Washington football: Previewing the linebackers

Washington football loses their leading tackler in Princeton Fuimaono, but returns a linebacker group loaded with speed and talent. As discussed when previewing the defensive line, the linebackers will benefit from having an experienced front line ahead of them. But inexperience will be backing them up in the secondary. This puts a lot of pressure on the dawgs’ linebacking corp to not only stop the run, but really assist in pass coverage. All three starting linbackers on the Washington football roster played safety when they were recruited to UW. Possessing sideline to sideline speed and instincts for coverage, this year’s group has the potential to be something special.

[Washington football: Previewing the defensive line]

John Timu (6-foot-1, 244-pounds) Sr.

Heading into his fourth season as a starter, the two time captain looks to be the anchor in the middle of this defense for another year. The honorable mention academic all-PAC-12 returns as the brains of this defense and will look to build on his impressive Washington football career.

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The leader of this Washington football defense, Timu brings a high level of consistency to the team.

Over the last two seasons, Timu has recorded 168 tackles, 10 pass deflections, and 4 interceptions. Timu has transitioned extremely well from the safety position he originally played and has proven that he can be a highly effective tackler between the tackles, as well as outside of them.

What makes him, as well as this group as a whole, unique has been his ability to continue to be an effective linebacker in passing situations. His coverage ability doesn’t always jump off the game tape, but his ability to make clutch plays never ceases to amaze me.

Last season, both of his interceptions came in late game situations in which his interception sealed the game. The first coming against WSU in the last regular season game. A pick that sealed the victory. And then again in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, preventing BYU from ever coming back.

With even more speed on the roster at linebacker this season, it would not surprise me if Timu sees a reduced role in passing situations, however, it is comforting to know that Timu is one of the most versatile middle linebackers in the PAC-12.

[Washington football: Previewing the WR position]

Travis Feeney (6-foot-4, 217-pounds) RsJr.

My pick to be the ‘surprise’ breakout player in 2014 (if you consider it a surprise), Feeney possesses all of the tools to be something special.

I was honestly perplexed by his diminished role in 2013 when he relinquished his starting role to the aforementioned Fuimaono. Not that Fuimaono was unproductive by any means, but the speed and aggression that Feeney plays with makes him a special player.

Washington football

Feeney returns to the starting lineup in 2014 and is poised for a monstrous season.

His long frame and tremendous speed allow him to run down plays with ease, or string them out to the sideline. His slight build might give the impression that he isn’t the most effective or powerful tackler, but that is simply not the case.

Feeney embraces the physicality of the position and has shown time after time that he can be a big hitter, as well as a consistent tackler. He uses his long arms very effectively when tackling ball carriers, preventing big plays from happening by his shear ability to get his arms on runners and rustle them to the ground.

Although he saw a diminished role in 2013, that did not prevent him from having a tremendous impact on defense. In the game against Stanford, Feeney recorded 6 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. While those numbers don’t sound eye-popping impressive, it was one of the most impressive games I have seen by a husky defender in some time (until Marcus Peters’ game against Oregon State).

That game typified what Feeney brings to the defense. His long arms and nose for the ball proved highly effective against Stanford’s between-the-tackles running game. Those long arms prevented the mauling offensive line of Stanford to engage with his body, allowing Feeney to hold off blocks and shed O-lineman with relative ease.

But where he really shined was his ability to contain outside runs with his speed, as well as corral their quarterback when he tried to make plays outside of the pocket. If Feeney starts every game this season, I expect him to seriously contend for leading tackler on a husky defense full of talent.

When post season awards and all-conference teams are announced and Feeney’s name starts popping up, just remember you heard it here first.

[Washington football: Previewing the RB position]

Shaq Thompson (6-foot-2, 231-pounds) Jr.

What more can be said about the heralded high school all-american turned Washington football star. A starter since day one at UW, Thompson has been nothing short of brilliant during his time so far wearing the purple and gold. Thompson is sure to leave for the NFL after the 2014 season making this year the last chance for husky fans to see him make plays on Montlake.

Washington football

One of the most talented players in the nation, Thompson looks to have his best season yet in 2014.

With his size and speed, Thompson is the best of both worlds when it comes to linebackers. Over the last two years, Thompson has recorded 94 solo tackles as well as 11 pass deflections. It is rare to have a linebacker with such tremendous coverage skills, yet still has the ability to plug up holes on running downs.

Similar to Feeney, Thompson plays with an aggression that dazzles and excites. When he hits people, he is sure to be the hammer and not the nail. Other than Seahawks’ safety Kam Chancellor, I have not seen an athlete with such size, speed, and aggression, yet still has the mind and ability to play excellent pass coverage.

Given a secondary behind him that is full of talent but lacking in experience, I could see Thompson increasing his role in pass coverage and allowing other talented linbackers to focus more of their attention in the box. Either way, Thompson is undeniable on the field and will surely be making play after play no matter where he lines up.

Thompson may only have 14 games left in his college career. If/when he gets drafted, I just hope he stays close to home. Watching him play is something special, I would hate to miss the opportunity to see him continue to grow as a football player. It isn’t every day that college football fans get a chance to see a truly special player on display. I for one am grateful for the opportunity to see one of the most talented players in the nation come through this Washington football program and look forward to another impressive campaign.

[Washington football: Previewing the offensive line]

Other Notables:

Azeem Victor (6-foot-3, 243-pounds RsFr.), Keishawn Bierria (6-foot-1, 216-pounds RsFr.), and Scott Lawyer (6-foot-2, 223-pounds RsSo.) are in top contention for finding playing time outside of the starting group. With a solid group ahead of them, it may be tough for any of them to find significant playing time, barring an injury. All of them have the athleticism to step in and make plays if/when their name is called. Victor stands out to me as someone who could produce early. At his size, he is one of the largest linebackers on this Washington football roster full of converted safeties. He has also been called the biggest hitter by fellow linebacker Thompson. The immediate need for any of these players to produce is low, but having talented depth at linebacker should result in competitive play and trustworthy depth in case of emergency. All three of these backups will find themselves being rotated in as the season progresses, it will be up to them to prove that they have what it takes to make consistent plays and be a difference maker.

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