabari Blash get a chance to knock some dingers? Me, me! I do!

Lloyd McClendon’s a man. He’s funny, interesting and no-nonsense, without seeming over the top. Eric Wedge acted no-nonsense, but I think there was plenty of nonsense going on there. The season will show whether the switch will make any difference, but it’s certainly improved the manager interviews (and pictures. No more Wedge eyes!).

It feels like there’s one more big move coming. The Mariners are still sitting on salary and big trade chips. Nick Franklin is an excellent trade piece, and there’s plenty of young talent in the majors and minors.  Maybe they move some guys to finally get an outfielder or another piece.  Maybe they make a huge move at the trading deadline or next offseason for David Price or Cliff Lee or Giancarlo Stanton. There’s never any guarantee with trades, but the Mariners will be able to make offers very few teams can top for nearly anyone who hits the market.

 

Hopefully, some of those things get you pumped up.  If not, just stop worrying about the M’s and go to Safeco, or your local minor league or high school stadium, and watch some baseball.  There’s nothing better than sitting on a nice day watching some ball.  Get a hot dog or some peanuts or sunflower seeds. Play catch with your nephew.  Have a home run derby.  If the M’s season goes bad, as it usually does, find your baseball enjoyment elsewhere. Baseball’s here, and apparently so is spring. And hope springs eternal, as they say.  So don’t let the man get you down. Believe big.

Go Mariners!

-Matthew

 

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2014 AL West Team

To be quite honest, creating a “Preseason All AL West Team” is a futile exercise.  If you are looking for an MLB season preview, full of sound analysis and predictions, this isn’t it.  But I’m a visual learner, and there is some value in seeing where the power is in the division, position by position.  Of course this isn’t an exact science, no predictions are, and only 2 players are selected per position, so you have a guy like Kyle Seager, the M’s second best position player, not making this list thanks to Beltre and Donaldson.   So ya, take this for what it is.  A quick snapshot of the division headed into 2014.  Although I should point out, by forecasting who has the most 1st and 2nd teamers, I correctly guessed the order of finish in the division last year!

My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as projections for the upcoming season, and anticipated playing time. Some of the picks are obvious and others are less obvious, so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

2014 AL West Team

Taking the visualization one step further, here’s a super scientific bar graph intended to show the separation between teams, by awarding 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection.

2014 AL West Graph

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by | March 15, 2014 · 9:05 pm

Remembering Steve Smith Getting Smashed

NFL free agency is in full turmoil. In its first 24 hours, over $1 billion in contracts were handed out, with plenty more to come in the couple of days after that. The strange and often entertaining aspect of NFL free agency, as opposed to other leagues, is teams drop players while signing others, keeping the market engaging even after the initial top names are gone.  The salary cap and non-guaranteed contracts are often confusing and frustrating for fans, but they sure add excitement to this time of year.

One big money veteran who felt victim to the salary cap is wide receiver Steve Smith.  The cap room-starved Carolina Panthers asked the long time face of their franchise and one of the most exciting players in the league to renegotiate his contract. He didn’t appreciate the request and instead asked to be released.  He just signed a new deal with Baltimore.

I don’t really care about Steve Smith, but seeing his name brought back one of my favorite Seahawk memories, from their 2005 Super Bowl run. That team was quite good, but for whatever reason, I never felt completely confident in them.  I remember them being a really good all-around team, without being dominant anywhere except for the Walter Jones-Steve Hutchinson duo.  I could be remembering wrong.  I’m sure a large part of the concern was just wondering if it were even possible for a Seattle team to make a championship game.  Whatever the case, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the conference championship game.

The opponent in that game? Steve Smith and his Carolina Panthers.  Smith was in his prime and one of the best offensive players in the league.  He brought tremendous danger with each touch of the football.  In the regular season, he’d gone for over 100 catches and more than 1,500 receiving yards and was coming off a huge game.  All I remember hearing in the week before the game was about the bubble screens to Steve Smith, and how he was nearly impossible to tackle once he had the ball and a block in front of him.

I don’t really remember the specifics of the game.  I couldn’t come close to giving a play-by-play, but I remember one play that summed up the game.  It was early in the game, probably the Panthers’ first offensive series, I’m guessing.  Jake Delhomme dropped back to pass, and it was clear immediately he was throwing the vaunted screen to Steve Smith on the left sideline. I held my breath. Smith was a truly dangerous guy with the football. The term gets overused, but some players are capable of scoring every time they touched the ball. Smith was exactly that.

