There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the strength of Washington’s linebacking corps. As there should be. The vast majority of that discussion has centered around super-recruit Shaq Thompson, who played at such a high level in his true freshman season that expectations are mounting for a dominant sophomore campaign in 2013. And the attention not focused on Shaq has mostly turned to middle linebacker John Timu, who became a very reliable defensive leader in 2012, despite the doubt floating thick around him heading into the first games of the year. He was particularly effective in pass coverage, a skill so important, and often so rare, in college linebackers.
The one man that is largely forgotten in this preseason talk? Travis Feeney, who recorded 76 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 interceptions as a redshirt freshman. I find it interesting how similar that stat-line appears to the 67 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 interceptions amassed by Shaq Thompson. It makes good sense that fans and the media are more enamored with Thompson. He came in as a five-star prospect, put up those numbers in his first year in the program, and possesses such rare physical tools that many believe he has the potential to do much more in future years.
But that doesn’t make Feeney’s season less impressive. The guy came in as a two/three star defensive back prospect out of Pinole, California. He then took a redshirt year in 2011, and spent the season practicing as a safety on the scout team. Then Sark had him move over to outside linebacker last offseason, and despite being pretty seriously undersized with his wiry 6’4″ 209-pound frame, he flew all over the field making plays.
He also struggled with some injuries, and did not compile any stats against Portland State and Oregon State. That makes his season statline a bit more impressive, but it also does provide a reason to worry just a bit about Feeney’s potential for success over the course of his Husky career. He is entrenched as a starter heading into the 2013 season, but he has already had to deal with some minor injury issues in spring camp. I don’t know if he is an injury-prone player, if his lack of size at such a physically demanding position could be contributing, or if it’s just been bad luck over a fairly brief sample size.
But if Feeney can work to add a bit of bulk to his frame by the time August 31st rolls around (I don’t know if he came in heavier than 209 in the spring, but I would hope so) while also staying reasonably healthy, I would expect him to have a pretty huge 2013. Throughout last year, he was noticeably active, roving sideline to sideline making tackles. He played with impressive speed, which leads me to believe that he really only needs to get up to right around 220 to avoid sacrificing any of his speed, and his ability to snag a few picks while also getting to the quarterback showed off his versatility.
And all of this happened in his first year playing linebacker, his first year seeing the field. We have no clue what sort of leap he might make with another full offseason at the position. With two other experienced, talented ‘backers alongside him, there may not be room for the crazy tackle totals a guy like Mason Foster put up when talent was much thinner, but there is always room for more play making. Look for more picks, and most importantly, more sacks for a guy that looked pretty natural wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield.
Be excited about Shaq. Be excited about Timu. Just don’t sleep on Travis Feeney.