Who Replaces ZTF? We Break Down the Many Husky Candidates

Here are six options, their backgrounds and where each stands in becoming the starter at outside linebacker.
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The job originally belonged to the disruptive Joe Tryon, went to the promising Laiatu Latu and ended up in the hands of the opportunistic Zion Tupuola-Fetui, all in the space of eight months.

University of Washington outside linebacker.

It comes with strong-side responsibilities, which means you are mostly expected to play like a defensive end and be an edge-rushing maniac.

Guess what? The position is available again. 

It's like a house that keeps going on the market and won't sell.

Maybe it's haunted or something.

That said, the Husky candidates are lining up around the block in Montlake to replace ZTF, who unfortunately ruptured his Achilles heel last Friday and most likely won't be back until next spring.

Whoever gets this plum but suddenly unlucky assignment will play opposite Ryan Bowman, the sixth-year senior on the weak side. Somebody better tell Bowman it's not his fault his bookend teammates keep leaving.

Tryon already had paid his agent and couldn't backtrack last fall. Latu sadly injured his neck to the point he had to retire. ZTF had surgery this week.

So who will join Bowman up front? 

We have all the candidates and their resumes right here. Interviews are being scheduled. The steering committee headed up by Jimmy Lake and Bob Gregory has five months to huddle and settle on a new starter.

Sav'ell Smalls

The former 5-star recruit from Seattle would be a natural choice to replace Tupuola-Fetui except that he's been injured since Monday and had to watch practice. 

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound redshirt freshman is the only one of the job-seekers who has started a game for the Huskies before at outside linebacker, opening against Stanford last season when Bowman could't go, presumably over virus issues.

While he got to play early and appeared in all four pandemic-season outings, Smalls had to change his game some to be effective at the Pac-12 level.

"Sa'vell had to get used to not only the speed, but the offensive guys who were just as fast as him and they were really good," UW outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe said. "He went from being a powerhouse rusher to using technique."

Candidacy: The leader

Cooper McDonald

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Texan came ready to play last season as a true freshman and appeared in three of the four games. He nearly had a one-handed interception against Arizona, which proved to be his college initiation.

"When he came to the sideline, you could tell with his demeanor that this game was not too big for him," coach Jimmy Lake said. 

The Huskies expect him to be a defensive starter at some point fairly soon. If Smalls remains banged-up or falls behind at this position, McDonald will be the first-teamer when the season begins next September.

Candidacy: Second up

Jeremiah Martin

The Texas A&M transfer didn't start in three seasons, but a change of scenery has reinvigorated this one-time 5-star recruit from California. Martin learned both strong- and weak-side positions after arriving in Seattle to show how serious he is about playing more. 

He carries an imposing 6-foot-5, 262-pound frame, almost identical to Tryon, and brings a veteran approach to the Huskies.

"He knows when to turn it on, break down by the quarterback, stay off the quarterback, and he gets his pass-rush moves," Lake said. "He's had some really good ones against our offensive line."

Candidacy: Third up

Bralen Trice

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound sophomore from Arizona has been put on the fast track to learn the position, pulling extensive reps from the first to the third teams. He has no prior Husky game experience in two seasons.

Malloe, his new position coach, even brazenly said Trice, with his athleticism, could have a better college career than Tryon. With ZTF out, there couldn't be a better time to show it.

Candidacy: Fourth up

Jordan Lolohea

An intriguing player, he last appeared in an organized football game in 2016 at his Utah high school. Delaying his college arrival, he served a Mormon mission in Detroit for a couple of years. He arrived at the UW last year right when the pandemic hit.

The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Lolohea has spent most of his time getting acclimated to football again. He's made a lot of progress, but he's still not ready to take over a starting role. Lolohea is probably a year away from pulling significant minutes.

Candidacy: Fifth up

M.J. Tafisi

The Utah native has bounced back from a season-ending neck injury at Arizona in 2019 to work his way up the depth chart again. He's been pulling reps at both inside and outside linebacker, used as sort of an insurance policy in the latter role.

The 6-foot, 245-pound Tafisi likely is better suited for the inside, but it speaks volumes about his versatility that he would be considered for the outside, too. Yet he's more likely to take Jackson Sirmon's job than ZTF's.

Candidacy: Sixth up

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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