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Savannah Situation Means Opportunities
Walk-on-turned-scholarship player Joshua Gage enters camp the starter simply due to experience and his understanding of the position. But watch for any or all of Chris Stevens, Trenton Tuiasosopo, Cort Dennison - and especially Matt Houston to get in on the action.
I was particularly impressed with Houston's progress in spring drills and he is an excellent running athlete who is finally ready to compete. He can really run and is a lot bigger and stronger than he has ever been before.
Stevens is one of the fastest players on the whole team and has seen considerable action on special teams and in pass-rush situations. I would guess that one of these four will get the nod to open the season with the other two getting considerable playing time.
It is unusual for a freshman to start, so even though Kurt Mangum was in spring drills I would guess that he is still a year or two from contributing as a starter. True freshman Bradly Roussel will be mentally swimming just learning the system. That leaves Gage, Stevens, Tuiasosopo, Dennison and Houston to pick up the slack.
Don't make a mistake of labeling Gage as a 'walk-on' and therefore not as worthy of consideration as the scholarship kids. True he came to UW without a ride, but he is bright, knows where and how to align, and has an excellent feel for the game; and those things helped him to earn a scholarship in 2007. He reminds me of Todd Johnson, who played for us back in the late 90's. Todd always wanted to be a Husky and agreed to walk-on when we were under scholarship restrictions. Every time we put him in a scrimmage down he simply made plays. By his senior year he was one of our leaders in fumbles, interceptions, tackles for loss and sacks. He ended up as our MVP on the defensive side of the ball.
Another couple of outstanding walk-on linebackers who ended up playing on Sundays were John Fiala and Stewart Hill. Both came to Washington on their own and ended up being great Husky linebackers. Hill became an All-Pro in Canada and Fiala became captain of the special teams for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hitters are hitters, so it doesn't matter if they were 4 or 5 stars coming in. They know how to get to the ball.
Gage came to Washington via Huntington Beach and Orcas Island. He grew up wanting to be a Husky and had an exceptional spring. He will be in tough trying to beat out either Stevens or Houston, who are probably a little more gifted athletes, as well as Dennison. Tuiasosopo will probably stay inside to spell Donald Butler at the middle spot but don't be surprised if you see them use a safety in the linebacker mix (Especially with Jason Wells returning to the mix). Strong safeties are really a lot like outside linebackers, so there could be some use of those sort of players in other personnel groupings. Nate Williams and Victor Aiyewa, along with Wells and another walk-on - Tripper Johnson - are all too athletic to be standing on the sidelines. They all will help and you may see situations where there are five, six or seven defensive backs on the field at the same time.
Losing Savannah hurts because he is a proven player, but the number of good, big, running athletes on the defense has been steadily increasing. And now these kids who have been waiting have an opportunity to prove they can fill the need. It's part of being a good team; when someone goes down, someone else has to step up. At linebacker they have the depth to do that.
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