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Originally published Friday, December 14, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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Young Washington linebackers answered questions

The Huskies were inexperienced at the linebacker positions coming into the season. But sophomore John Timu and freshmen Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson played well, each being named All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dec. 22

Las Vegas Bowl

UW vs. Boise St., 12:30 p.m.,

ESPN

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A year or two from now, the hope will be that Washington's linebackers will earn higher acclaim than All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

But the fact all three of the Huskies' starting linebackers received honorable mention this season is an indication of how much the position developed during the season.

Linebacker was considered UW's biggest question mark when the year began. But now the position is a bright spot, with sophomore middle linebacker John Timu and freshman outside linebackers Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was asked this week if the linebackers made the greatest progress of any position group this season. "I would say so," Sarkisian said.

Of the three, only Timu was considered a likely starter in the spring. But even he was changing positions, moving from the outside to the middle to replace Cort Dennison, a senior last season.

Feeney spent the 2011 season as a safety on the scout team and Thompson was recruited with the idea that he would start out at safety. But UW's new defensive coaches moved each to linebacker during fall camp, and each emerged as a starter.

And they were three of UW's four leading tacklers in the regular season — Timu the leader with 76, Feeney third with 67 and Thompson fourth with 66.

"You look going into the season that you are going to play a true freshman, a redshirt freshman and a true sophomore, to have the season that they had was tremendous," Sarkisian said.

The shuffling was mostly the handiwork of first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and first-year linebackers coach Peter Sirmon.

It began in the spring when senior Nate Fellner was moved from safety to an outside linebacker spot as the coaches looked for ways to upgrade the position and get more speed and pass-coverage ability. Fellner, though, suffered a foot injury early in camp. Around the same time, Feeney and Thompson were moved.

The move of Thompson might have caught the most attention. Considered perhaps the best safety prospect in the country in 2011, he had chosen UW over California and a host of other schools. Washington, though, was solid at safety this year with senior Justin Glenn at free safety and junior Sean Parker at strong safety. Rather than let Thompson (and Feeney, for that matter) languish as a backup, the thought was to play them together.

"Creating some competition, trying to get the best guys on the field that we felt gave us the best chance to win the game." Wilcox said.

Thompson never batted an eye at the move.

"He is the epitome of a team player," Sirmon said. "He is absolutely fabulous to be around. There is no ego. He shows humility. He's humble. He wants to learn. He wants to practice. Guys enjoy being around him. We need more personalities like Shaq."

Thompson had interceptions or fumble recoveries in each of UW's last three games.

"He really came in with absolutely zero baseline playing that position, so he really developed well," Sirmon said. "It was pretty rough early in the season technique-wise and fundamental-wise. But you always saw the ability and he just had to keep doing the same things over and over again."

The Huskies are known to be looking for bigger linebackers to add to the group.

But Sirmon says UW also got solid play from juniors Thomas Tutogi and Princeton Fuimaono as spot starters and key reserves.

"I think starting in August, had you said you are going to end the year with five really productive players, I would have taken it," Sirmon said.

Notes

• UW reportedly received a commitment from safety Trevor Walker of Mansfield Timberview High in Arlington, Texas. Walker, 6 feet 1, 190 pounds, committed Friday during a ceremony at his school. The commitment was reported by a number of outlets covering the announcement.

Walker was among eight players who visited UW last weekend. He had earlier committed to Washington State, but decommitted and had said his final three were UW, Vanderbilt and Mississippi. Walker has said he will graduate this month and intends to enroll in college in January.

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

On Twitter @bcondotta

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