2014 in Review
Regardless of who was behind center in 2014 - and the Huskies ended up starting three different quarterbacks throughout the year - what the Dawgs got from their trigger man wasn't good enough for the offense to be anything other than mediocre for the season. The quarterback play was largely a function of the opposition's defense. Against bad teams, it was largely pretty good. But against the better teams in the conference, it was decidedly lacking. In an offense that was either young, unspectacular, or both at each and every position group, the player with the single greatest ability to impact the play of the team - the QB - was unable to elevate the sum of the parts for the Husky offense.
After serving an offseason suspension that also had him missing the first game at Hawaii, Cyler Miles was the clear choice of the coaching staff for all of 2014. He had a fairly dramatic polarizing effect on the fan base, as one camp would point to his statistical production (2,397 yards, 66.6% complete, 7.29 yards per attempt, 17 TD's, 4 INT's) that appear at first blush to be pretty solid in a very conservative offense, while others would point to his physical limitations that restricted the development of the passing game and offense in general, and a general lack of playmaking ability.
Neither Jeff Lindquist nor Troy Williams showed much to inspire confidence that either would be a better long-term answer than Miles. After a relatively decent first half in the opener against Hawaii, Lindquist was unsettled and inaccurate the entire second half. In a midseason game at home against Arizona State played in some of the worst weather conditions ever at Husky stadium, Troy Williams struggled throwing the ball in any fashion, and didn't show any sort of command of the offense. In both cases, Miles was immediately inserted back into the lineup. Whatever the UW coaching staff used as their criteria for determining the QB that could best lead the team to victory, it was clear that their choice was Cyler Miles.
Regardless of anyone's opinion of the play on the field in 2014, the last memory of the season is coach Chris Petersen declaring the quarterback position an open competition heading in to 2015 - at his post-game press conference following the UW's bowl loss to Oklahoma State, before the ink was even dry on 2014. As Petersen said in so many words, the quarterback play has to get better, regardless of who holds the job.
Here's what we said heading in to fall camp last year
All of these guys bring significant physical skills to the table, and one thing we should be able to say with confidence is that the QB will be a legitimate running threat in 2014, something that really hasn't been the case since Locker graduated. All are former 4-star prospects, and while replacing a 3-year starter at QB is never easy, the soft four-game out of conference slate to start the 2014 season provides a nice cushion to break in a new starter.
Players Lost, Players Returning
Almost immediately after the season ended, redshirt freshman Troy Williams announced his decision to transfer from Washington. While he has tremendous physical skills, his propensity to turn the ball over and his inability to show great command of the offense prevented him from seizing on the huge opportunity he had last spring to win the job for 2014. While it's unfair to read too much into his one start due to the rain and 60+ mile per hour winds in his lone start against ASU, he didn't appear to have the grasp of Jonathan Smith's offense that night that one would hope to see, and didn't see the field again.
In a surprising move, the University of Washington announced that Miles would miss spring practices for personal reasons not related to any sort of discipline issues. While the door appears to be open for Miles to return at some point, rampant speculation is that he won't in 2015, and it's difficult to see him winning what's determined an open competition right now with his missing a second consecutive spring.
Redshirt junior Jeff Lindquist returns, and is probably the first man up this spring, as he's the only guy on the roster that's ever played a collegiate football game. Lindquist has a very strong arm and is an adept runner, but he hasn't really been able to make things "click" as a quarterback yet in his time here. Like Williams, Lindquist failed to seize the opportunity to move forward last spring in Miles' absence. Also like Williams, the situation in his lone start might not be a totally accurate indication of his abilities as a quarterback (first game with an entirely new coaching staff). After that game, Lindquist made several appearances in 2014 in limited duty, either to run what amounted to a wildcat package, or to throw deep passes. He had no completions in his four attempts after the Hawaii game, but threw a great ball that would've been a long TD against WSU in the Apple Cup.
Freshman KJ Carta-Samuels redshirted the 2014 season. Coming from a very run-centric offense in high school, he was the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year for the Huskies. There have been glowing reports - that should be taken with a grain of salt - about his development last year. Carta-Samuels, like Lindquist, possesses a linebacker's build and was a good runner in high school. While he has zero experience, he has a great opportunity to rise to the forefront of the QB competition over the next few weeks.
Although technically not a "returning" player, true freshman phenom Jake Browning is enrolled at the University of Washington and will participate in spring practices. In an offense that threw the ball 61% of the time, Browning established a national prep record with 229 career TD passes - including 91 (!) as a senior - and 16,775 yards. That's a mere 202 TD's and around 14,500 yards more than I had in only slightly less illustrious high school career, for the sake of comparison. Not particularly big (6' 1", 202 lbs) or blessed with great arm strength, Browning is a very intelligent quarterback with an accurate arm. Comparisons to Kellen Moore are rampant, and not just because Chris Petersen will be his coach. It's possible that he could win the starting job, but it seems best both for him and the team if he's afforded a redshirt season to increase his size and strength.
Storylines to Watch
The "well, duh" answer here is everything about this competition. For the second consecutive year, the Huskies are entering spring practices with the quarterback position in only semi-controlled chaos. The most visible, glamorous, critiqued, hashed and rehashed, and probably important position on the Husky offense is once again up for grabs, and it's almost impossible to really handicap the race. To be perfectly clear, the loss of Miles is big. The best thing for this team was for him to be here, and simply be beaten out because someone else was better. The loss of competition, when the loss is the returning starter, isn't a good thing, no matter your opinion of Miles' play last year.
Will the second consecutive season with the same offense and QB coach slow the game down for Jeff Lindquist? While Lindquist has the physical tools that any coach would want at the QB position, he's reportedly struggled with the speed of the game when things get real. He's also struggled with his accuracy at times. He's eerily similar to Jake Locker. But this is the first time he's had the benefit of the same offense with the same coaches for consecutive seasons. If he's able to capitalize on this as the only upperclassman on the roster, he has the chance to do yeoman's work at the QB position, and maybe more.
Is KJ Catra-Samuels the real deal? Following Petersen's announcement of an open quarterback competition and Williams' intent to transfer, Carta-Samuels enjoyed an ascent to "favorite player on the team" - the presumed backup QB - without ever throwing a pass or even seeing the field in a scant few months. Even though he was an Elite Eleven participant, Carta-Samuels only threw around 15 passes a game in high school, and only completed around 55% of those. From the tape I've seen (which is all old, mind you), he's a bit of a bull in a china shop as a passer as well. Tremendous arm strength, but a lot of wasted energy and effort. Every muscle in his body is tensed, and it's a very mechanical process. Kind of like Jake Locker. And Jeff Lindquist. It's very possible that he was the guy - and not Troy Williams, or Jeff Lindquist, or Cyler Miles - that took the big step forward under this new staff. But the step required is really, really big.
Is Jake Browning a system guy? Browning played in an offense designed to make a good QB look great in a box score. How does that translate to big-time college football?
If he's not, would Chris Petersen and Jonathan Smith actually start a true freshman at QB? The best case scenario for the UW doesn't have Browning starting at Boise State next September. The best case is that Browning pushes the competition, but is allowed to redshirt. But if he steps in this spring and wins the job walking away, are Petersen and Smith going to run out a true freshman behind a rebuilding offensive line in the first game next season? It's possible - maybe even probable - that Browning was the best passer on the roster the day he enrolled at the UW. But it's quite a chasm between having talent at Folsom High School and game planning for Oregon or USC. Even if he's the best, is it best for him to play right away?
Who's the best pooch punter out of this group? As we all know, the quick kick is going to break all ties in this quarterba.......Ahhhh, I'm just kidding.