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Controlling the trenches could propel Washington football to the next level in 2016

It's been just over a month since the Dawgs played their last game of the 2015 season. With signing day coming up and relatively few player losses, things are looking bright on Montlake.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let's begin with the topic of everybody's favorite bolt-action rifle:

I like to judge quarterbacks (and, through extension, O-lines) by my stress level when their offense is on the field, since so much of their job is about intangibles and solid decision making. Over the course of the season, Jake Browning went from just another cog to someone who could be trusted to make the right call. Rarely did we see crazy, momentum changing plays from him - instead, Browning led sustained drives that persisted their way down the field. Flashy? No. Effective? Absolutely. Increasingly as the season wore on, my gut feeling whenever he dropped back is that something good would happen. And if not that, then at least nothing catastrophic would happen, which is not the default feeling for every quarterback to say the least.

As far as the offensive line, there's certainly reasons for optimism going into next year. Although roughly 8% of Browning's dropbacks resulted in a sack - compare to Luke Falk (5.7%) or Josh Rosen (3%) but better than Vernon Adams (10%) or Cody Kessler (8.5%) - there was visible progress over the course of the year that mirrored Browning's growth. Plus, the Dawgs will have four returning starters which is important since an O-line is better thought of as one thing as opposed to five different people. Hence, the more cohesion, the better the outlook. With Myles Gaskin's penchant for finding holes, an improved run-block could be particularly tricky for opposing defenses in 2016.

Speaking of: Gaskin is a stud. A shifty, slippery, tackle-breaking stud. The end.

The Dawgs also nabbed St. John Bosco RB Sean McGrew, who's game tape makes him appear like a Gaskin mini-me. Further, former ASU commit Kamari Pleasant  will be in Montlake, and he could add some size to the backfield while also being utilized in the passing game.

Receivers and tight ends were comprehensively the weakness of the offense, and they'll be losing Jaydon Mickens, Josh Perkins, and Marvin Hall. That being said, Coach Petersen has since fired receivers coach Brent Pease and, if there's one thing about Petersen that I trust, it's his ability to utilize this type of creative destruction.

Likely there won't be any more additions here come signing day aside from Jordan Chin and Aaron Fuller in the receiving corps and Jacob Kizer, the tight end from West Salem, though Washington is still technically in the race for California superstar TE Devin Asiasi. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Kizer either redshirt or greyshirt due to the back injury that kept him out almost his entire senior season, and Chin could also use a year to bulk up. Of all the position groups these guys will probably be the least threatening to opposing defenses, but I'm inclined to believe that the ceiling is higher with Bush Hamdan as the new WR coach.

UW's defense loses buck Travis Feeney, linebacker Brian Clay, SS Cory Littleton, and DT Taniela Tupou in 2016. Further, defensive line and ST coach Jeff Choate left to be the head coach at Montana State. That being said, the recruits on this side of the ball are exciting, plus there's serious depth of other young players already on the roster. This is especially in the linebackers and D-line, whether they were redshirts in 2015 or freshmen or sophomores who saw limited playing time. Combine that with Petersen's ability to maximize the positive effects of creative destruction and I see no reason to be anything but optimistic that this defense keeps kicking ass and taking names next year.

Adding to this in 2016 will be some promising redshirt freshmen, among them local DE Benning Potoae. As well, CB Byron Murphy, ATH Isaiah Gilchrist, and OLB Camilo Eifler, all of whom are in the ESPN 300 for the class of 2016, join the defense. Given the depth already present in Death Row - particularly in the front seven - I'm not expecting to see many of the these guys playing a whole lot next year, but I like the foundation this builds for 2017 and 2018.

The incoming secondary also includes SS Taylor Rapp from Sehome High School. Not sure whether he'll redshirt or see some time next year, but he's already enrolled and I'm looking forward to watching this guy play; he takes good angles and hits like a train... so basically, why we watch football.

Bottom line:

Looking at next season, there's no games on the schedule that make me go, "Well, that'll be a loss for sure". Even this year, with the exception of the Stanford game in which backup QB KJ Carta-Samuels played the whole time, the losses were by 3, 6, 6, 11, and 10 - three of which were UW killing themselves with 5, 4, and 4 turnovers against Cal, Utah, and ASU, which is just a goofy amount of giving the ball up. Some overexcited (but generally insightful, in my experience) comments at UW Dawg Pound have been, partially in jest, calling for an undefeated season. Obviously I'm not gonna predict that, but, one game at a time, each could be a win. That being said, this is the Pac-12, so who knows which program on the Huskies' schedule will turn up next year when we least expect it.

Other things:

  • Tom Hackett is the man. After college either he should be the showrunner for a sitcom about a ragtag group of special-teamers or be making bank in the NFL.
  • Stop making fun of the Stanford Tree! The story behind its wonderful hideousness is awesome, and who needs a shiny pretty mascot when you can have a sense of humor about it?
  • Oh, and the Stanford Band is my spirit animal.
  • I know this is belated, but if anybody was watching USC vs. Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl, please take a moment to appreciate the insanity that is Wisco LB Jack Cichy. Three sacks in a row like it's no big deal. Marry me, Mr. Cichy?
  • Also, what kind of surname is Cichy? Lithuanian? Whatever...
  • Hats off to SoMiss - they were a worthy opponent in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. I'll be keeping my eye on them in the future (even though HC Todd Monken just left for the NFL) and it's not crazy to imagine WR Michael Thomas making some Sunday plays soon.
  • And for the record, Hamlet was referring to us weirdos when he said, "I am but mad North Northwest". Bow down. Go Huskies.