Chris Petersen joked on Friday that if there’s any position group that reporters need not watch when the Washington Huskies begin preseason practices on Saturday morning, it’s the quarterbacks.
“That’ll narrow things down for you,” the UW head coach said. “Go everywhere else, but there.”
It was a nice try, anyway.
The truth is that UW’s quarterback competition deserves as many headlines as it gets. Consistency mostly eluded the Huskies’ passing game last season under the guidance of since-retired quarterback Cyler Miles, who completed 66.6 percent of his passes and threw only four interceptions, but too often seemed hesitant to stay in the pocket and take shots down the field.
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That said, Petersen clearly believed throughout the season that Miles was the Huskies’ best option. And now they don’t even have him.
After announcing an indefinite leave of absence in March for undisclosed reasons, Miles in late June announced his retirement due to a hip injury, so here the Huskies are.
They split repetitions more or less equally among three players in the spring — fourth-year junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning — and those same passers will be given equal time with the first-team offense early in camp, too. (Junior-college transfer Tony Rodriguez, the Huskies’ fourth scholarship quarterback, will likely redshirt.)
Petersen said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith already has the rep distribution charted out.
“We’ve said a lot, we’re into accuracy, decision-making, those types of things,” Petersen said. “But also just not making a real negative play. We’ve had those guys who can make some plays, but every 10th play is something negative and puts the rest of our team at a disadvantage. So it’s a combination of all those types of things.”
Each quarterback candidate showed flashes of those traits in the spring, but none in such a way to mark himself the favorite. Maybe Lindquist has an advantage because he’s actually played in a college football game. Maybe Carta-Samuels is ready after what Petersen described as a productive redshirt season. Maybe Browning is poised enough to become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for a Petersen-coached team.
Or maybe there is no alpha dog in this group, and this competition will last into the season. Somewhat surprisingly, Petersen said Friday that he’s open to using a multiple-quarterback system, something he didn’t even explore last season when the passing game was such a disaster that the coach himself described it as “painful.”
“We’re open to everything,” Petersen said. “We are very open to whatever we think is going to give us the best chance to score points, and that’s the bottom line. Does everybody have their prescribed way that they love it? Yeah. I don’t think there’s a coach in the country that’s probably any different. We’d probably all like Russell Wilson running the show for us. Tom Brady. When you’ve got that, awesome. But until we get that, we’ve just got to figure out what our plan is.”
Part of the plan, Petersen said, will be trying to gash defenses with passing plays that actually require a throw of more than, say, 15 yards.
“Do we need to hit more explosives? Would we like to throw for more yards? Yeah, we would, for us to be effective on offense,” Petersen said. “But the bottom line, at the end of the day, really, we’re talking about points. That’s why I always hesitate to go into this yardage thing. But I think when you look at your ideal, how you want it to look, yardage-wise, balance run-pass, those type of things, we’ve got to do more things in the pass game.”
And they have to do it with a new quarterback, possibly one with just one career start to his name (Lindquist), or maybe one of the two others who have never taken a snap.
But that’s what fall camp is for — developing unproven prospects into capable Pac-12 players.
Besides, didn’t anyone tell Petersen that Brady has to serve a four-game suspension?
Petersen announced that sophomore cornerback Naijiel Hale, the son of the late rapper Nate Dogg, has been dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.
Petersen said simply that the Huskies “wish Naijiel well” and offered no further details.
Hale posted a message on his Instagram account announcing that “I will be taking my football career elsewhere and thank the university [sic] of Washington for everything they’ve taught me.”
A four-star recruit out of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, Hale appeared in 14 games and made two starts for the Huskies as a freshman in 2014. He finished the season with 12 tackles and two passes defended, and seemed likely to carve out a bigger role in the Huskies’ secondary this year.
THREE TO WATCH
Players to keep in mind as the Huskies prepare for the season:
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With John Ross III sidelined by an ACL injury, the Huskies are left with four returning scholarship receivers (plus four incoming freshmen and junior-college 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 jell 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.
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 four-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 the spring. “And he is strong. He’s done a nice job in the offseason of developing more power.”
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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, 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 the 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.