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Five players the Huskies can ill afford to lose
Malamute, 26 February 2010

I can think of a number of players the Huskies can ill afford to lose in the 2010 season, either due to injury, to scholastic ineligibility or to an off-field problem, say. Losing the following players, in my opinion, would be devastating to Washington. (Will Mahan, photo left).

(1) Not only is Jake Locker a 10-star quarterback, but his full participation in all 12 scheduled games this upcoming season is as necessary as a well-functioning electronics throttle control system in a modern-day car -- even though Locker is known for his sudden acceleration -- otherwise the Huskies are liable to tube it.

Over Jake's career, he's missed playing in 10 out of a possible 37 games if you count half of two games he played in as one: Oregon State in 2007 and Stanford in 2008. That is, he's missed playing in 27% of the games over his career at Washington due to injuries. As he did last year -- in a remarkable 5-7 season -- Locker needs to stay healthy in 2010; otherwise, the Huskies' chances for post-season play will be as slim as a software engineer successfully debugging a timing problem in the aforementioned control system. (**)

Last season, Locker led the conference in total offense, averaging 265.7 yards per game. He finished fourth in pass efficiency, posting a rating of 130.1, according to the Pac-10 stats. (*) Locker finished second in passing average per game with a 233.3 YPG average and rushed for 388 total yards.

Washington's only experienced backups, quarterback Ronnie Fouch out of Riverside County, has transferred from school, as has walk-on QB Taylor Bean, who played two games in the 2008 season. That leaves redshirt freshman Keith Price and true freshman Nick Montana to fill in for Locker should he suffer injury. Coach Steve Sarkisian is looking for somebody to walk on at the QB position.

(2) Tailback Chris Polk finished fourth in the conference in rushing last season, averaging 92.8 yards per game. He was injured in the 2008 season, and played in just two games. He is the first freshman in school history to run for over 1,000 yards in one season.

His back up, Demetrius Bronson, rushed for 89 yards last season, playing in 9 games.

Also out of Riverside County, as is Polk, true freshman Deontae Cooper is a 4-star running back who led California in rushing in his junior and senior high school years at Citrus Hill in Perris, which is a hiccup away from Norco, the home of the conference's best player last season, Toby Gerhart. (***)

Cooper's career 7,450 yards' rushing are second in Inland Empire history, only behind Gerhart, who was a runner up for the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

Recently, Polk had shoulder surgery, his second in two years. Although he is expected to miss spring practice, he should be ready by fall.

(3) Losing kicker/place kicker Erik Folk would be a devastating blow to the Dawgs. He's sure to wear a yellow jersey during spring scrimmages.

Last season, Folk (photo, front page) connected on 18 of 21 field goal attempts and made 35 of 35 PAT tries. He was named the 2009 KJR special team's MVP. His .857 field goal percentage is third best in Husky history. He missed playing in the 2007 and 2008 seasons largely due to injury.

Losing kicker/punter/placekicker Alejandro Maldonado to the 2010 recruiting class, and to Oregon, was a big disappointment. UW finished eighth in conference-kickoff-coverage last season, and could have used a fresh leg to spell Folk this season.

Folk kicked three field goals, one a 46 yarder, in Washington's 16-13 signature win over USC last season.

(4) Will Mahan. Mahan handled all the punting chores last season and finished the year with a 40.6 yard average on 52 punts, which was good for seventh in the conference. He averaged 50.3 YPP in the Stanford game, with a long of 61 yards, his longest of the year.

Losing Maldonado makes Mahan's good health on the season all the more vital. He doesn't need to audition for the Glant Tough Husky Award on punt returns, his bullish appearance notwithstanding.

I'm not knocking punter Kiel Rasp or kicker Eric Guttorp, who are walk-on backups to Mahan and Folk, respectively. Each of them could be a fine replacement should one of the aforementioned starters goes down. It's just that Mahan and Folk got all the work last season, and the two walk-ons have no live-game experience.  

Last season, they backed up Folk and Mahan, who both stayed healthy.

Maldonado would have been a better replacement for Mahan -- rather than Rasp, say -- since he would have been gaining valuable experience for the 2011 season, considering the departure of Mahan.

(5) Mason Foster returns at strong side linebacker. One of his three interceptions on the season, his pick-6 against Arizona sealed Washington's 36-33 victory. In that game, Foster intercepted a deflected pass off the shoe of Delashaun Dean and took it 37 yards to the house with 2:57 remaining. Foster's "pick-Nick" by the lake was a shocking conclusion to what had been a dominating performance by UA in the second half. (****)

Foster registered 85 total tackles last season, second to Donald Butler, who has graduated, and finished seventh in the league in average tackles per game (7.1). He set a school record of six forced fumbles last season, and finished third in the nation.

Foster was named to the Sporting News' all Pac-10 team and won the Earle T. Glant Tough Husky Award at UW's postseason banquet.


Malfunctions, puns and wishes:

(*) NCAA stats say his rating should be 129.75, a number that agrees with my record keeping.

(**) Since its related to timing, trying to reproduce the conditions causing the malfunction would be more than challenging.

(***) How about giving Cooper the redoubtable number-8 -- you know, the same number Nip, Willie and Kenny wore on their jerseys?

(****) He intercepted Nick Foles, hence the pun on his name (Foster's pick-Nick by the lake), no disrespect meant.  


Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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