When you graduate your leading receiver and consensus All America punt-return man, lose the Pac-12 defensive player of the year and your most experienced No. 2 quarterback, you better have players ready to step up. The Washington Huskies have spent the past four weeks of spring football practice looking for guys who could fill the large shoes of Dante Pettis, Vita Vea and K.J. Carta-Samuels.
Pettis, Vea, linebackers Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor all have a chance to be selected very high in the 2018 NFL Draft. Quarterbacks Carta-Samuels and Daniel Bridge-Gadd both decided to transfer elsewhere to have an opportunity to start in the latter years of their college careers. That leaves UW with starting senior Jake Browning and no game-experienced passers behind him.
While incoming true freshman Jacob Sirmon and Colson Yankoff received all the publicity, returning red-shirt freshman Jake Haener has done a nice job running the second-string offense in spring drills. At 6-0, 195 pounds he’s not as big as the rest of the QB unit, but has great mobility, and demonstrates the ability to throw on the run. University of Georgia transfer and former Lake Stevens High School star Jacob Eason is practicing, but by NCAA rule, can not play in 2018.
Best case scenario is Haener wins the important back-up job and the Dawgs don’t have to burn a red shirt year on either Yankoff or Sirmon.
Big Man in the Middle
No one player is capable of filling the very large shoes of Morris Trophy winner and Pac-12 defensive player of the year Vita Vea. While Washington has experienced starting defensive linemen like Greg Gaines, Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman, they need understudies to become headliners.
“You lose guys every year. It’s an opportunity for the next guy behind him to shine and show what they can do. That’s the nature of college football. We’re going to miss Vita, but life goes on,” observed Washington co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Pete Kwiatkowski.
The Huskies have never been bashful about using younger players in meaningful football games. Sophomore Levi Ownzurike, junior Jared Pulu and red-shirt freshman Joe Tryon have all showed up in spring practices, according to defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe.
“You can tell one year later from experience those guys have gained a lot of confidence,” said Malloe. “They’re starting to come into their own and tweak their techniques so it fits their own personality. I think they’re going to do really well next year.”
Despite constant double-coverage Dante Pettis caught 63 passes, seven for touchdowns during his senior campaign in purple and gold. His late-season ankle injury did allow Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia to take on a bigger load in pressure-filled games like the Apple Cup and Fiesta Bowl. Both players have been trusty, frequent targets of Jake Browning during spring practice.
Six-foot, 4-inch Ty Jones has improved nicely since his freshman season, according to UW receivers coach Matt Lubick.
“The best thing with Ty Jones is he’s never satisfied. Everything he does he tries to compete and be the best. As a freshman those game reps and experience were precious. He’s playing with more confidence and I’m very happy with him, ” said Lubick.
The Dawgs are counting on the return of injured wide out Quentin Pounds and slot receiver Chico McClatcher. Freshmen Austin Osborne, Marquis Spiker and Trey Lowe will add more depth than Washington’s had at the receiver position in a few seasons.
The game is called ‘football’ for a reason. Someone has to kick off and make critical field goals and extra-points. Tristan Vizcaino had an inconsistent senior season, making just 12 of 19 field goal tries. He did overcome mid-season struggles to boot the game-winner against Utah.
Olympia native Van Soderberg had one start in 2017, missing both three-point attempts in a frustrating loss at Arizona State.
Over the past four weeks all of the placekicking candidates have been inconsistent. Soderberg appears to have a lower trajectory on his boots and had a couple attempts blocked during one practice. Left-footed Peyton Henry is pushing hard to win the battle, which no doubt will pick up again in late summer.
Spring Preview on KOMO
Husky faithful can meet their favorite players and take in the final scrimmages this Saturday, April 21 at Montlake. 2018 Fan Fest begins at 10 a.m. at the Dempsey Indoor Practice Facility. Have your photo taken with mascots Harry and Dubs as well as the Apple Cup Trophy.
The spring preview from Alaska Airlines Field begins at noon. Hear the new radio voice of the Huskies Tony Castricone and Damon Huard describe the action and interview players and coaches between 1 and 2 p.m. on KOMO NEWS 1000 AM/ 97.7 FM.