Washington spring soccer storylines: Huskies in search of subsequent bounce

What a distinction a 12 months makes on Montlake. 

As the Pacific Northwest was within the early phases of thawing out final March, Washington discovered itself getting into the primary set of spring practices underneath new head coach Kalen DeBoer. There was cautious optimism that finally issues could be circled after the ill-fated Jimmy Lake experiment. But it was nonetheless the early phases of a top-to-bottom tradition reboot with a roster stuffed with query marks, so 2022 was nonetheless largely considered as a type of campaigns the place the groundwork was laid for every part nonetheless to come back.

That stays true, however the Huskies shortly accelerated the timetable after going 11-2, main the nation in passing, ending within the prime 10, and carrying large momentum going into the offseason. 

“A year ago, we’re trying to learn guys’ names, we’re trying to figure out who is who,” DeBoer remarked at his pre-spring information convention. “Now with what we’ve done, the things that were hard before — I don’t want to say they’re easy — but we’ve redefined what hard is.

“Now there are new issues that we’re pushing them to do and people are laborious. It’s cool seeing these guys elevate the bar.”

There’s a good case to be made that it was Washington who finished last season as the Pac-12’s best team, not just because USC or Utah faltered down the stretch but because the Huskies kept rolling. In fact, only national champion Georgia has a longer active winning streak among Power 5 teams. 

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will have his sights set on New York as a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender this fall, and there’s a host of skill position talent that is already drawing an early eye from NFL scouts.

Dealing with such increased expectations moving forward will certainly be a talking point over the course of 15 practices over the next two months, as they’ll be viewed more as a group to be hunted in the Pac-12 (and perhaps the College Football Playoff chase, too) and less as the feel-good up-and-comers they were last season.

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Michael Penix Jr. throws 76-yard TD vs. Oregon

Michael Penix Jr. throws 76-yard TD vs. Oregon

Michael Penix Jr. led the nation in passing yards final season, with 357 per recreation.

“I challenged them to take that now to spring ball and not just be these workout warriors, but also be guys that this mindset translates to doing that on the football field,” added DeBoer. “We’ve got to realize that everyone’s breaking down our film a little bit more than in the past.”

With all that in thoughts, listed here are three storylines to observe as UW begins spring apply on Monday:

Running again by committee 

At a faculty that has featured some fairly good passers through the years, Penix rewrote a number of Washington passing data and returns just about his whole receiving corps. But if there’s a little bit of a query surrounding the Huskies’ high-powered offense (516 yards/recreation in 2022), it may be who leads to the backfield as the first ball service to offer somewhat steadiness.

Veteran tailback Wayne Taulapapa will not be round to maintain the chains shifting, however the excellent news is that the staff received’t lack for choices in changing him. Arizona State switch Daniyel Ngata will get a crack to earn the beginning gig, however he could be holding the seat heat for Dillon Johnson, who ran for five.2 yards per carry at Mississippi State and proved his value within the passing recreation with 149 catches over three seasons within the SEC.

Toss in returnees like junior Cameron Davis (13 speeding TDs final 12 months), senior Richard Newton and a bunch of kids, and dividing up all of the carries this spring will probably be one thing to keep watch over. It wouldn’t be surprising if any individual finally ends up transferring out when the portal opens again up, however till then, the coaches must do their greatest in holding everyone proud of sufficient carries whereas looking for that optimum rotation behind Penix & Co.

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Corner carousel

Washington’s run protection final season was typically fairly salty, however they left loads to be desired towards the cross. Lots of that needed to do with points on the backend, and accidents compelled a near-constant rotation of our bodies within the secondary that led to extra massive performs allowed than standard. 

Seniors Asa Turner and big-bodied Dominique Hampton are seemingly penciled in on the prime security spots this spring, however each corners (and the nickel again) will in all probability look extra like open tryouts throughout every apply with numerous choices for coaches to think about. Mishael Powell has the very best likelihood of solidifying a beginning job and has the added flexibility of taking part in each in and out, one thing he shares with Oklahoma State switch Jabbar Muhammad (12 begins for the Cowboys, one interception). 

After these two names although, it’s unknown after unknown — particularly after senior Julius Irvin introduced his medical retirement from the staff final week. There’s a wholesome combine of fellows with various levels of expertise, from JUCO addition Thaddeus Dixon to sophomore Elijah Jackson (two begins) to early enrollee Caleb Presley, however how they wind up within the pecking order is what spring apply is all about.

Pass rush redux

The Huskies had been within the prime 20 in sacks nationally and total fairly stable within the entrance seven, however there was at all times a lingering thought that they may’ve been even higher given the flashes from the expertise readily available.

Off the sting, Bralen Trice seems the a part of a next-level participant at 6-foot-4 and practically 270 kilos. He completed third within the league in sacks (9) and was named First Team All-Pac-12, however was such a terror in pressuring the opposing quarterback that he in all probability ought to have hit double-digit sacks at a minimal. Opposite quantity Zion Tupuola-Fetui earned some All-America honors again in 2020, however nonetheless hasn’t fairly been the identical in recreation motion since tearing his Achilles throughout spring apply two years in the past. He solely began twice final season however nonetheless performed in each recreation and ended up with 4.5 sacks as a stable rotation participant.

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If each of these gamers find yourself taking their video games up a notch, whereas others like Sav’ell Smalls turn out to be high quality contributors, UW might have fairly the cross rush for opponents to cope with. Given that there’s loads of expertise alongside the line of defense, with guys like Tuli Letuligasenoa again for a sixth season and others like Ulumoo Ale simply scratching the floor of what they will do, this might be an enormous set of 15 practices for the whole unit making that bounce from good to nice. 

Bryan Fischer is a university soccer author for FOX Sports. He has been masking faculty athletics for practically 20 years at retailers resembling NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com amongst others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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