Delhomme’s quick pass went left, nearly parallel to the line of scrimmage. Smith was waiting, but he never had a chance. Any attempted blocks failed utterly, and a full speed Seahawk defender reached Smith just as the ball did.  Smith got blown up and the ball bounced to the ground.  In that instant, I knew the Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl. The Panthers didn’t have a lot on offense besides Smith, and in that one play, the Seahawks showed they had the game plan, athleticism and execution to stop him.  It was much like Kam Chancellor’s early leveling of Julius Thomas in the Super Bowl.  The tone was set, and the rout was on.

Smith would eventually score the Panthers’ only points of the game on a punt return for a touchdown. The Seahawks won 34-7, in a game I don’t remember even being that close.  The Super Bowl didn’t go well, of course, but the run to get there was great. It’s funny the way one play sticks in the mind. Steve Smith has been one of the best receivers in the NFL throughout his career, but I’ll always remember him on his back beneath a Seahawk, the ball lying a few feet away, sending us to the Super Bowl.

-Matthew

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Who are these Dawgs? Offense

Andrew did a nice job recapping the defenders in the Huskies 2014 recruiting yesterday.  I’ll be honest: he got the more interesting of the two groups.  Between Budda, Kaleb McGary and all those defensive backs, there’s a lot of talent and potential on the defensive side of the class.

The offense has plenty of intrigue as well, though.  It’s short on elite recruits, but there are plenty of guys who should contribute and could really blossom.  Under-the-radar recruits are and will be a theme of Petersen’s recruiting.  That’s true for everywhere outside of USC and Alabama, but Petersen provides more confidence these sleepers will turn into contributors, given his track record at Boise State.  We’ll have to wait and see if he has the same success at UW, but this coaching staff turned a lot of lightly regarded recruits into very good players at BSU.

I’ll keep the same format as Andrew, with a quick blurb and the likelihood they’ll play as true freshman.  Barring massive injuries, I expect fewer offensive players to play early.  There just aren’t many major impact guys, and the offensive depth is as good as it’s been in years.  Let’s do this!

QB K.J. Carta-Samuels – It didn’t appear Sarkisian was planning to take a QB in this class, but Petersen wasted no time finding one. His first target, Jaylen Greene, was committed to UW for less than a week before Sarkisian stole him away to USC. It ended up working to UW’s advantage when KJCS became available after Vanderbilt, to whom he had committed long ago, underwent a coaching change of it’s own.  QBs usually commit early, with most of the top guys committed before they ever start their senior seasons.  Getting a four-star, extremely talented guy like KJCS this late was huge and lucky.

Carta-Samuels is a big guy with a big arm. He’s a bit of a project, as his high school didn’t run an advanced offensive system, but he should have plenty of time to improve before he might be needed.  He’s the fourth 4* QB on the roster, and while competition will be tight over the next few years, he could easily be the starter down the road.  Should Cyler Miles find himself suspended or off the team after his recent legal troubles, or if someone else transfers, this signing could end up being huge in 2015 or ’16.  Chance he plays as a true freshman: 2% (barring injury, there’s nearly no chance he plays)

RB Jomon Dotson – Running back might be the place where the coaching change hurt the most.  Sark was in on a couple of the top guys in the country in Joe Mixon and Demario Richard, but Pete was left scrambling a bit.  Dotson isn’t a bad pick-up, but he’s not likely to challenge for time right away.  He’s listed as 6′ 165 lb., so he’ll obviously need to bulk up significantly if that weight is accurate.  What he does bring is true breakaway speed, a dimension the current Husky backs lack.  Even with Sankey’s early departure, the Dawgs have a lot of backs, so don’t expect to see Dotson for a year or two, unless they want his speed on special teams. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 20%

WR Dante Pettis – Pettis might be the most likely to surprise right away.  He’s the cousin of former BSU star Austin, and a lot of people consider him one of the more underrated recruits in the west.  He’s not huge at 6′, but he’s big enough to play outside and is an excellent all-around athlete.  He could play defense if needed, but there’re thin numbers at receiver too, especially if Stringfellow finds himself off the team.  Pettis could fill a roll similar to what Kevin Smith had last year, and he could do it quickly. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 70%

