Huskies QB Jake Browning in what it means to be healthy and mechanically sound
It was meant more as an honest question than a comical response. Chris Petersen was asked Wednesday for his thoughts on how "Jake" was performing this spring now that he appears to be at his best.
The query wasn't about quarterbacks Jacob Eason, Jake Haener or Jacob Sirmon.
"Oh. We got a lot of them," Petersen said with a bit of humor.
Actually, the Jake in question was senior Jake Browning.
"Yeah, he's doing a nice job. It's a lot of little subtle things," Petersen said. "He's very much a perfectionist. So he comes to work every day really trying to elevate his game. I think he's been sharp and I think he's got in some good work."
Browning, in a sense, is the prism through how the Washington Huskies are viewed. Throwing for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns while winning a Pac-12 Championship and going to the College Football Playoff as a sophomore tends to bring such expectations.
He wasn't 100 percent last season. That's what happens when a quarterback has offseason shoulder surgery. Browning didn't produce the numbers one would expect from a reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. Then again, an argument can be made Browning chose to be smart instead of prolific. He threw for 2,719 yards and 19 touchdowns. But his strength was in throwing a career-low five interceptions while completing a personal-best 68.5 percent of his passes.
Move forward to spring and Browning looks like the passer everyone was expecting to see after the 2016 season. His arm has power and on the first day, he overthrew his receivers by a good 5 yards. Browning's control has been better. He's thrown perfectly placed deep balls and has been one of UW's stars during spring camp.
The deep balls make for nice practice report fodder but Browning's perspective is a bit more technical.
"Yeah, I feel good but I'm not really thinking about too much," Browning said. "I'm just throwing and keeping my feet underneath me. I don't think it's ever been an arm strength issue. It's more that I've let my base get too wide and I don't get any power from the ground, so, I'm throwing all arm. I've just worked on narrowing my base a little bit on some of the deeper stuff. I feel like it's gone well."
Petersen said he "always enjoys" watching Browning practice because the former four-star prospect takes the pursuit of perfection to heart.
Focusing small details is why the Browning-Petersen relationship has been one of the most successful in school history. Both pay attention to the tiniest nuance because they know ignoring it could lead to a glaring problem.
Browning said he wants to improve certain aspects like his pocket presence but doesn't want to deviate from the methods he learned as a 10-year-old.
"If he wasn't (focused on small details) then he probably wouldn't be our quarterback," Petersen said. "I mean, it's that simple. You got too many guys that are focused around here. That's never been Jake. He hasn't flinched since the second he's been here. He's always prepared at a super-high level.
"That's just how it is. ... Those seniors know. They know how to do it."
Senior tailback Myles Gaskin provided one of the most interesting perspectives anyone has given about Browning. Frankly, it might be the most sobering assessment of any one player or position group this spring.
The Huskies' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns described Browning as "the head guy" yet Gaskin noted he's still showing up each day to practice because he knows what's at stake.
Haener, a redshirt freshman, didn't play last year but he's taken a ton of reps this spring and has turned heads. Sirmon came in with the mantle of having a big arm and prototypical build at 6-foot-5 and 223 pounds. Yankoff has the arm, athleticism and physique to reinforce why he was one of the nation's Top 100 prospects as a high senior.
Eason, although he cannot compete until 2019 due to NCAA transfer rules, is still a former five-star recruit who won eight games as a true freshman in the Southeastern Conference.
"You see where it's kinda like a competition because he's setting the standard and behind him, there's some good guys, too," Gaskin said. "He's obviously shown up every day to put the pressure on him but they're trying to put the pressure back on him. I think that's what's going to help each group grow. ... That's why I think it's going to push our team over the edge to be great."