2010 Washington Preview - Offense
Washington RB Chris Polk
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Washington Husky Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What you need to know: When Steve Sarkisian took over a year ago, he inherited an offense that had just gotten done ranking 116th nationally in total offense and 117th in scoring. In his first season, the Huskies rose to 62nd and 69th, respectively, testament to the importance of the coach and star QB Jake Locker. Both return, the latter unexpectedly, fueling expectations for another quantum leap in offensive production. Locker is the obvious linchpin, but he’s also surrounded by ample skill position talent, such as RB Chris Polk, receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, and TE Kavario Middleton. Heck, even the offensive line, long an impediment to success, has four returning starters and as much confidence as it’s had in years. All signs point to Washington enjoying balance and one of the most potent attacks in the Pac-10.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Jake Locker
Passing: Jake Locker
230-394, 2,800 yds, 21 TDs, 11 INTs
Rushing: Chris Polk
226 carries, 1,113 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Jermaine Kearse
50 catches, 866 yds, 8 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore C Drew Schaefer
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Senio Kelemete
Best pro prospect: Locker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Locker, 2) Junior WR Jermaine Kearse, 3) Sophomore RB Chris Polk
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, the receivers, backfield depth, third down conversions, big play potential
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, red zone conversions
Projected Starter: When Jake Locker decided to return for his senior year rather than declare for the NFL Draft, it represented one of the most important developments in the recent history of Husky football. He’s a game-changer, who’s good enough to elevate an entire program that’s been floundering for a decade. At 6-3 and 226 pounds, he’s uncommonly athletic, breaking containment and barreling into the defense with the force of a fullback and quickness of a tailback. As a passer, he made a quantum leap in his first year under the guidance of head coach Steve Sarkisian and assistant Doug Nussmeier as he became more consistent, more accurate, and simply better after struggling at times over the first part of his career. There’s more room for growth, but the strong-armed dual-threat looked like a different player, going 230-of-394 for 2,880 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 picks, adding 388 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Projected Top Reserves: The transfer of Ronnie Fouch to Indiana State leaves the Huskies with precious little depth behind Locker. The favorite is 6-1, 184-pound redshirt freshman Keith Price, who has drawn comparisons to former Oregon dual-threat Dennis Dixon. An explosive athlete, who can buy time with his feet, he still has a lot of work to do with his accuracy and throwing mechanics.
Going neck-and-neck with Price for the backup job is 6-3, 191-pound true freshman Nick Montana, the son of Hall of Famer Joe Montana. While not nearly as athletic, he offers more as a pure pocket passer, has a crisp delivery, and shows good leadership for such a young player. Despite being a year behind, he’s going to get every opportunity in the summer to climb into the No. 2 hole.
Watch Out For … Locker’s mechanics. It’s the one area of the senior’s game that has received the most attention from the coaching staff, especially on the deep ball. Despite making considerable strides since the arrival of Sarkisian and Nussmeier, he rededicated himself to honing his passing skills in the offseason.
Strength: Locker. Much more than just a quarterback, he’s a unique athlete, with the ability to take over games with his arm and his legs. Able to elevate the play of those around him, he’s an NFL-ready player who’ll spend the next few months competing against college defenses.
Weakness: Depth. Does any program in America have a more precipitous decline from No. 1 to No. 2? The Huskies don’t even know who’ll be Locker’s caddy at this stage, but they do know he’ll have never thrown a pass at this level. While durable, Locker endures a lot of hits, an even greater concern this season.
Outlook: Locker didn’t pass on the riches of the NFL to be average this fall. He returned to Seattle to deliver one of the more memorable seasons for a quarterback in school history. And he’s more than capable of authoring something special, especially with the best supporting he’s had in four years.
Unit Rating: 9
Projected Starters: In 2008, 5-11, 210-pound Chris Polk teased Husky fans before being lost to a season-ending shoulder injury. In 2009, he tantalized them, rushing for 1,113 yards and five touchdowns on 226 carries, establishing a school record for freshmen. As he enters his sophomore year, he’s looking to become one of the premier backs in the Pac-10. A versatile weapon, he can beat defenders in myriad different ways, breaking tackles, catching passes out of the backfield, and zipping past overmatched defenders. With three years of eligibility still left, he has the total package at the position, as long as the shoulder issues don’t become an annual issue.
With Paul Homer out of eligibility, the program is searching for a new starting fullback. One of the favorites is last year’s backup, 6-1, 241-pound senior Austin Sylvester. Primarily a special teamer over the last three seasons, he’s a physical and unselfish blocker, with the hands to be an occasional receiver out of the backfield.
