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Preseason Roundtable: Which players will make or break UW’s season?

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Preseason Roundtable: Which players will make or break UW’s season

Ty Jones catches a pass during one of Washington's first practices of the year at Husky Stadium on Oct. 9, 2020.

Before Washington takes the field in Berkeley to face California Nov. 7, our writers are sitting down to reevaluate the state of the football team. Last time, The Daily discussed who will step up on the D-Line.

Today, writers Anthony Edwards, Nick Mendro, Andy Yamashita, and Nick Lombroia talk about which players they think will determine Washington’s fate in a shortened 2020 season. 

Nick Mendro:

To me, this is a no-brainer. Senior defensive back Elijah Molden is the heart-and-soul of head coach Jimmy Lake’s defense, which has relied heavily on a steady dosage of game-changing secondary players since Lake arrived in 2014. 

With former Husky Myles Bryant, Molden’s partner-in-crime over the past two seasons, now holding down a roster spot on Bill Belichick’s defense in New England, the electrifying All-Pac-12 First Teamer from last year has made it abundantly clear his intentions for the abbreviated 2020 football season.

It’s no question Molden loves the game of football — his comments about the return of the 2020 season proves that. And his impact from previous seasons clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed. With seven preseason watch list accolades, including the Nagurski, Thorpe, and Bednarik, Molden will be on center stage the moment the Huskies’ opposition takes possession of the football each and every game. 

With four interceptions and three forced fumbles, not to mention a team-leading 79 total tackles, even the most inattentive UW alum can understand why. The Huskies will absolutely need this kind of production come November and December, especially after the departures of star defensive linemen Joe Tryon and Levi Onwurizike for the 2021 staff. 

If the team wants to maintain their status as a defensive juggernaut — which has, in large part, translated to much of UW football’s success over the past half-decade — the Huskies will need another All-Pac-12 First Team performance from Elijah Molden.

Anthony Edwards:

Following the departure of its two leading pass-catchers, Aaron Fuller and Hunter Bryant, and starting receivers Andre Baccellia and Chico McClatcher, Washington is left without much experience in the passing game.

Whether the Huskies have success throwing the ball this season will be determined by how well its quarterback plays and his connection with one receiver in particular: junior Ty Jones.

Jones was bothered by a wrist injury much of last season and didn’t catch a single pass in four games. Using a medical redshirt, he preserved eligibility and should be at full speed in 2020.

Despite last year’s goose egg on the stat sheet, Jones is still a proven threat in the passing game for the Huskies. In 2018, Jones led the team with six touchdown receptions and finished third on the team with 491 receiving yards and looks to match or improve on those numbers this season.

As Washington’s biggest receiver at 6-feet 4-inches and 210 pounds, Jones will be a comfortable target for whichever quarterback wins the starting job in week one.

Andy Yamashita:

The obvious answer to this question in my opinion is clearly whoever starts at quarterback in John Donovan’s new offense. However, if asked to pick a specific player, I’m going to have to say running back Richard Newton. 

In his limited interactions with the press since taking over as offensive coordinator, Donovan has already stressed that he wants to run the ball. Following the early departure of 2019’s lead back Salvon Ahmed, Newton seems like the heir apparent to take over and continue Washington’s strong tradition of running backs. 

As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Newton rushed for 498 yards on 117 attempts. He established himself as a solid option in short-yardage situations, and added 10 touchdowns despite missing a couple games due to injury. With more opportunities next year and if he can stay healthy, a strong rushing attack built around Newton will be crucial to Washington's success this season. 

Nick Lombroia:

When Washington’s junior pass rusher Joe Tryon opted out of the 2020 season and signed with an agent in late August, the Huskies lost a key piece to their defence. Tryon had 41 tackles and 8 sacks in 2019 and was slated to be a major player in the Huskies pass rush in 2020 before opting out.

With such a loss to the defence, the Huskies will need players to step up in the pass rush, including senior linebacker Ryan Bowman.

Last season, Bowman and Tryon were a one-two punch for the Huskies at outside linebacker, the two combined for 13.5 sacks in 2019 with Bowman getting 5.5 sacks and 34 tackles last season. With Tryon gone, Bowman will have to increase his production if the Huskies hope to have the same edge threat that they had in 2019.

As a senior, Bowman will also be expected to take a leadership role on the defense. As the only senior linebacker on the team, Bowman is the elder statesman of the Huskies front seven.

Fortunately for Bowman, the Huskies have many talented young pass rushers that should help fill the hole left by Tryon, including 5-star freshman Sav’ell Smalls. 

Reach The Daily’s Sports Staff at Twitter: @UWDailySports

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