Coming off a Fiesta Bowl appearance, the Washington Huskies start spring practice on Wednesday.
While Washington returns a litany of starters — quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin among them — there are still holes to be plugged on the depth chart. That process starts this week as the Huskies have their sights targeted on another run at a Pac-12 title and a College Football Playoff berth.
Chris Petersen’s job in patching up the depth chart comes down to a few select position battles. Here’s the position battles to watch this spring for Washington:
1) Wide receiver
Dante Pettis may be the biggest loss offensively — and on special teams — that the Huskies must fill this spring.
The electric kick returner and wide receiver led Washington last year with 63 catches for 731 yards.
Andre Baccellia and Aaron Fuller will be among the top candidates to see an increased role next fall. The Kitsap Sun highlights how Fuller essentially matched Pettis’ production down the backstretch last season
Fuller was used in spots earlier in the year but came on strong in the final five games. He caught 18 balls for 213 yards and a TD; by comparison, Pettis had 18 catches for 277 yards and a score in that same span.
As for Baccellia, he had 10 catches for 118 yards over the last four games.
2) Backup quarterback
Who will pick up the reins from Browning should the returning senior signal caller go down with an injury may be the biggest question mark facing the Huskies offense.
With Gaskin, Browning, an experienced offensive line and a tested group of wideouts, Washington has plenty of security on that side of the ball. But what if Browning is taken out of the equation?
Georgia transfer Jacob Eason will sit out 2018 because of transfer rules, so early enrollees Jacob Sirmon and Colson Yankoff will be in the mix.
K.J. Carta-Samuels transferred out of UW, so cross his name off the list of potential backups.
Daniel Bridge-Gadd and redshirt freshman Jake Haener are also in the competition as all four players have a legitimate shot to take the No. 2 slot on the quarterback depth chart.
Either way, expect Sirmon and Yankoff to be redshirted, but perhaps prepped to burn that redshirt should Browning need relief.
3) Nose tackle
Vita Vea, a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year winner — just the fourth’s in the school’s history, is the biggest loss on the Huskies’ defense.
Last year, Vea had 44 tackles and 3½ sacks. He was the wrecking ball in the trenches, blowing up holes in the frontlines and allowed the playmakers behind him to feast off the havoc. So the battle to replace Vea is a vital one.
Jared Pulu, an in-state star in high school, is the top candidate.
From the Seattle Times:
Vea’s dominance, along with his 6-foot-5 and 340-pound frame, drew double teams the Huskies often exploited. Finding a like-for-like replacement won’t be easy. There are a few players who could step into the role and potentially provide UW with another force within the interior.
Former Federal Way star Jared Pulu, a junior, was Vea’s understudy last season. His time was limited but Pulu did get six tackles in 10 games. Pulu ‘s 6-4 and 278-pound build means he has the size needed to challenge centers and guards.
DJ Beavers and Brandon Wellington will be competing to be the primary replacement for graduated linebacker Keishawn Bierria.
Bierria was a three-year starter, so Beavers and Wellington have a tall task to fill a gap on an otherwise stacked linebacker corps. Beavers appeared in all but one game in 2016, the year the Huskies found themselves in the College Football Playoff.
A foot injury last year limited Beavers’ production to just 13 tackles.
As for Wellington, he was Bierra’s primary backup last year and has appeared in 25 games over a two-year span.