Five newcomers who stood out during the first week of Washington spring practices
A freshman running back and a familiar name at receiver come to mind
SEATTLE — It used to be that any new player participating in spring practices was something of a big deal — either a junior-college transfer, a rare Division 1 transfer or a rare freshman who was able to graduate early from high school.
Anymore, such early enrollees are commonplace, so much so at Washington this season that the Huskies had 13 new additions in camp last week — six four-year transfers, one JUCO transfer and six 2023 signees — and will add another four when they resume practices later this month.
Analyzing where those new players might fit, though, still is among the most interesting parts of covering spring practice. With the Huskies taking a break between their first three practices and their final 12, I want to tell you about five of those newcomers who stood out to me last week, and where each might fit in the competition at their respective positions.
RB Tybo Rogers
Somewhat surprisingly, Rogers is among the early enrollees who saw the most reps through the first three practices. I say “surprisingly” only because he’s a true freshman at a position loaded with returning players and transfers (though Dillon Johnson won’t be on campus until later this month). We saw a lot of Cam Davis and Will Nixon carrying the ball during 11-on-11 periods, with Arizona State transfer Daniyel Ngata mixing in, too. But we also saw a decent amount of Rogers, and heard a good amount about him from coach Kalen DeBoer and others.
The most interesting portion of DeBoer’s assessment, in my opinion: “He’s definitely what we hoped we’d have.” Remember, coaches made Rogers their top priority at running back in the 2023 class, and fended off interest from other schools after he committed. He played for former UW tailback Rashaan Shehee at Bakersfield (Calif.) High, starring as a running back, receiver, defensive back and kick returner, though a shoulder injury cut his senior season short.
Based on Rogers’ participation in the first three practices, the shoulder doesn’t appear to be a problem, though his size (5-11, 192 pounds) and strength will be tested once the Huskies start hitting. I’m curious to see whether Rogers might compete for carries this season. It’s a little tough to gauge right now because Johnson isn’t here yet, and neither Sam Adams II or Richard Newton have participated in 11-on-11 work, presumably for health reasons. Davis, Johnson and Ngata — whatever the order — seemingly will be a tough trio to bypass atop the depth chart. But Rogers has the versatile skill set DeBoer and coordinator Ryan Grubb want to see from their running backs, and (very) early returns are promising.
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WR Germie Bernard
Coaches obviously want to get a long look at Bernard, too, as the Michigan State transfer has seen several targets through the first three practices and, at 6-1 and 207 pounds, looks like the kind of athlete who should help the Huskies right away. Competition is going to be fierce at receiver behind Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk. Taj Davis has shown his big-play ability and earned the trust of Michael Penix Jr. It was obvious last season that coaches loved Giles Jackson’s versatility, and he showed a steady pair of hands in the slot.
Redshirt freshman Denzel Boston appears to be continuing his upward trajectory, too, and DeBoer has made clear how much he likes him. Assuming full health, Washington might already have seven receivers it feels good about putting on the field in 2023, even if the rotation winds up tighter than that. Bernard looks like he could force himself into it, regardless.
“He’s a guy that studies the game a lot,” Penix said. “He came in, he wanted to be great, as soon as he got in. I saw that from him. He was always trying to do extra throwing stuff with me. I was able to get out here a lot with him early on, to try to get that connection going on early. He’s a guy that studies a lot of film, as well. He’s always watching film, trying to find ways he can make himself better, not just for himself but for this team, as well.”
LB Ralen Goforth
The USC transfer definitely looks like a senior (he’s listed at 6-2 and 236 pounds). He’s mostly taken reps with the No. 2 linebackers behind Edefuan Ulofoshio and Alphonzo Tuputala, and I expect him to continue pushing for a starting job, though it won’t be easy to come by. Regardless, Goforth should play a lot. It remains to be seen whether he can be a difference-maker, but he does seem to have the kind of physical nature about him that Washington has maybe lacked at linebacker in recent years.
“He’s big, he’s very explosive,” Ulofoshio said of his new teammate. “He’s exciting to learn off of. A very quick, twitchy guy. It’ll be fun to play with him, for sure.”
TE Josh Cuevas
It should be a fun battle between Cuevas and Quentin Moore for those No. 3 tight end snaps behind Jack Westover and Devin Culp. Moore played 228 snaps in 11 games last season, per Pro Football Focus, and UW’s No. 4 tight end, Griffin Waiss, played only 29, so Cuevas’ presence alone gives the Huskies more options. He looks like a natural pass-catcher and DeBoer certainly noticed him last week.
Hard to know just yet what Cuevas looks like as a run blocker, but he’s already added depth to the position and should give the offense another legitimate target in the passing game.
CB Thaddeus Dixon
With Oklahoma State transfer Jabbar Muhammad still working back from a minor injury and Jaivion Green out for Friday’s practice, Dixon stepped in with the No. 1 defense opposite fellow cornerback Elijah Jackson. He’d mostly been taking reps with the No. 2s before that. Dixon was one of the first handful of players who stood out to me, physically, on the first day of practice. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he still has room to add bulk to his frame, but Dixon looked longer and rangier than I expected.
Between Muhammad, Jackson and Dixon, you could be looking at two new starters at the cornerback spots this year (and Green should have something to say about that, too). And we’ll see if any of the incoming freshmen might also play their way into consideration.
In other news …
Jaylen Johnson, the former defensive lineman under Chris Petersen who had been working for the Huskies as a graduate assistant, landed an on-field assistant gig at Weber State. He’ll coach defensive tackles. Johnson was an underrated contributor as a player from 2015-18 and re-joined the program as a GA under former coach Jimmy Lake (and then DeBoer). This is a nice career step for him.
I enjoyed this from Matt Brown ($), who writes the Extra Points newsletter about college athletics. I’ve never seen a topic spawn so much conflicting reporting as the recent wave of realignment. The Pac-12 is doomed. The Pac-12 is fine. The Big 12 is poaching two or three or four or six schools any day now. No Pac-12 school would ever leave for the Big 12, period. A media deal is happening. A media deal is not happening. A media deal might be happening, but it won’t pay as much as the Big 12’s. A media deal is happening, and it will pay as much as the Big 12’s, if not more. Pac-12 games will be carried exclusively by Apple or Amazon or ESPN, or some combination of all three, or ION, but no, actually, definitely not ION.
What to believe? Matt does a good job articulating the pitfalls of consuming realignment coverage, and how to navigate that cluttered landscape with proper context and skepticism.
It’s NCAA Tournament week. What’s your viewing strategy? “Work” from home? Call in sick? Stream on your laptop, positioned so your boss can’t see?
I’m slacking this year and haven’t even filled out a bracket yet. Anyone come across a good CBI pool?
— Christian Caple, On Montlake
After seeing your Tybo comments, I revisited his HS tape. Quick, fast, elusive ankle breaker. Relaxed, natural pass catcher. Looks perfect for this offense.
Really hoping the DB room takes a major step up.
What a wide receiver room!