Choosing a Husky Starting Lineup: Today's Sirmon Is About Strength, Wisdom

The University of Washington, while trying to upgrade its second-row speed on defense, will gladly welcome a coach's kid who's a big hitter and limits his mistakes.
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The feeling was the University of Washington football team would take drastic steps to upgrade its inside linebackers, the decided weak link for the 2019 team.

There would be an urgent call for more speed. A pair of guys who could run from sideline to sideline. 

Think Azeem Victor and Kieshawn Bierria.

The Huskies made a significant investment in January, providing a scholarship to the ultra determined -- and noticeably swift -- walk-on inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio. 

They actually started Eddie three times late last season, which was a lot like taking a car for a test drive, before handing him financial aid for his sophomore season. 

That left the bookend inside backer position to shore up. 

Thinking speed was still the bottom line, Miki Ah You seemed like a logical running mate for Ulofoshio, jumping out from a host of young candidates. Ah You showed himself to be an extremely mobile second-row defender before a knee injury wiped out much of his high school senior season. 

His fiery presence during the Hawaiian Haka dance was another strong selling point for this guy. He looked like an absolute warrior. 

In choosing an opening lineup for Jimmy Lake, and adjusting it as he tries different combinations that become known, it appears that at least one Sirmon is going to draw starting duty this season.

In this case, think Chico Fraley and Dave Hoffmann.

Those guys brought just the right ILB combination for the Huskies' 1991 national championship team. One part speed, one part physicality.

See if you agree with this new choice opposite Ulofoshio, a player who along with the electric Eddie have received high marks by, and the trust of, the Husky coaching staff so far.

ILB candidates: Jackson Sirmon, 6-3, 237, sophomore; MJ Tafisi, 6-0, 241, sophomore; Alphonzo Tuputala, 6-2, 231, redshirt freshman; Miki Ah You, 6-1, 218, redshirt freshman; Josh Calvert, 6-2, 218, redshirt freshman; Daniel Heimuli, 6-0, 225, redshirt freshman; Carson Bruener, 6-2, 201, freshman.

Starting experience: Edefuan Ulofoshio, 3 starts (at the opposite backer spot).

Our selection: Jackson Sirmon. His father was an Oregon and NFL linebacker, later a UW assistant coach and is now the California defensive coordinator. So Jackson is a coach's kid, a pro football descendent, a guy with pedigree. Admittedly, his speed came into question after he returned a fumble 54 yards against Boise State in the waning moments of the Las Vegas Bowl ... and didn't score. Sirmon instead possesses a real aggressive style of play and, by being that coach's son, a textbook approach, which means he won't be caught out of position. That latter drawback was a real issue for the previous tenants in these backer jobs. No, Sirmon latched onto his starting position real early in the late-starting fall camp and he isn't going to let go. Besides, there's got to be a spot for a guy who uncannily looks like Doc Holliday, as played by Val Kilmer in the movie Tombstone, with his reedy mustache and soul patch. In the accompanying video is a clip of his first UW interview session.

Other ILB options: Tafisi was playing ahead of both guys now listed as the No. 1 inside backers early last year before suffering a season-ending stinger. If he's healthy, Tafisi has the advantage of earning that trust factor. Tuputala, so big and fast, seemed to bypass the other young linebackers by drawing a bunch of snaps as a true freshman; Ah You and Calvert are coming off injuries. Heimuli, a big-name coming in, unexpectedly has struggled a bit at this level. Bruener, the newcomer, has impressive bloodlines; his father was a Husky and NFL tight end great.

Greatest Husky ILB: Joe Kelly. This guy was the extremely mobile, game-breaking middleman for the Huskies' greatest defense ever, the 1984 Purple Reign. He could run and hit with the best of them, which led to a first-round draft selection, an 11-year NFL career and a Super Bowl XXIII appearance. Had he not dealt with a string of nagging injuries, caused by his fearless style of play, he would have been on everyone's All-American teams.

Other legendary UW ILBs: Ben Burr-Kirven, a first-team All-American pick and the nation's leading tackler in 2018; Azeem Victor, a 2016 first-team All-Pac-12 player so full of promise who broke his leg against USC as a junior and never fully recovered; Kieshawn Bierria, Victor's equally speedy running mate and a 42-game starter; Dave Hoffmann, a 1991 national championship team backer, twice a second-team All-American selection and a 42-game starter; Chico Fraley, a 1991 national championship backer and a 41-game starter; James Clifford, who led the Pac-10 in tackles in 1989 as a sophomore; Tim Meamber, Kelly's inside linebacker mate in 1984 for the Purple Reign and a first-team All-Pac-10 selection; and Michael Jackson, a 1978 second-team All-American, Rose Bowl hero and a 33-game starter. 

The UW Starting Lineup:

Left tackle — Jaxson Kirkland

Left guard — Ulumoo Ale

Center — Luke Wattenberg

Right guard — Corey Luciano

Right tackle — Henry Bainivalu

Tight end — Cade Otton

Tight end — Devin Culp

Wide receiver — Puka Nacua

Wide receiver — Ty Jones

Running back — Richard Newton

Quarterback

Kicker

Punter

Outside linebacker — Laiatu Latu

Defensive tackle — Tuli Letuligasenoa

Defensive tackle — Josiah Bronson

Outside linebacker — Sav'ell Smalls

Inside linebacker — Edefuan Ulofoshio

Inside linebacker — Jackson Sirmon

Cornerback — Kyler Gordon

Cornerback — Trent McDuffie

Nickel back — Elijah Molden

Strong safety

Free safety — Julius Irvin

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