Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Long way before ’17 Huskies can match ’16 predecessors

Washington defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike (95) and Washington offensive lineman Jared Hilbers (70) participate in a drill at the University of Washington Spring Football Game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, April 22, 2017.
Washington defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike (95) and Washington offensive lineman Jared Hilbers (70) participate in a drill at the University of Washington Spring Football Game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, April 22, 2017. jbessex@gateline.com

All but maybe a couple hundred of you made the shrewd decision to not venture out into the weather to attend what was called the University of Washington football “Spring Preview.”

It mostly was a spring re-view. Another wet and cold day in a long and dreary string of them.

It wasn’t anything like a traditional spring game, but merely a practice open to the public with a few team sessions that resembled football.

So, there wasn’t much to see, and certainly nothing from which we may draw premature conclusions about the competitive nature of the 2017 Washington Huskies.

The defense dominated, perhaps surprising considering the number of high draft picks, now heading toward the NFL, who need to be replaced.

But there’s this, purely an optic from 10,000 feet, or whatever is the actual elevation of the press box: It still looks like a collection of really fine athletes across the roster.

And this wasn’t always the case.

Just looking at the drills, at the size and agility of the offensive and defensive lines, UW’s pushers and shovers look like the kind that USC and Stanford have benefited from over the years.

Even in the leaner seasons, the Huskies always had talented players handling the ball and scoring touchdowns. But they didn’t always block and tackle at the level of the top programs.

Coach Chris Petersen has closed the gap in the Pac-12 Conference by upgrading the quality of his linemen.

Is that enough? Is this group going to be able to sustain last season’s gains?

The fact is, future Huskies will not be judged by the old criteria. Those days are gone, Petersen and his staff have chased them away, perhaps for good, by making it to the national semifinals in 2016.

Here’s what he’s judged by now: The nation’s elite. By whatever teams are going to be considered Top 10 or 15 when the season starts next fall.

UW should be again, with a Heisman-candidate quarterback in Jake Browning. With a 1-2 punch at running back. With a number of high-level defenders still on the roster despite the departure of Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Kevin King and others.

Can they replace those guys? Can they find a game-breaking receiver/returner anywhere close to the mercurial John Ross?

You couldn’t tell by Saturday’s activities.

The Huskies obviously still have athletes; so many with unknown ceilings. That’s good.

Talent evaluators have a vocal inflection used to differentiate the potential of prospects. The two-syllable “ath-lete” is a guy who can help you if he has the drive and initiative and smarts.

But the three-syllable “ath-UH-lete” is man in full, ready to put the hurt on anybody who crosses his face.

Between now and this fall, the Huskies have to find out whether they still have enough of that latter group to come anywhere close to last season’s achievements.

While the Huskies were going through their drills, the televisions in the press box were tuned to the broadcast of Alabama’s spring game. It was a full-contact, game-like encounter, and the athleticism at every position on the field was jaw-dropping.

The comparisons are natural.

It was when these teams met, at the Peach Bowl in the semifinal game, that Washington learned where it stood relative to the national gold standard.

They were beaten 24-7. They couldn’t stop a Crimson Tide back like Bo Scarbrough, and they could only make it across midfield one time on offense.

Is it unrealistic to compare UW to Alabama? Right now, yes. But you know Chris Petersen has studied that game to find ways to try to close that gap, too.

Petersen and his staff got new contracts to go with the new expectations. The bar has been raised. Contending in the Pac-12 shouldn’t be the goal anymore.

Petersen is working at building this into a franchise, not just a program, a bankable and repeatable nationally elite team.

Saturday’s event at Husky Stadium was only a glimpse of the raw material, with a lot of work left to do, and even more questions to answer.

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