A+ for Keith Price
Washington stands at 3-1 after the first third of the season, with wins over Eastern Washington, Hawaii, and California at home sandwiched around a loss to Nebraska at Lincoln. Here are my marks for the Huskies, position by position to date.
Quarterback: A+. Keith Price has shocked me with how much he has improved from the beginning of fall camp. He is making every right decision, and his accuracy is scary. His ability to put the ball into the perfect place is ridiculous. His arm is not the strongest but his skill at spinning the ball to places where only his receivers can get it, and usually in stride, is making the Husky offense one of the most efficient in the league. Price is very adept at getting away from pressure, freezing the linebackers and safeties, and buying those extra seconds where his receivers can find gaps in the coverage and seams in the zones. That is perhaps the area where #17 excels the most, keeping plays alive long enough to make the defense blink, and it’s when they blink that Price finds their weakness and delivers a spinning backfist into their solar plexus.
I originally was the most excited about having Price run the offense because he could bring a Darron Thomas like rushing attack to the offense that would keep defenses from keying on Chris Polk. I thought it would be THAT dimension that would make the offense be difficult to defend while Price got his sea legs underneath him.
Banged up knees have prevented Price from doing any serious running, but it has been his arm and decision making that has earned him the A+ grade to date. He has completed 67% of his passes and has thrown 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. I’m not sure he could’ve done much more right in the first four games. Just wait until he has two healthy knees.
Tailback: A. Chris Polk had knee surgery two weeks prior to the opener, yet he has been as dependable as ever. In the first four games, despite defenses keying on him he has averaged 105 yards per game and a 4.9 yard per carry average. He has largely done it with hard consistent running, as he has only had a long run of 26 yards thus far. Polk doesn’t have blinding speed but his quickness through the hole and ability to cut to daylight and break tackles after contact make him a bona fide NFL draft pick after this season should he choose to leave early. He proved last week that he could hurt you with his hands as well, as Cal was able to hold him to just 60 yards rushing, but he burned them for a 70-yard touchdown pass reception from the backfield. He is special.
Jesse Callier is a great change-up to Polk, providing more of a fly-sweep type of runner with a little more straight ahead speed. In his five carries per game Callier has picked up just shy of five yards per carry. He isn’t the tailback Polk is, but he doesn’t need to be. Not this year, anyway. Bishop Sankey got his first carries of the season last week and looked strong. His future is bright, as his combination of 4.4 speed and strength will be on display after Polk is no longer getting 70% of the carries.
Fullback: B. Washington hasn’t used the fullback a great deal, but when Jonathan Amosa has needed to get his block, he’s more often than not got it. The one time he was thrown to he caught it for the first touchdown of the season, a 7-yarder in the flat against Eastern. Fullback is not a position that has been used much in the first third of the season, but that might change now that the Pac-12 season has begun.
Tight End: A-. Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ arrival has been a Godsend for an offense that needed that dimension. He has shown good hands and great yards-after-catch. His fumble against California was not good, but it’s one he will learn from. His 18.9 yards per reception and three touchdowns have been huge and he is just getting started. His blocking has a ways to go, but let’s face it – his role in this offense will be more as a receiver that can stretch the field vertically from the inside. Michael Hartvigson is more of the down-and-dirty blocker on the end and with ASJ the two give Washington what they didn’t have last year. Productivity from the tight end position.
Wide Receivers: B+. The emergence of James Johnson this season and the addition of Kasen Williams have meant a lot to this group. Johnson gets a solid A for his work to date, showing good hands and a great ability to see when his quarterback is in trouble and find gaps in the secondary to become a receiving target. Williams has only 8 receptions to date but he shows every sign that he’s about to break out and have a big game. Devin Aguilar has had some drops this year, but has still led the team in receiving yards. Jermaine Kearse’s four touchdowns lead the team, but his receptions and yards per game are down from last year. Mostly that’s due to the emergence of the new guys and a new quarterback. Whereas Locker used to lock onto Kearse, Price tends to scan the field more and spread the ball around. Because Johnson has been so good thus far and because of Williams’ potential and size, Kevin Smith has yet to really make his presence felt as a receiver, but is really excelling as a kickoff return man.
