SEATTLE – Jovial by nature, Jaydon Mickens often smiles when he speaks, his excitable nature conveyed nearly every time he’s interviewed.
But that’s just the junior receiver’s default. Ask him about third-year sophomore Washington Huskies quarterback Cyler Miles, and Mickens cranks the cheer up another notch.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “You should see what’s going on out in practice.”
You can’t, of course, because practices are closed. So here’s Mickens, asked how the insertion of Miles as UW’s starting quarterback this week against Eastern Washington (12 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Networks) might help improve an offense that struggled its way to just 17 points last week against Hawaii.
“I feel it changes a lot,” Mickens said. “It’s a lot of leadership. I’m not saying that Jeff (Lindquist) didn’t have that – he definitely had that – but it’s a better feel,” Mickens said. “It feels like we’ve kind of got another Keith Price back there, really constructing the offense, really putting balls where they need to be, holding his receivers accountable on everything, and it’s moving a lot faster and a lot smoother.”
The offense moved neither fast or smooth last week against Hawaii, where third-year sophomore Jeff Lindquist made his first career start at quarterback – Miles was suspended – and completed only 10 of his 26 pass attempts, and only 3-for-15 in the second half. UW punted on eight of its nine second-half possessions and totaled only 336 yards of total offense, 91 of those coming on a touchdown pass from Lindquist to sophomore John Ross in the second quarter.
Huskies coach Chris Petersen named Miles the starter on Monday, and that decision was made on Sunday after UW returned to campus. And as soon as Mickens got off the Huskies’ team bus that day, he got in his car, drove to go pick up Miles, and drove right back to the stadium for some film study.
They watched video until 3 p.m., Mickens said.
“Everything that we watched and we’ve seen him do is going on out here,” Mickens said. “When he tells me he’s going to hit me, it comes right to me. When he tells me he’s going to hit Ross, tells me he’s going to hit Kasen (Williams), it’s just clicking in. It’s working.”
Miles, who was suspended for the Hawaii game as punishment for an offseason altercation that resulted in an assault investigation, is not being made available to speak with reporters until after Saturday’s game. He hasn't spoken since making a brief statement and answering a few questions after practice on Aug. 6.
But his teammates have no problem talking about him.
“Credit to Jeff – he went down to Hawaii and got himself a victory, and he did everything he was supposed to,” Williams said. “But Cyler has that game experience. He’s been on the road before. He’s been at home before. He knows what to do in games. With that being said, I think there’s a lot of times … sometimes Jeff missed a few receivers when they were open, and Cyler will find those receivers. And on top of that, Cyler has a scrambling effect to him as well.”
Miles is the only quarterback on the Huskies’ roster who attempted a pass in 2013, when the 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore started one game, appeared in eight and completed 37-for-61 passing for 418 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 200 yards on 23 carries.
As a runner, Williams said, the “sky’s the limit” for Miles.
“We’ve seen him rush and how fast he can get out and the things that he can do with the ball in his hands,” Williams said. “With that being said, you’re going to see that on Saturday, and on top of that, just with him scrambling and us as receivers working for him to get open, he’s a lot more patient with that, too.”
Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith praised Lindquist’s effort against Hawaii, and noted that it wasn’t just the quarterback who was out of sync. The Huskies didn’t run the ball particularly well, either.
“I look at the third-down situations we put Jeff in, and we’ve got to do better on first and second down,” Smith said. “If you’re going to hand the ball off on first down, you need to get more than two and three (yards) a pop. We want to get some yards there. So there’s no doubt it’s a group effort.”
But there’s a reason a change was made.
“We obviously hope we score more than 17,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to. And he’s (Miles) going to go out there and this will be his first game. Is he going to be perfect? No. But we expect him to make some plays.”
Mickens sure seems to.
“It’s a different swagger when he’s out there,” he said. “He’s changing plays, he’s reading coverages, he’s faking the defense out with this and that. It’s just amazing to see him do. When he rolls out he’s still looking down the field, keeping his arm square. When he has to run, you know he can run. He’s making everybody else play better.”
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple