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Originally published Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 2:54 PM

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Huskies problems at tight end continue as junior Chris Izbicki leaves team

Junior tight end Chris Izbicki has left the Washington football team, a week before it is scheduled to play Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The announcement Wednesday that Chris Izbicki has left the Washington football team is further evidence of the struggles the Huskies have had at tight end this season.

Izbicki, a junior from Lake Washington, was listed late last week as the starter at tight end for the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl game against Nebraska. However, Izbicki was a starter in name only. He started one game this season and had not been a factor in the team's offense for weeks. Washington reported that Izbicki left the team on his own. His departure was reportedly due mostly to his decreased role.

Izbicki made just two catches for 16 yards this season, the last coming against USC on Oct. 2 — and that was a memorable one, a 1-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Keith Price in the fourth quarter of a 32-31 win.

But Izbicki struggled to live up the billing he had as a senior at Lake Washington in 2006, when he was regarded as one of the top tight end prospects in the country. After redshirting in 2007, he didn't play in 2008 and played sparingly in 2009. He was essentially handed the starting job last summer when Kavario Middleton was kicked off the team for violating team rules. But Izbicki struggled to become a consistent weapon in the offense.

And as Izbicki struggled, UW increasingly turned to other options. Redshirt freshman Marlion Barnett started four games at tight end — including the first Nebraska game — and has four catches for 31 yards. But that's it for receptions at tight end this season, a total of six that has to rank as among the lowest ever — if not the lowest — for a school that has a reputation for turning out quality tight ends.

For the last two months of the season, UW used backup guard/tackle Daniel Kanczugowski as a tight end with increasing frequency, especially in short-yardage situations (he switches to uniform No. 91 when he lines up at tight end).

Last spring, UW figured tight end might be a position of strength. At that time, not only were they expecting Middleton to return, but coaches were raving about Izbicki, who was said to have worked as hard in offseason conditioning as any player on the team. UW coaches were also optimistic they might get some immediate help from highly-touted freshman Michael Hartvigson of Bothell.

But then Middleton was kicked off the team, and after playing in four games, Hartvigson suffered a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. He is expected to get a redshirt and will have four years of eligibility remaining.

The hope was Izbicki could fill the void. But UW coaches said last week before Izbicki left that they didn't feel they were getting the necessary results from the team's tight ends.

"Obviously we didn't get the production we would have liked," said offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

Coach Steve Sarkisian, explaining the move of Kanczugowski to tight end, said: "We just didn't have anything in that position that we felt was really sufficient enough to handle some of the tough defensive ends in our conference. So when we made the move we did it for a couple of specialty reasons, specific to games, and then it just kind of grew itself into almost an every-down guy."

Sarkisian was not available for comment Wednesday. But with Izbicki's role already declining, the impact on UW for the Holiday Bowl doesn't figure to be great. Barnett is listed as the backup, but Kanczugowski has been the starter the past two games. Those two figure to get the bulk of the TE work against Nebraska. Walk-on Marek Domanski is listed as the third-teamer.

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The long-term picture, however, is brighter. Hartvigson will return next year after showing enough that Sarkisian said last week he "definitely" could have made a difference this season.

And the Huskies have a commitment from Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Gig Harbor, regarded by some as the best tight end prospect in the country. He turned down offers from Texas and UCLA.

"Historically and traditionally for me the tight end has been a very big part of our offense," Sarkisian said. "So it's been somewhat frustrating but it will be something we will look to from a recruiting perspective and then also as we grow as a program to utilize that position more."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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