Offensive Line: B-. This unit has somewhat underperformed thus far. That is a difficult thing to write about a unit that has been so productive in terms of yards, but when you look at the film, you can see that on some of his better runs Chris Polk is breaking tackles. And on some of Washington’s bigger passing plays against Cal, they came as a result of Keith Price escaping the rush and slipping outside the pocket to complete a pass to a receiver who had more time than he should’ve to get open. I thought the right side of the Husky offensive line would be nearly unstoppable with Erik Kohler and Colin Porter over there. That has not been the case thus far. That side of the line will need to get better as the Huskies enter the meat of their conference schedule.
Defensive Line: C-. Six quarterback sacks through the first four games is indicative of just how inefficient the UW pass rush has been to date. That is a big reason why opposing offenses have been able to convert 53% of their third down attempts. Hauo’li Jamora looked to be coming on in that department but now he’s lost for the year with a knee injury. Alameda Ta’amu has been limited due to double-teams and a hand injury. Everrette Thompson has been limited in his production due to being moved inside from his defensive end position. Those three players were all expected to be the strength of the UW defense this year, but through four games they have been a rather pedestrian unit, and the loss of Jamora takes their most productive piece out of the line up. Sione Potoa’e has been unable to go full bore due to sore knees, Semisi Tokolahi is still rounding into shape after a leg injury, and Danny Shelton is a true freshman. Talia Crichton has yet to have any sort of impact, so look for his snaps to start going to Josh Shirley, who had a great second half against Cal, and Andrew Hudson, who looks much more active.
Linebackers: D. The one reason this group didn’t get an F is because Cort Dennison is doing everything. He is the glue that is holding this group together. John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono have struggled mightily at the outside positions. To be fair to them, the belief coming into the season was that the experienced defensive line would be so productive that the linebackers would be fine learning on the job. Well, the latter part of that sentence has been on full display. While Dennison is massively productive from his inside position, Timu and Fuimaono have been slow to contribute while they come up the learning curve. Garret Gilliland has been solid in his backup role, and will surely get more snaps with how productive he’s been on much fewer snaps than the starters. Jamaal Kearse really made an impression during the Cal game on special teams and on the goal line stand. He looks like he may be getting it now, but he’s young.
Secondary: C+. The safeties have been somewhat inconsistent so far. Sean Parker struggled against Cal but remains a productive tackler that is solid in run support. He’s averaging 8 tackles per game which attests to his ability to stop the run. Justin Glenn looks to be an upgrade over Nate Fellner, but both will play. Fellner can really hit but Glenn looks to be in better position more often and is better at taking proper angles. The corner play has also been sporadic to date. While Desmond Trufant has shown a knack for the big play and has two interceptions as well as six break-ups, he got lit up a few times as well. He has been the bright spot though. Opposite him Quintin Richardson has been beaten pretty regularly. Some of that may be due to his health, but big things were expected from him in this, his senior year. So far it has not come to fruition, but last year he finished with a flourish. Hopefully that is the case this year as well.
Kicking: B. Erik Folk has been money and this department would be an A+ if it didn’t include punting. Folk has hit six of seven field goal attempts, the only miss coming from 51 yards out against the wind. His kickoffs have improved with every game as well. On returns, Kevin Smith looks like he’s establishing himself in the conference elite, and Jesse Callier is solid with a 25.4 yard average. Kasen Williams handles the punt returns now and averages over 9 yards per try.
It’s the punting that has been a disappointment. Kiel Rasp doesn’t seem as confident as he was last year. He has the stronger leg but Will Mahan is challenging him for the job now. This shouldn’t be an issue next week as Utah’s stadium is at 4600 altitude, making the ball sail.