WR/TE Brayden Lenius – Lenius is one of those guys who gives reason to think he could become a star, but given the distance he must go to get there, it’s more likely he won’t.  In his case, the positives start with the fact that he’s 6′ 5″.  Add in good hands and solid speed, and his limited football experience, and the hope is that he can become a major threat on the outside, or at TE should he bulk up significantly.  I wouldn’t bet on it, because Pac-12 football is hard, but he’s worth watching for, and if everything comes together, he could become one of the better receivers in the conference.  Chance he plays as a true freshman: 35%

TE Drew Sample – Sample is a local guy, from Newport High, who had been committed to BSU but flipped almost immediately upon receiving an offer from Petersen at UW.  He’s a fairly traditional tight end, known more for his blocking than receiving, but he has good size and solid athleticism.  I don’t know how the new offense will use the TE, so it’s hard to say a ton more.  Sample does fill a bit of a hole as a blocking-oriented TE, so it’s possible he could see the field early, but more likely he will redshirt to gain some muscle. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 40%

OT Matt James – As long as McGary stays on defense, James appears to be the gem of this offensive line class.  He has good size, and the athleticism and footwork to potentially stay at tackle, where the Dawgs will need bodies soon.  James, from Coeur d’Alene, was one of three UW commits Sark had from Idaho. Strangely, once UW hired a coach from Idaho, that number dropped to one, with Sark taking one to USC and the other eventually switching to BSU.  In my opinion, the Huskies kept the right one in James, given their needs and James’ upside. People who know much more about the offensive line than I do think he could be a star. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 5%

OL John Turner – Turner isn’t highly rated (the same could be said of the next two guys, as well), but that doesn’t always mean a lot on the line.  It’s a hard position to scout and project.  Turner’s recruitment seemed to pick up late in the cycle, and Cal, among others, was on him toward signing day.  Some people seem to like him a lot.  I honestly can’t say.  Sark and Petersen both wanted him, so that’s enough for me at the moment.  He could potentially play RT or guard. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 1% (these next three will all be 1%, but they’re essentially guaranteed to redshirt.  A new staff presents enough questions that I’m not confident enough to claim any absolutes.)

OL Jesse Sosebee – I feel a little bad, but I have almost nothing to say about Jesse.  It’s nothing personal, Jesse!  If you somehow read this and want to do an interview, I’d love to hear more. He’s just a guy that didn’t get a ton of coverage, he’s not highly ranked, and the O line doesn’t lend itself to highlight reels.  Most I’ve seen think he’ll be a guard. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 1%

OL Devin Burleson – Devin’s a really big boy, at 6’7″ (or more) and at least 260 lbs. He’s another who’s new to football in the last couple of years, and he’s been more of a basketball player before this year.  That has some excited, as the basketball footwork is a good sign for an offensive lineman.  He’s like Lenius as a bit of a physical freak with a long way to go to be a star.  As I said before, usually these kind of guys never quite hit their potential, but sometimes they do.  Burleson is certainly worth taking a shot on, and I personally won’t be at all surprised if he’s starting at tackle in a few years. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 1%

K/P/Boss Tristan Vizcaino – Vizcaino seems to be capable of doing pretty much anything related to kicking the football. He has a shot to be Travis Coons 2.0, as he could take over at punter, kicker or kick-offs, or some combination thereof.  He even spurned the Cougars to be a Dawg.  Way to go!  The UW specialist spots are really up for grabs, post-Coons.  K Cameron Van Winkle just underwent back surgery, and there’s a chance he might not make it back.  P Korey Durkee struggled for a few games as a true freshman in 2012, and hasn’t seen the field since.  Hopefully, they return to health/kicking proficiency, but Vizcaino could be a huge signing, and a busy man come fall. Chance he plays as a true freshman: 95%

So there it is. Recruiting for 2015 is already rolling along, by the way, but we’ll wait a while before we get into that.  As always, leave any thoughts or comments below.  We’d love to hear from you. Go Dawgs!

-Matthew

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UW Recruiting Update

Signing day for college football is a week away, so it’s time for  an update on the 2014UW recruiting class. Normally, we write quite a bit about recruiting, but it’s been hard to get a handle on the class this year, mostly due to the turmoil created by the coaching change.

