Michael Penix Jr. still dropped dimes to a number of receivers as Washington opened spring camp on Monday.
The difference, however, from the last time Penix rained down completions against Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl just over two months ago is 60 percent of the line blocking for him.
Gone are Corey Luciano, who started all 13 games last season at center, and Henry Bainivalu, a two-year starter at right guard from 2021-22.
Jaxson Kirkland, who played three different positions – right guard, left tackle and left guard – over the course of his five-year career is also off to the league.
UW elected not to dip into the transfer portal to fill any of the three departures.
Instead, offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb and offensive line coach Scott Huff believe there is enough depth returning to replace the trio.
During the first day of spring ball Matteo Mele (center), Julius Buelow (left guard) and Nate Kalepo (right guard) worked with the first-team offense.
Mele, a senior, has one career start at center – 2019 at Arizona, his hometown of Tucson – but has played 364 snaps at the position over the past four years.
The unique development is switching Kalepo from the left to right side of the offensive line.
Kalepo has played 190 snaps at left guard and 120 snaps at eight guard, though most of his snaps came on the right side towards the latter half of last season.
Buelow, a former four-star recruit in the 2019 class out of Kapolei, Hawaii, was recruited as an offensive tackle and played in all five games in 2022 at left tackle.
In 2021 under then-offensive coordinator John Donovan, Buelow started five games at left guard and didn’t allow a single sack or pressure, according to Pro Football Focus’ analytics.
Another player to watch is sophomore Geirean Hatchett.
“You’ve got Julius Buelow and Geirean Hatchett, and I really was impressed with those guys,” UW head coach Kalen DeBoer said last Friday.
“Geirean was a guy that … we use the ‘Starving Board,’ and ‘starving’ is a way to explain guys who really want it. He continually was a guy who showed a starving mindset in doing everything he could to be the best he could be. So I’m excited to get him on the football field and get him out there.”
Geirean, the older brother of freshman lineman Landen Hatchett, played in all 13 games last season at three different positions; primarily center and right guard.
He also played a key role on special teams in 2022 as the MIKE.
“Ideally you’d like to get a younger guy in there, and then you got a guy there that knows it for the next four years,” special teams coordinator Eric Schmidt said last November on Hatchett’s role.
“You’re kind of looking for your best interior guys, maybe a younger guy that you know is going to travel and be there every single week and eventually probably work into your rotation.”
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Same Faces, New Places on Defense, Too
Similar to the offense, UW’s defensive coaches have sought ways to eradicate a down year from the secondary.
One of the primary factors to the Huskies’ struggles against the pass in 2022 was the number of injuries sustained, even before the start of the season.
Julius Irvin, a starter at cornerback last season, medically retired before the start of the spring after four seasons at UW.
The staff added corner Jabbar Muhammad, a 13-game starter at Oklahoma State, through the transfer portal to help offset the departure of Jordan Perryman.
Muhammad won’t practice with the team for the first three days of camp, but he’s already made a strong impression on the coaches.
“Tremendous maturity. Very veteran player. Great football IQ. Loves the game and very competitive,” co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chuck Morrell said of the Cowboys’ transfer on Monday.
Of the players that did take the field with the first-team defense, sophomores Elijah Jackson and Jaivion Green took snaps at cornerback while junior Mishael Powell moved over to a mix of safety and the Husky nickel position.
Of the younger players Morrell is most excited about is redshirt freshman safety Tristan Dunn.
“Tristan Dunn. That’s the big one right there,” Morrell said.
“You look at him from a specs standpoint he’s got all the tools. It’s just really about growing from a maturity standpoint, developing his body and developing his football IQ.
“We’re definitely taking some strides along those lines. I think he kind of always hovered at times last year for us right on the edge of the depth chart, but probably didn’t have the confidence to put him in much last year. That’s a big push he in the off-season, to get him ready to be in the depth chart for us.”
When DeBoer took over as head coach in December 2021 the first name on his in-state list of recruits was Dunn.
Dunn, a 6-foot-4, 189-pounder out of Sumner High School, switched his commitment from Arizona State to Washington days before National Signing Day after being committed to the Sun Devils for six months.
The previous coaching staff under Jimmy Lake didn’t extend an offer to the Evergreen State product, but DeBoer and Co. did.
Why did the new staff want Dunn so bad?
“He strikes the…living…crap out of people,” Morrell said with a grin.
“Man, I think that’s the biggest thing. He was a striker. When you evaluate defensive backs there’s some guys that quote, unquote, play the game still in an old school style, which is very physical.
“I think that’s the first thing that popped off right away. He plays the game extremely physical. He’s got good foot-speed for his length, and obviously he’s got tremendous range.”
Maurice Heims Sends Out Positive Message
Sophomore edge rusher Maurice Heims confirmed that he sustained an injury during Monday’s practice and is on the road to recovery.
Heims, a 6-foot-4, 246-pound defender went down on the field and remained on his back for several minutes with several UW trainers. He was moved onto a backboard before being carted off the field inside the Dempsey Indoor.
The school released a statement Tuesday morning.
“Following a collision during Monday’s practice, Maurice Heims was transported to a local hospital where he underwent several medical tests. He was cleared to return home earlier this (Monday) evening where he is recovering.”
Heims played in seven games for UW last season and recorded his first career sack in the Apple Cup.