The Huskies "Spring Event" concluded last Saturday with roughly 3,000 fans on hand to observe the football team participate in what amounted to be just another spring practice complete with situational scrimmaging and live football drills.
While the Huskies didn't hold the kind of Spring Game that other programs put on, there were definitely some nuggets of insight to glean from the whole experience. Taken in the context of the entire spring camp, which was a bit more open than the past couple, it might even be possible to make some firm observations related to the overall status of Chris Petersen's football team as they enter the second half of their second offseason.
As we are prone to do, the UWDP staff is ready to over-analyze and over-react to just about every piece of information - and opinion - that has been revealed to us for the past month. Let's get started with our Post-Spring Roundtable.
Chris: We have to start with the defining story line of the spring: the quarterback situation. If you had to pick just one lesson learned from the three-way battle between Jeff Lindquist, KJ Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning, what would it be?
Kirk: Browning will be a good one, but he's not ready. Much like Troy Williams last year, Browning was the gunslinger of the QB group, and while that mentality produced some big plays over the spring sessions, it also resulted in a lot of interceptions. As we've all come to know well, that is the biggest taboo for Coach Petersen. Browning (who would under normal circumstances be spending his final few months as a senior in high school) is learning how much faster college football players are and that he can't get away with throws he made at Folsom. This will be a battle between Lindquist and KJCS.
Brad: This battle isn't close to being settled. Each guy made some nice plays, but each also made mistakes of the head-scratching, not-even-close variety. Developing better chemistry with the receivers, as well as bringing the true freshman (some that will undoubtedly see the field this year) up to speed, this summer is critical. There's some consensus that Lindquist has pulled ahead in the race, but if he has, the margin is razor-thin. This is going to last well into fall camp.
Ryan: Jake Browning is the future, but the future is not now. After struggling in the spring preview's 11-on-11 periods and throwing a pair of picks against zero touchdowns, it appears that Browning is on track for a redshirt season, and rightfully so. Having a year to acclimate to the speed of the college game and learn the Washington offense is the most beneficial long-term move, and Chris Petersen is nothing if not a long-term thinker. Lindquist was the most impressive QB prospect on the field, but Carta-Samuels will have every opportunity in the fall to wrestle that title away. I'll be shocked if we know who will start the Boise State game more than 14 days out.
Chris: There sure were a lot of interceptions this spring despite the fact that UW's playbook was pretty much unchanged from a year ago and that the Husky secondary was kind of thin much of the spring. Darren Gardenhire had nine of them (9!). Should that be cause for alarm? Why or why not?
Kirk: I'm not overly concerned with the picks. For one thing, the new guy (Browning) threw a lot of them - something to be expected of an early entry true frosh getting his first taste of the college game. For another this was a receiver group that featured just four scholarship players, so cohesiveness and quality depth was somewhat lacking. Finally, defenses are usually ahead of offenses at this point in the year. If this trend continues up through the final week of fall camp, then I'll get concerned.
Brad: I'm not all that concerned, but I'm also willing to live with a little more risk than it seems Petersen and Smith are. I'd rather work to reign in a guy that takes too many chances with his throws than get a guy that has no confidence in his ability to make plays to get the ball down the field. As Kirk mentioned, Browning had the lion's share of the picks, and the receiving corps was a little overmatched and really, really thin. Give some credit to Gardenhire, too. He looked great on Saturday.
Ryan: I'm not overly concerned yet, no, but perhaps that's just because it's April and hope springs eternal. Somehow, the most inexperienced unit of 2014—the secondary—is now the most experienced unit of 2015, and players like Sidney Jones IV and Gardenhire look every bit the part of budding stars. When you match players like that against an open quarterback competition, an offensive line that didn't feature any returning starters in the spring, and a bevy of walk-ons at wide receiver, it's inevitable that the defense is going to win more than its share of battles. If these sort of lopsided results continue when the offense is at its full strength, it'll be cause for concern. Until then, not so much.
Chris: Chris Petersen hinted before the spring that the offensive line might be better than people expected while the defensive line may be an area of rough transition. After 15 practices, do you think this opinion was validated or invalidated? Why?
