SEATTLE — The Washington Huskies began spring football practice Tuesday night with high expectations for the 2013 season, based in large part on a roster filled with returning starters.
UW loses only five players who started against Boise State in the season-ending 28-26 loss in the Las Vegas Bowl, and just eight who played in that game.
That leaves the Huskies with few holes to fill as they prepare for Steve Sarkisian’s fifth season as head coach. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have questions at some positions. Here is a look at a few of them:
The only offensive lineman UW lost to graduation was Drew Schaefer, who started 43 games, including 37 the last three seasons at center. Mike Criste, now a junior who started the last six games at right guard, could be tried at center this spring. Long-term, though, the spot could be filled by junior Erik Kohler or junior Colin Tanigawa. Both are coming off knee injuries suffered in the second game last season.
Kohler, who has played extensively at both guard and tackle, is expected back for the second half of spring practice, when the Huskies will likely take a long look at whether he can move full-time to center.
“Hopefully, we can get Kohler back,” Sarkisian said Monday. “Hopefully. if he’s a natural fit (at center), we can really take that thing and run with it.”
One of UW’s unsung heroes of 2012 was Justin Glenn, who stayed healthy the entire season and emerged as one of Washington’s leaders as a fifth-year senior. He finished tied for third in tackles (76), the only one of UW’s top nine tacklers who won’t be back.
Standing atop the depth chart at that spot now is fifth-year senior Will Shamburger, who started the first two games of 2012 before Glenn took over.
“(Shamburger) is probably the natural lead at the position just because of his experience of playing,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian said a number of other players could also be tried there, including Trevor Walker, one of two Class of 2013 signees who enrolled early and will participate in spring ball (the other is quarterback Troy Williams).
“That’s why he chose to come here, for the opportunities at the position,” Sarkisian said of Walker.
“We’re going to look at a few of our corners. We’ve got quite a few corners that are natural cover guys that are going to have opportunities to play at some of the safety spots,” he said, listing senior Tre Watson and redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver, who will be limited early with a sports hernia.
UW’s biggest loss to graduation may be cornerback Desmond Trufant, whose performance at the NFL combine last month has led to speculation he could be a first-round draft pick in April.
While Trufant will be missed, Sarkisian sounds confident the Huskies have the players to fill in. Marcus Peters emerged as a starter opposite Trufant midway through his freshman season in 2012 and the Huskies think he has all-conference potential. Taking over as the other cornerback could be senior Greg Ducre, who has started seven games in his career and also was UW’s main nickel back (or fifth defensive back) in the latter half of last season.
Ducre had a solid offseason as a sprinter for the UW indoor track team and Sarkisian said Monday he thinks Ducre “is poised for a really nice senior season.”
One of the more intriguing players on the roster is junior Travell Dixon, who transferred to UW last September after having signed out of junior college with Alabama, although he never played for the Crimson Tide.
“We’ll have to see how well Travell Dixon really performs at corner,” Sarkisian said.
Travis Coons returns for his senior season. He ended up handling all the kicking duties in 2012 — punting, kickoffs, field goals and extra points — a situation the Huskies will try to avoid this year.
Sarkisian hopes Korey Durkee, the punter for the first three games last year before losing the job, can win it back.
Freshman Cameron Van Winkle of Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, who signed in February, will enroll in time for the second half of spring practice and will also compete for kicking duties.
“I would like to think we are going to see an immediate impact from him on kickoffs,” Sarkisian said of Van Winkle.
If Van Winkle can lighten the load by taking over kickoff duties, Coons can focus on kicking field goals instead of “exhausting himself on kickoffs and in the punt game,” Sarkisian said.