As the Huskies prepare to begin preseason practices on Saturday – and with coach Chris Petersen’s pre-camp press conference scheduled for 12 p.m. Friday – here are three players who will be interesting to monitor over the next few weeks and could have a substantial impact this season.
BRAYDEN LENIUS | WR | So. | North Vancouver, B.C. | 6-foot-5, 220 pounds
With John Ross III sidelined this season by an ACL injury, the Huskies are left with four returning scholarship receivers (plus four incoming freshmen and JUCO transfer Nik Little), with Lenius maybe being the member of that group with the most room for growth this season. His height and leaping ability allow him to make some catches that shorter players probably can’t, and that should come in particularly handy in the red zone, where the Huskies too often settled for field goals a year ago. We saw Lenius make plenty of impressive catches in the spring – if someone was leaping over a defensive back to haul in a deep throw, it was almost always him – and preseason camp will offer more chances for him and the rest of the receivers to gel a bit more with whoever the starting quarterback is going to be. Pegging Lenius as a starter at outside receiver seems a safe enough bet regardless.
ELIJAH QUALLS | DT | R-So. | Sacramento, Calif. | 6-foot-1, 311 pounds
Danny Shelton might have meant more to the Huskies last season than any other player on the team, so the star nose tackle’s departure leaves a significant void. But it’s worth remembering that Qualls, the guy seemingly tabbed to step into that nose tackle position, was a pretty highly sought-after recruit himself – a 4-star prospect with a top 100 national rating, in fact, according to Scout.com. And he showed flashes of that promise in limited playing time behind Shelton last season, finishing the year with 13 tackles (and two for loss). Now, Qualls begins fall camp for the first time as an expected starter, the likely anchor of a young, inexperienced defensive line. “He’s a guy that has a lot of short-area quickness, a really powerful guy, (and) can give offensive guys a lot of trouble because he’s so quick off the ball,” defensive line coach Jeff Choate said in spring. “And he is strong. He’s done a nice job in the offseason of developing more power.”
SIOSIFA TUFUNGA | OL | R-Sr. | Long Beach, Calif. | 6-foot-4, 293 pounds
It’s true the Huskies return only one player who was a full-time, bona fide starter on the offensive line last season – that’s fifth-year senior guard Dexter Charles, and even he missed four games due to injury and an academic issue. But there are still a few players available who have at least some starting experience. Tufunga, a fifth-year senior from Long Beach, Calif., is one of them. He started five games last season at guard and appeared in all 14, then slid over to first-team center during spring practices. Offensive line coach Chris Strausser implied during spring that third-year sophomore Coleman Shelton (himself a seven-game starter last season) might have spent some time at center if he hadn’t been out while recovering from injury, so it remains to be seen how that all shakes out. Seems like regardless of who plays center, though, Tufunga figures as an important piece to a group that lacks much experience.