Projected Top Reserves: As long as he can keep the young kids from nipping at his heels, 6-1, 191-pound junior Johri Fogerson appears to be in the driver’s seat for the backup job. A one-time safety for the program, he returned to offense a year ago and had 14 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown. During the offseason, he added good weight, which has helped with his pass blocking, and ran with the kind of authority that wasn’t lost on the coaching staff. A glider in the open field, he can go the distance when given a seam to exploit.
At 5-10 and 206 pounds, sophomore Demitrius Bronson has enough thump to compete for playing time at both tailback and fullback. Running low to the ground and with excellent pad level and balance, he’ll work between the tackles, hiding behind his blocks and exploding into daylight. A letterwinner in his first season of eligibility, he saw action in seven games, carrying 19 times for 89 yards, but needs to get a better handle on the ball.
Watch Out For … the newcomers. Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier didn’t just graduate early from high school and participate in spring drills. They were two of the most talked about Huskies of the session. Cranking out big run after big run, both dispatched notice that they plan to be a part of the rotation in 2010.
Strength: Depth. With the emergence of the two rookies, Washington is suddenly loaded in the backfield. The offense has a budding star in Polk, returning letterwinners Fogerson and Bronson, and the spark being provided by a couple of upwardly-mobile true freshmen.
Weakness: Durability. If there’s a potential problem creeping beneath the surface, it’s the health of Polk, the star and the one guy who’s been dinged up at times since arriving. Although he’s expected to be fine after missing the spring, shoulder injuries have a knack for limiting a back’s full potential.
Outlook: If Polk’s shoulder problems don’t flare up, Washington will boast its best backfield in years. To help keep him fresh, the staff plans to spread the carries around a bit more, a luxury it’ll have with the depth and talent that’s currently at its disposal.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: As he begins his junior year, Jermaine Kearse is about to contend to become the top receiver in the Pac-10. He got to this point by catching a team-best 50 passes for 866 yards and eight touchdowns, while earning a spot on the all-conference second team. A very difficult match up at 6-2 and 198 pounds, he’s quick off the line of scrimmage and constantly maturing as a pass-catcher, particularly on deep routes. A determined and aggressive receiver, he formed a noticeable connection with QB Jake Locker throughout the 2009 campaign.
Every team needs a quality possession receiver, who always knows where the first down marker is and brings sticky hands to the passing game. Junior Devin Aguilar is that guy for the Huskies, catching 42 passes for 593 yards and five touchdowns to earn All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition. A smooth, 6-0 and 184-pound athlete, who can deliver the big play if asked, he’s used a little more on the short and underneath routes.
One of the pleasant surprises for this unit last season was 6-0, 193-pound sophomore James Johnson, catching 39 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman. Although he tailed off as the season progressed, he showed enough speed and athleticism to make the staff excited about his future. Playing with a ton of confidence and maturity for such a young player, he already runs good routes and will go high up in the air to pull down passes.
While not the most heralded or productive of the tight ends in the past, 6-3, 232-pound junior Chris Izbicki will take a narrow lead into the summer in the battle for the tight end. Despite catching just three passes for seven yards and a touchdown in 2009, he showed enough growth, especially as a blocker, to earn a promotion and plenty of praise from the staff. If he can continue to make strides as a receiver, he’s liable to maintain this lead right into the opener.
Projected Top Reserves: Can 5-11, 183-pound senior D’Andre Goodwin recapture his 2008 form, when he caught a team-high 60 passes for 692 and a touchdown? The Huskies are banking on it in order to bolster the second unit. Lost in the shuffle a year ago and injured in the spring, he’ll be trying to rebound from a disappointing 14 catches for 227 yards. When he’s on, he has the jets and the experience to be especially dangerous picking up extra yards after the catch.
Behind Aguilar is 5-7, 162-pound junior Jordan Polk, an absolute burner when he gets his hands on the ball. Those moments, however, have been infrequent, as he caught just five passes for 42 yards a year ago. Ideally, the coaches would like to get him a few more looks in space, where his breakaway speed can provide quick-hitting instant offense.
Rounding out the reserves in Johnson’s rear view mirror will be 5-11, 176-pound junior Cody Bruns. A prolific pass-catcher in high school, he’s been quiet for the Huskies, catching just three passes for 40 yards in 2008 and none last year. A possession receiver, who has great hands and runs good routes, he’ll be asked to throw the option pass when the other team least expects it.
As potential backups go, 6-5, 253-pound junior Kavario Middleton is arguably the best in the Pac-10. He started 11 games a year ago, catching 26 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. A bigger target than Izbicki, he’s also the better all-around athlete, presenting a threat to exploit defenses down the seam. Although he hasn’t quite reached expectations yet, he still has time to get there and considerable upside potential.
