Some Diamonds in the Rough

Keith Price (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

Years ago, the NCAA allowed us some days of practices just for the new kids. This would enable us to teach them the culture of the system, as well as specific drills of their position. This way we could get them up to speed before the varsity arrived. Now the rookies are thrown right into the fray from day one, making it difficult to check them out, let alone compare them to the older kids.

Here's a look at the new kids on the block, and a guess as to how many may help this year. This is based entirely upon my own observations following the first few days of practice. Now obviously they didn't have pads on and were not in full contact but this is at the least an "eye test" first hand impression.

I count 23 new faces in the 105 allotment for fall camp. There are three JC's and 14 true freshmen on scholarship of whom there are a few either injured or hung up in the NCAA clearinghouse.

There are six invited walk-ons with at least that many set to join after the first game, and probably more than that. Coach Steve Sarkisian has done more to encourage the walk-on program in his first year than has been done in the last five years total. I believe Washington will end up with close to 115-120 kids on the roster by the start of school. That will make it the biggest team here in the last 10 years. Quantity does not equal quality but it can help produce quality, and the added numbers help in the preparation of your first level players or starters.

Of the 19 signees in this years' class, they already had lost three JC's to admissions, defensive tackle, Johnny Tivao, offensive lineman, Daniel Mafoe and now corner, Dominique Gaisie. The other three JC kids were impressive enough to figure into the depth and should be contributors this coming season.

The punter, Will Mahan, considered by some to be the best JC punter in the nation last year, has a strong-looking lower body with a decent drop and he can really drive the ball. He looked particularly effective in the "sky punt" period where you try to drop the punt deep inside the 20, something he did effectively last season at Bakersfield. He is clearly the best punter out there and his development both mechanically and mentally will be critical going into the LSU game, a team that features one of the fastest punt returners in the nation. Mahan will wear #46.

The JC tight end, Dorson Boyce, is short but well built and is listed at 6-2 and 231 pounds, but is closer to 6-1 and 245. He looks to be a decent blocker. He uses his width well in traffic and has shown some decent hands. He will definitely add to the competition at tight end. He will wear 88.

The JC safety, David Batts, is an obvious football player with a great looking rangy body, and I think he will certainly be in the depth. He seemed to be picking up the coverages quickly and really runs well to the football. He will at least be on special teams and could see quality playing time as the year goes on. He will wear Curtis Williams' old jersey, number 25.

Of the freshmen, cornerback Desmond Trufant is hung up in the clearinghouse with regard to core classes and safety Will Shamburger is obviously still coming off a knee operation. Defensive lineman Chris Robinson is also not participating and because of this I would suspect that all three will be probably be red-shirted, as will most of the rest of the freshman class with the exception of a few diamonds in the rough.

Based upon just a few days of watching it is obvious that freshman wide receiver James Johnson is something special. Number 3 is quick, elusive, confident and sure-handed. I can easily see him competing for playing time this year and I think he is clearly the most exciting player in this class. He will only get better as he grows older and I think has big time potential. He does need to stay clear of the injury bug, and a shoulder has been bothering him of late.

Personally, I really liked the looks of the freshman tight end, Marlion Barnett, as a pass receiver. He has really good hands and is being looked at as an inside receiver in the slot. He is not as big as Boyce but I think he moves better. He is the big body receiver that the Huskies haven't had since Reggie Williams. Although only a freshman, I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit the field this coming season.

The freshman quarterback, Keith Price, is obviously a wonderful athlete and I would say second in the class only to Johnson in terms of pure athletic ability. He is listed at 6-1 and 184 pounds, and could obviously use a year in the weight room as well as a year refining his delivery. The bottom line is that even though he possesses cat-like quickness, there is no way he should be asked to play this coming season. He is in a perfect position to red-shirt, then become a freshman for Jake Locker's last year.

Defensively, there are two linebackers on scholarship and both appear to be headed for red-shirts simply because of all the veterans at their position. Tim Tucker is already big enough at 6-1 and 235 pounds, but will really be a beast after a year or two in the weight room. CJ Wallace's little brother, Jordan, has a real knack to finding the football and was a safety in high school, so spending a red-shirt year learning the position seems natural. He reminds me of Evan Benjamin a few years ago and I like his quick feet. Both appear to be tough kids.

Up front I was impressed by both ends, Andru Pulu and Talia Crichton and tackle, Semisi Tokolahi. Tokolahi is huge and willing and has great potential for development as an inside player. Pulu, a converted linebacker, looks good with his hand on the ground and Crichton battled off an early groin injury to show real glimpses of potential. These three could all enter the depth if there was an injury or two. They could use a red-shirt but might be pressed into service.

I also watched tight end Kimo Makaula and safety Nate Fellner and believe both will redshirt as their positions are probably too deep for them to hit the field.

All in all, the first signing class of the Steve Sarkisian era appears to have produced a few gems, with a number of solid depth players as well. Considering it was rated last in the conference this group offers some immediate help as well as a number of kids who could end up being stars.

Starting as late as they did in the recruiting process this class appears to be a lot better than it was rated, but then again I've never put much into recruiting class rankings because of all the variables like eligibility, injury, and attrition. I would imagine that 4-5 players of this class will be used this year unless there are other needs due to injury. To have one-third of your class help you the first year is a pretty normal percentage.

I would guess that half of this class will end up starters in the program. That would make it a really solid class. If they go to bowl games, win championships, and graduate then it will be a remarkable class. Obviously, to evaluate any kid this early is incomplete at best, and besides it's not my place to be passing judgement on their recruiting efforts. Quite the contrary, I think they made a great effort in recruiting considering what they inherited and that they only had one month to do it.

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