It was a brief drill, one that coach Chris Petersen admitted afterward will be “few and far between” as the Washington Huskies churn through fall camp.
And it was a reminder of just how unseasoned the Huskies are at quarterback.
At the end of Saturday’s practice, each of UW’s three oldest quarterbacks – third-year sophomore Cyler Miles, third-year sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams – took off their gold, no-contact jerseys and put on regular white shirts like the rest of their offensive teammates.
Then, as planned, they got hit, each quarterback given three snaps to score from inside the 5-yard line.
Miles did, twice. Lindquist was stuffed. And Williams scrambled just short of the goal line before fumbling the ball forward and into the hands of a defensive player in the end zone.
A day later, offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said of that play: “Troy tries to put his foot in the ground and split up in there. He probably hadn’t been live for two years. So we’re going to put them in those situations.
And: “Knowing you can get hit, in the back of your head, changes things.”
Nineteen days remain before one of those players will be hit during Washington’s season opener at Hawaii. It won’t be Miles, who will serve a one-game suspension for his role in an offseason altercation. But as the most experienced quarterback on the roster, Miles could very well start against Eastern Washington on Sept. 6, and either Lindquist or Williams will get the nod against Hawaii.
Each player seems to be making positive progress. That much is evidenced by the airhorn that sounds each time the offense commits a turnover. There were five of them on the third day of practice. On Sunday, there were only two – an interception of a deflected pass by Lindquist, and a fumbled handoff exchange between Miles and running back Lavon Coleman.
Williams might have been the most impressive of the three quarterbacks during Sunday’s session, highlighting the day with a 53-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver John Ross, who beat the coverage of all-conference cornerback Marcus Peters.
Williams, who has not been made available to speak to reporters, has also completed a pair of well-thrown deep passes to senior receiver Kasen Williams over the last week.
“There’s no doubt he’s made a couple nice deep throws the last couple days,” said Smith, who also coaches the quarterbacks. “That’s going to be a big piece of what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to be able to stretch the field, feel like we can spread people out, run the ball, do some different things. But hitting them on deep balls, there’s nothing more frustrating (than when) we get a guy open down the field and we miss him, and Troy’s been pretty accurate on that.”
He’s improved in other areas, too.
“We felt like he could change a couple things to his game through the summer,” Smith said. “I think he’s done that. He’s really dived in. We’re pleased with his progress. He’s always had some physical tools, but now as he’s developing the mental side and he feels really comfortable with things, and that just comes with reps, we like his progression right now.”
Of course, Smith was complimentary of Miles and Lindquist, too. He noted that Miles, who missed all of spring practice while suspended, would have to “work out some kinks there. I think Cyler has a chance to really be good, and he’s been working hard. First couple of days you could see he was really raw, but I think he’s really dialed in the last two or three.”
And with the 6-foot-3, 246-pound Lindquist, Smith said, “every time Jeff gets in there, the ball moves down the field. We’ve been pretty happy with that in regards to his ability to move the team down the field. And he brings a dimension where, again, those other two do, too, but Jeff can run with the ball. Bigger kid, and (we’ve) asked him to do that. It’s a process. We haven’t set a timetable on anything and we’re not near a decision but those three are working hard.”
There supposedly isn’t a timetable, either, for when the Huskies might begin giving more practice repetitions to the quarterback who they plan to start against Hawaii. So far, snaps have been split relatively evenly between Miles, Lindquist and Williams, with freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels also getting some reps with the third-team offense.
The Huskies are scheduled to hold a closed scrimmage Monday. Smith said the quarterbacks’ performance during that period might be weighted more heavily than a normal practice, but that steady progression is what’s most important.
“A little bit, we want to look at the ability for the guy to have a day-to-day approach getting better,” Smith said. “Because we’re going to go from Week 1 through Week 13, however many games we’ve got, and so we’re going to be able to see that approach for a guy to stay steady Eddie, not too high, not too low. And so that’s why we’ve got to space this thing out in regards to making a decision.”