Watch Out For … Izbicki’s ascent to bring out the best in Middleton. The junior was not signed three years ago to share duties with anyone at tight end. The mere fact that Izbicki appears to have nudged ahead in this competition is going to compel Middleton to become a more complete player, especially as a blocker.
Strength: Options. With the return of last year’s top seven pass-catchers, Jake Locker will have no shortage of options when he drops back to pass this season, especially at tight end. He’ll have access to a nice mix of talent and a corps that’s markedly more dangerous and consistent than a year ago.
Weakness: Proven backups on the outside. Beyond Goodwin, Washington is a little light in talent off the bench at wide receiver. Polk and Bruns have been bystanders on offense, which could limit the depth of the rotation for the offensive staff.
Outlook: After taking a couple of years to get this area in order, the Huskies are poised to assemble one of the Pac-10’s better collections of wide receivers and tight ends. There’s talent, experience, and a level of consistency that wasn’t always evident in the past. As an added bonus, Izbicki and Middleton give Locker a dual-threat from the tight end position.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: Even with the return of four starters, there’s a lot of anxiety surrounding this group. And why not? It’s been the weak link of the offense for some time. One of the biggest developments of the offseason was the move of 6-4, 281-pound junior Senio Kelemete from right guard to left tackle. No stranger to a new zip code, the converted defensive lineman excelled in his debut on offense, earning the team’s lineman of the year and honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition. He has the long arms, great feet, and non-stop motor to make this relo look shrewd.
Giving the Huskies a potential fortress on the left side will be 6-5, 293-pound senior Ryan Tolar, who was the team’s starting center in the first 11 games. Another honorable mention All-Pac-10 choice, he’s the Huskies’ most physical offensive lineman and a terrific drive blocker in the running game. He’s gotten himself in shape in the offseason, and has a chance to parlay this final year into a crack at the NFL in 2011.
The new center of the line will be 6-4, 288-pound sophomore Drew Schaefer, a four-game starter and regular in the rotation at left tackle. A young player, with considerable upside up front, he spent most of his youth playing basketball and developing the footwork of a solid all-around athlete. He has plenty of work left to be done, but the staff wouldn’t have made this move if it wasn’t sold on his ability to grow into the new responsibility.
The veteran of the right side is 6-6, 295-pound senior Cody Habben, the starting tackle for a third consecutive season. Although he’s had a quiet offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, he’s expected to be fine by the time summer drills start. While still needing to improve his overall technique, he has the long arms and good feet to continue improving as a pass protector.
Settling in at right guard will be 6-2, 260-pound sophomore Mykenna Ikehara , who spent most of last season as Washington’s backup center, appearing in five games and starting the finale. Deceptively strong for his size and very quick to the second level, he shows the potential to be an ideal pulling guard on running plays. However, because of his size, there remains a concern whether he can hold up for an entire season.
Projected Top Reserves: At right guard, 6-3, 273-pound junior Nick Wood is like having another regular coming off the bench. In his first season since switching from the defensive line, he played in nine games and started four times. While there were some rough patches, he improved as the season progressed and shows plenty of promise for the second half of his career.
The Huskies are excited about the return of 6-5, 288-pound junior Skyler Fancher , one of the most talented tackles off the sidelines. Saddled by injuries thus far in his career, he’s making his way back after missing all of 2009. Two years ago, as a redshirt freshman, he played in 10 games and impressed the coaching staff with athleticism and ability to protect the pocket. He could fill in from the left or right side of the line.
On the inside, 6-2, 284-pound senior Gregory Christine will bolster the second team at guard and center. A former walk-on, who has earned every rep he’s gotten, he was put on scholarship before the 2009 season, and then went on to start the first six games of the year before being lost to a broken leg.
Watch Out For … the rhythm and chemistry of this line be a little off in the early going. Despite the return of four starters, the first team was put into spin cycle, with new positions being designated for just about everyone. If the line can’t achieve a comfort level in August, it’ll negatively impact the offense in September.
Strength: The left side. The combination of Kelemete at tackle and Tolar at guard gives the Huskies two potential all-stars to the left of Schaefer. Tolar is a rock, with extensive starting experience, and Kelemete is one of the rising stars of the ensemble and a candidate to excel as a blindside protector.
Weakness: Run blocking. Although pass protection wasn’t exactly off-the-charts a year ago, Washington was especially feeble at winning the battles at the point of attack. The Huskies were routinely blown off the ball, allowing the backs to experience contact before the play could develop.
Outlook: Yes, there are still issues here, but Washington is at long last trending in the right direction along the offensive line. There’s finally experience and enough returning talent to expect better results in both pass protection and run blocking. If the front wall progress as expected, there will be no stopping the Husky offense this season.
Unit Rating: 6.5