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Five storylines to watch as UW football spring practices begin

By Andy Yamashita, The Seattle Times
Published: April 2, 2024, 8:13pm

SEATTLE —A lot has changed since Husky football last took the field.

Michael Penix Jr. and 20 other starters from the team which won the last Pac-12 football title, the 2023 Sugar Bowl and went to the College Football Playoff championship game have departed. Former UW coach Kalen DeBoer headed south to replace Nick Saban at Alabama, while Jedd Fisch joined Washington from former conference rival Arizona. UW is headed to a new conference for the first time in more than a century.

And The Seattle Times even switched beat writers.

Despite all the changes, some things remain consistent. As the cherry blossoms bloom in the quad and false spring baits California transplants to believe summer is already here, Washington football returns for spring practice at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Here are five storylines for Washington fans to keep track of as the Jedd Fisch era officially begins on Montlake:

1. Offensive line questions

Speaking during a media availability session on March 27, Washington offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll said his first question to the offensive-line group was “Who plays center?”

When half of the group raised their hands, Carroll corrected them, saying “Everybody put your hands up. You’re all playing center.”

Yet personnel questions certainly linger over the offensive line entering 8spring camp. All five members of the group which won the 2023 Joe Moore Award as the best offensive-line unit in the country — Troy Fautanu, Julius Buelow, Parker Brailsford, Nate Kalepo and Roger Rosengarten — departed for the NFL Draft or other opportunities.

Washington enters the spring with just 11 scholarship offensive linemen. Two of them, true freshmen Davit Boyajyan and Justin Hylkema, won’t be on campus until the fall.

So in reality, Washington will have nine offensive linemen available this spring. Redshirt freshmen Kahlee Tafai, Soane Faasolo, Elishah Jackett and true freshmen Paki Finau and Michael Watkins have zero on-field college experience. Redshirt freshman Zachary Henning played twice in 2023 against Michigan State and California.

Junior Gaard Memmelaar missed the entire 2023 season because of injury. He played in four games during the 2022 season. Sophomore Landen Hatchett played in nine games as a true freshman, making him the most experienced returning member of Washington’s offensive-line group. The Huskies also landed former San Diego State transfer Drew Azzopardi, who started six games at right tackle for the Aztecs during the past campaign and has played in 15 career games.

2. Cameron Davis returns

Cameron Davis probably wasn’t expecting to be back on Montlake for the 2024 season a year ago.

The former four-star running back from Upland, Calif., experienced the best season of his career in 2022 under DeBoer, rushing for 522 yards on 107 attempts with 13 touchdowns while splitting carries with Wayne Taulapapa. He also hauled in 19 catches for 137 yards. Davis looked set to battle former Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson for the lead-back role in 2023.

However, an injury suffered in fall camp forced Davis out for the entire 2023 season. Johnson seized the starting role, rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns as UW rolled to a CFP championship game appearance and declared for the NFL Draft.

Davis, now healthy, returns to a crowded running-back room. Former Arizona transfer Jonah Coleman was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection in 2023, while true freshman and Wildcat early enrollee Adam Mohammed also joined the Huskies in the offseason. Additionally, 2023 contributors Tybo Rogers, Sam Adams II and Daniyel Ngata all return.

3. Arizona transfers settle in

Fisch wasn’t able to bring all his Arizona standouts to Seattle — missing out on players like quarterback Noah Fifita and wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, who both chose to stay in Tucson — but several former Wildcats will make the move north.

Coleman is perhaps the most notable. He rushed for 871 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2023, while adding 25 catches for 283 yards and a trip to the end zone through the air.

He’s not the only Arizona contributor Fisch was able to lure to Montlake, however, as UW also added cornerback Ephesians Prysock. Another 2023 All-Pac-12 honorable mention, he had 61 tackles, seven passes defended and an interception while playing in 13 games across from second-team All-Pac-12 cornerback Tacario Davis. Prysock and returning cornerback Elijah Jackson give Washington some experience on the defensive perimeter heading into the spring.

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Two other former Arizona players can be found on the defensive line. Junior Russell Davis II recorded 16 tackles in 2023, including 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, while Isaiah Ward added 30 tackles and four sacks.

4. QB1

One place Washington knows it has experience is at quarterback. The Huskies were able to keep fifth-year signal caller Will Rogers, who’d initially transferred to Washington from Mississippi State to play for DeBoer.

Rogers, the all-time Southeastern Conference leader in pass completions and completion percentage, played 43 games for the Bulldogs across four seasons. His experience should be a massive boost, and Rogers is the obvious front-runner to start for Washington in 2024.

5. Can anyone play safety?

Washington is struggling for depth and experience at a number of spots, but the Huskies are particularly thin at safety. Starting safety Dominique Hampton declared for the draft, while Asa Turner transferred to Florida.

Senior Kamren Fabiculanan returns with the most experience. He played in 12 games, making 26 tackles, including three for a loss, and grabbed two interceptions while mostly playing as a nickel, but is now listed as a safety.

Behind Fabiculanan, the group is fairly untested. Junior Makell Esteen played in 14 games as a sophomore and made 19 tackles. He also made a start against Stanford at the peak of Washington’s secondary injury crisis during the past season.