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Huskies get even thinner at linebacker position

Chris Petersen’s defense lost two players to season-ending injuries in the past week. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Chris Petersen’s defense lost two players to season-ending injuries in the past week. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

Washington was already precariously thin at the inside linebacker position.

Now the Huskies better hope they can compete with limited personnel.

Sixth-year UW head coach Chris Petersen announced on Sunday that freshman early enrollee Josh Calvert – a 6-foot-2, 223-pound former four-star prospect from Oak Park, California – will miss the 2019 season with a knee injury, as will fifth-year senior defensive lineman John Clark.

During the five August practices open to the media, Calvert had been practicing primarily alongside redshirt freshman Edefuan Ulofoshio with the third team at inside linebacker – behind senior starters Brandon Wellington and Kyler Manu and second-team redshirt freshmen Jackson Sirmon and M.J. Tafisi.

Of the remaining available linebackers, Wellington – a 6-0, 226-pound senior – brings the most experience, and even he touts just two starts and 50 total tackles in his three-year college career. The 6-1, 246-pound Manu has produced just 12 tackles in 24 games across four seasons.

Of course, it will be a tall task for anyone to replace departed linebackers Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett, who combined to compile 249 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles last season. Senior linebacker D.J. Beavers, an expected starter, was also forced to medically retire last spring.

Unfortunately, Clark – a 6-4, 289-pound senior – is no stranger to season-ending knee injuries. The former walk-on – who was awarded a scholarship last spring – tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in April 2017, during the Huskies’ first padded practice of spring ball. He had an initial surgery and then another in September 2017 when the swelling in his knee persisted.

Considering that he has sat out two entire seasons, Clark would likely be granted a waiver for a sixth season of eligibility should he apply for one from the NCAA. He registered five tackles in nine games last season and was set to contribute in the Huskies’ defensive-line rotation this fall.

“He’s kind of like the heart of our group,” UW defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe said of Clark earlier in August.

The grind continues

Washington’s experience may be an issue.

Its effort shouldn’t be.

“It just seems like we’ve got a lot of practicing left to do to be where we want to be for that first game,” said Petersen, a day after his team went through a scrimmage that featured 90-plus live plays. “But I will say this: this crew has worked really, really hard. It hasn’t always been as clean as we’d like it, but there hasn’t been an issue at all with any sort of effort – where we’ve got to go harder and we’ve got to pick it up.

“We’ve been at it for a while, and that’s been good. We’ve just got to get better, and if they stay with the same effort and attitude and all those things, we will.”

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