They were injured, ignored or invisible.
For all the turnover created by a dismal 4-8 University of Washington football season, the career regression of so many veteran players, such as Ulumoo Ale, Kamren Fabiculanan, Richard Newton and Sav'ell Smalls, to name four, proved as disconcerting as any game-day setback.
Shove or no shove, maybe a massive Husky coaching change was needed all along.
While seven of the 11 members of Jimmy Lake's ousted staff have found work on the outside, indicating they have enough street cred to work elsewhere, some of the players left in their wake require a fresh start, new direction and an inspirational boost.
Yes, the players are expected to make something happen without somebody holding their hand at all times, but it doesn't hurt to have a position coach close by who knows how to push all of your buttons and help get the best performance out of you.
Considering all of that, the following are four Huskies who could use some prodding in claiming or reclaiming prominent roles with a new coaching staff on board if things are going to change sufficiently in the win-loss column.
This junior offensive guard is the one guy in this group of four reclamation projects who still has the same position coach, Scott Huff. At 6-foot-6 and 355 pounds, Ale is one of the biggest players in the Pac-12 and he can run. He opened six games. Yet he started and ended the season as the backup, sitting out in favor of different replacement players. This suggests he simply could not follow directions and hit the right person at all times. If the new coaching leadership in Kalen DeBoer and his offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb can't find a way to dominate with this guy and properly use all of his physical attributes, it's on Ale. We think he's much better than he's shown. That he shouldn't be sharing the job with anyone or watching someone else take it from him. Or maybe he's a starting center or a tackle, where new faces are needed, and he doesn't know it yet.
This willowy, active 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore, who practiced at all three UW defensive backfield positions last season, started the first game of the season against Montana at free safety and never showed up in the opening lineup again the rest of the way. Fabiculanan didn't even play a down in four of the final six games. Touted early and rewarded for his advancement, he made some huge mistakes for everyone to see, such as taking a bad angle on a 67-yard touchdown run for Michigan, and never recovered. He's still young. The new defensive-backs coach will need to see if they can calm him down under pressure and get him confident again.
This guy should be an All-Pac-12 running back. After a sensational 2019 showing as a redshirt freshman, in which he scored 11 times and threw a touchdown pass, he's played in just six outings over two seasons. Two years ago, he was an attitude problem during the COVID-restricted schedule and punished for it. Last year, he was more contrite and started the first three games, but got banged up and finally blew a knee against UCLA. It's unclear how severe his ACL injury was, but he required surgery to fix it and was on crutches when the season ended. When healthy again, the 6-foot, 215-pound junior should flourish in Kalen DeBoer's offense, which fools a lot of people, as compared to John Donovan's, which didn't fool anyone.
On his first Husky play as a true freshman in 2020, Smalls looked like the 5-star recruit he was advertised, beating his man with speed and getting into the face of the Oregon State quarterback. He started against Stanford that first season. Although appearing in all 12 games this past fall, Smalls hasn't been seen as a playmaker since. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, the sophomore might be too heavy. Described as constantly needing work on his technique, Smalls might have become too much of a thinking man rather than a free-flowing, disruptive player. One-time UW recruit J.T. Tuimoloau ran into a similar situation coming off the edge during his first season at Ohio State. Trim down Smalls and make it less complicated for him, and turn him loose.
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