The good news for the Husky football program was that 4 former student-athletes were among the first 44 prospects drafted in the 2014 draft. More than Ohio State. More than Alabama. And most certainly more than Oregon. Seeing 3 first round picks from UW shaking hands with Darth Goodell (or in the case of Danny Shelton picking up and shaking the Commish) is great exposure for Husky football.
The bad news is that Chris Peterson and staff need to replace 4 stalwart defenders who all manned important positions.
The force in the middle: Danny Shelton cast a long, wide shadow in Montlake. The run plugger was a tireless worker and inside presence for UW. The best Husky DT since Steve Emtman terrorized the conference.
The edge rusher: Hau’oli Kikaha. 32 sacks, 40 tackles for loss, and 6 forced fumbles in 2013-14. Despite some ACL injuries early in his UW career, Kikaha proved to be one of the better pass rushers in recent conference history.
The lockdown corner: Marcus Peters. Behavioral issues aside, Peters was one of the elite pass coverage specialists in college.
The Mr. Everything: Shaq Thompson. He had an amazing season in 2014. A true impact player wherever he lined up.
Although the loss of these 4 players is substantial, it also provides an opportunity for younger players to step up and contribute. It will be tough to match the impact of these 4 Huskies that have moved on to the next level, but there is still talent on the UW roster.
Who are some of the likely candidates to get their shot for glory (and hopefully a conference championship)?
Sophomore Elijiah Qualls is a young DT with a great motor and light feet. Watch for this young player to contribute. Senior Taniela Tupuo should also see more playing time along the defensive line. 6’5” 330 pound freshman Vita Vea (who played RB and LB in high school) is a very intriguing young player that could also see plenty of action in 2015.
Travis Freeny and Joe Mathis will be called on to generate some pass rush and create havoc off the edges. Freeny has lined up all over the defense, so the Senior will play a vital role in 2015. Junior Psalm Wooching is hoping that this is the year that he is unleased and makes use of his impressive physical abilities.
Sophomores Sidney Jones and Naijiel Hale got an early start on replacing Peters last year. Although the young CB duo gave up their fair share of big plays in 2014, they both played better as the season progressed. Jones looks to be the next elite Husky CB in the tradition of Desmond Trufant and Peters.
Replacing a dynamic talent like Shaq Thompson is a tall task. Not only did Thompson play 2 positions on defense, he also spent time at RB and was one of the best special teams players in the country. Look for linebacker Keishawn Bierria, safety/linebacker Ezekiel Turner, and true Freshman linebacker Kyler Manu to all play parts of the Shaq-role. Budda Baker will also most likely make some appearances on offense like his former teammate and current Carolina Panther.
Stay tuned for more University of Washington football preview articles where we’ll talk about all sorts of fun stuff like the QB competition, the tough schedule, the real reason Oregon needs so many uniform variations, and the possible beer selections while tailgating.