After the 2017 season, the Washington Football team landed short of their goals. In 2018, questions must be answered, and here are the top 5
The Washington Football team entered with lots of optimism and enthusiasm last season. Unfortunately, they fell short of those goals. Why? Well, several factors contributed, but the rate of injuries to a few positions seemed to have taxed even Coach Petersen’s depth.
A year later, the team has some pretty high expectations going into 2018 and a lot of questions to answer. This team has lost a lot of huge pieces to graduation and the NFL Draft, yet some say they still have the talent to make the College Football Playoff.
Which Jake Browning will we see in 2018?
Will we see the Browning who holds the Pac-12 single season passing touchdown record? Or will we see the 2017 Browning who threw 19 touchdowns to 5 interceptions with only 2,719 yards? Browning did lose top-10 pick John Ross going into 2017, but now he won’t have his top target from last season in wide receiver Dante Pettis.
That’s 22 touchdowns of production over the last two years to replace. Maybe spring ball will give us a good hint to his future production. Can he still hurl the ball with gusto? Seattle Times beat writer Adam Jude said Browning was “the sharpest I’ve ever seen him.” All of this about Browning’s play and replacing production at receiver leads us into question two
Who will replace Dante Pettis and become the number 1 target?
Wide receiver Dante Pettis was arguably one of the biggest impact players in Washington football history. After his record-setting senior season, he will be sorely missed. The Washington Football will find it incredibly difficult to replace Pettis’ punt return and receiving production. Currently, wide receiver Aaron Fuller is slotted in the depth chart to replace Pettis in the punt return game. While Fuller is an excellent athlete, in all likelihood he won’t be able to match Pettis’s production. To compensate on offense, look for a huge year out of tight end Hunter Bryant, when he is fully healthy.
The freshman All-American proved he can be one of the country’s best tight ends before suffering a knee injury against UCLA. Bryant is strong, fast and has great hands, everything any quarterback needs in a go to target. Aaron Fuller could be a candidate for a strong breakout season. According to Adam Jude, Browning and Fuller have meshed very well in spring camp, and Fuller should see a lot more time on the field this season.
Look for wide receivers Marquis Spiker and Ty Jones to work their way into the offense this season. Having both of these guys on the field at the same time will wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Covering a guy like Jones who is 6-foot-4 is tough enough, but then adding in 6-foot-3 Spiker and 6-foot-2 Bryant makes the UW receiving corps a group of skyscrapers. Having guys like that makes things much easier on the quarterback.
Who fills the biggest defensive hole in the country?
I mean this literally and figuratively. Because literally, there are very few men bigger than defensive tackle Vita Vea. Vea was a huge impact player during his time in purple and gold, capping it off by winning the 2017 Pac-12 defensive player of the year. While defensive tackle Greg Gaines coming back to Montlake is a good start, it won’t be enough. Outside linebacker Ryan Bowman should have a bigger impact in the pass rush this year, but he isn’t enough either.
I would look for defensive tackles Jaylen Johnson and Levi Onwuzurike to work together to try to fill the hole left by Vea. Both have their own skill sets, and combining them might get back some of the production Vea takes with him to the NFL. Look for sophomore transfer Josiah Bronson to get some playing time late in some early games to try and prove himself. Don’t forget the freshmen either, but more on them later.
What about the linebacker hole?
Linebacker Keishawn Bierria is moving on to the NFL, and his role as both an on and off field leader will be hard to fill. Ben Burr-Kirven proved himself as an on field leader, and played exceptionally well in his time at middle linebacker last year. There are lots of options at the other middle linebacker spot, including 5-star recruit Ale (Brandon) Kaho, Brandon Wellington and DJ Beavers. Beavers proved that he can hang with the big boys during his freshman year after Azeem Victor broke his leg.
Brandon Wellington has a lot of potential and has a lot to prove during spring camp and into the fall. Ale Kaho is the highest rated recruit Chris Petersen has ever signed, and he will make an impact the second he steps on the field. Camilo Eifler also has a lot of potential here, but he started taking reps at outside linebacker during spring camp. Chris Petersen has to try to find a way to get him on the field, he has so much potential athletically, and after two years on the bench he should be ready to play. Don’t forget Ariel Ngata, a 4-star linebacker recruit from last season who redshirted in 2017.
What’s the Deal with the Recruits?
Who’s going to play? Who’s going to redshirt? This is a problem that Chris Petersen has never really had to deal with. He has always been able to get his OKG’s, but now he can get them in a top 10 recruiting class. He has an abundance of riches, and position battles will be very interesting to watch this spring and into the summer.
Most notably will be the quarterback position, where 4-stars Jacob Sirmon and Colson Yankoff will be dueling for the backup quarterback position. There will no doubt be a lot of stiff competition on defense too, especially on the defensive line. 4-star defensive tackles Sam Taimani and Tuli Letuligasenoa will have their work cut out for them against the veterans. Seniors Jaylen Johnson and Greg Gaines will have an edge as seniors, but they shouldn’t take these guys lightly. There will be a lot of great competition in camp this spring and summer, and if there’s one thing Chris Petersen loves, it’s competition.