No area is impacted more immediately and significantly by a coaching change than recruiting.  Despite what they say, most players commit in large part to the coaching staff, so a change in coaches means lots of changes in the recruiting class.  The Huskies only had seven commits before the change, and only two of them still remain committed to the Huskies, with one just decommitting tonight and another still undecided.  Major changes like this are the norm in these transition years and are just one of the reasons these classes tend to be lackluster.

I don’t know if lackluster is an accurate description for this Husky class, however.  It’s certainly not spectacular, but after a slow start, Petersen and company reeled in over a dozen recruits this month.  They’re a solid bunch that should fill holes in the depth and provide some solid starters down the road.  There are few if any obvious stars, but those are the hardest ones to get any time. It’s even harder in this case, since the staff is largely recruiting players they were after at BSU, and BSU just didn’t have the wherewithal to land many guys who are clearly elite.  Still, this is a good group that looks much better than the last few coaching change classes.  Put simply, it’s a better class than I expected, but probably not as good as the staff will need in the future to win the Pac-12.

Current Commitments

After an unfortunate decommit from TE Chase Blakley tonight (to BSU, strangely enough), the class currently sits at 16.  It’s unclear how many the coaches will take, but there’s scholarship room for 22 right now, and they might take a full 25, expecting more transfers before the fall.  As I said, the class looks solid but not incredible.  It’s heavy on defensive backs, the one roster group clearly short on numbers, and the rest of the positions are distributed pretty evenly.

The highest rated player is QB K.J. Carta-Samuels, who the Huskies landed after he was the victim of a coaching change himself. A longtime commit to Vanderbilt, he opened up his recruitment when James Franklin left for Penn State, and the Huskies were the lucky recipients.  He’s another big, athletic QB with a good arm, and gives UW an impressive stable of young QBs and some insurance should one decide to transfer.

After KJCS, it’s hard to pick another standout right now. Sydney Jones, who committed last night, is drawing a lot of excitement as a big athlete who could play CB, safety or even WR. Offensive tackle Matt James is one of the few Sarkisian holdovers and projects to be a solid starter at a thin position. A trio of safeties, Darren Gardenhire, Jojo MacIntosh and Lavon Washington, all look good and could compete for immediate playing time, although it’s possible one or more might show up at safety instead.  There are a number of other notable current commits, but we’ll talk about them when they actually sign.

Who’s Left?

At the top of the board are two Washington state standouts: Budda Baker and Kaleb McGary. Budda, a Bellevue High safety who could also play some offense, already endeared himself to Husky fans by dropping his Oregon commitment, claiming he couldn’t imagine living in Eugene for four years.  He’s now choosing between UW and UCLA, and no one really has any clue what he’s going to decide.  He’s a major impact player who could start immediately for the Huskies.

McGary, from Fife, is a huge athlete at 6′ 8″ 280 lbs who will likely play DE, or possibly OT or TE.  He’s a bit of a project, albeit a highly rated one who looks like he could grow into a star.  He’s looking at Oregon State and Wisconsin along with UW. While he grew up a Husky, he’s said he’s more of a country guy and might choose a smaller town over Seattle.

They’re in on a number of other guys as well.  DE Jaylen Johnson is a big DE who was committed to BSU with Petersen.  Most expect him to switch to UW soon, although these things are never a guarantee.  RB/LB Kalen Ballage is an ASU commit who visited last weekend.  He’s an incredible athlete and would be a major steal.  CB Naijiel Hale, son of the late rapper Nate Dogg, is visiting this weekend, although it seems a longshot he’ll become a Husky at this point.  S/LB Drew Lewis, another local boy, was a longtime Husky commit, but is waiting to see if USC will make a late offer before he decides.

There aren’t any more glaring holes to be filled on the roster, so I imagine the staff will look to fill the rest of the class with the best players they can get.  Another WR would be nice, and maybe a linebacker and D tackle.  The fun part of a new coaching staff is that new names pop up every day.  Don’t be surprised if something major happens in the next week.

Signing day is on Wednesday February 5th, and we’ll be back then, if not before.  If you’re looking for more updates, leave a question in the comments, or follow http://www.uwdawgpound.com and dawgman.com.

Go Huskies!

-Matthew

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