Kirk: Almost impossible to say at this point, but I'm leaning towards "invalidated". I'm very encouraged by how guys like Mathis, Dissly and Qualls have performed and the emergence of Tupou. Add in the potential quality of depth provided by guys like Vea (assuming his injury isn't serious), Gaines, Johnson and Bowman and it's not hard to imagine a DL that takes only a modest step back from last year's highly-productive crew. As for the OL, I'm cautiously optimistic, and hopefully Charles and Shelton will be ready to go in the fall.
Brad: In what is very close to becoming a perpetual state of being, the offensive line scares the bejeesus out of me. I didn't come away with very much confidence on Saturday, either. While Charles is relatively proven, getting Shelton back doesn't instill a ton of confidence in me in getting things to look a lot better. The defensive line, meanwhile, looked like it isn't going to fall off a cliff in 2015 relative to 2014. I'd say Petersen's opinion after a mere 15 practices appears to be invalidated.
Ryan: From an offensive perspective, it's too early to accurately judge that statement, since the line was missing its two most experienced pieces in Dexter Charles and Coleman Shelton. Defensively, I'd say it's leaning toward invalidated. I'm absolutely thrilled with what we've seen from Will Dissly especially, and the more I see of him, the more he makes me think of a player like Ryan Clady: A relatively unheralded recruit whom Chris Petersen plucked from obscurity and turned into a bona fide national star. If he continues to improve at the pace set so far, he will make life after Danny Shelton easier than many of us dared to imagine.
Chris: What would you call your "breakout unit" of the spring and was there a particular player that caught your attention?
Kirk: Many of us had talked up the potential of the TE group and they did not disappoint. From Darrell Daniels to David Ajamu to Drew Sample to Josh Perkins, every day it seemed a TE was standing out. It seems increasingly likely that this diverse group is going to be counted upon to supplement a (mostly) young WR group and provide mismatches in the passing game and assistance in the run-blocking. Keep a particular eye on Ajamu who is starting to warrant the comparisons he himself made to Austin Seferian-Jenkins when he was being recruited by the UW.
Brad: Just so I'm not copying Kirk on everything here, I'm going to go with defensive line. Did you guys watch the Oklahoma drill?The defensive linemen largely physically dominated the o-line. Qualls looks like he's ready to assume a major leadership role. Dissly had stretches of dominance in the 11-on-11 stuff. Greg Gaines is huge, and a lot more athletic than I would've guessed. And Jaylen Johnson looks like an under-the-radar star in the Haou'li Kikaha model.
Ryan: I wholly endorse Kirk and Brad's picks of the TE and DL groups. I already talked about how much I love what I've seen from Dissly in particular, and Joe Mathis looks every bit the part of a dominant pass rusher, too. In terms of a group that's not been mentioned yet, I'd single out the secondary. Budda Baker is going to be this unit's heart and soul for at least two more seasons, and Darren Gardenhire's explosion was the surprise of the spring. In a pass-happy league like the Pac-12, having true shutdown corners is as necessary as it is rare, and having players like Jones and Gardenhire patrol the backfield while being backed up by talent like Jermaine Kelly and Naijiel Hale will be critical to the defense's success.
Chris: Were there any players that failed to impress or catch the attention of beat guys in a way that you had hoped or expected? If so, who and why?
Kirk: Without witnessing the practices in person it's perhaps a bit unfair to tag anyone as not meeting expectations since we're relying on 2nd hand info, but I was hoping to hear more buzz about guys like Jarett Finau, Psalm Wooching, Damion Turpin, Connor O'Brien and Brandon Beaver - upperclassmen that need to step up or find themselves on the outside looking in on the depth chart.
Brad: Tough question to answer because as Kirk says, we weren't there, and everything we get comes through someone else's filter. For me, many of the guys that I'd really hoped to hear about ended up missing a lot of the spring (Feeney and Bierria in particular). I wanted to hear about Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius really taking a big step forward. I wanted to hear that Ezekiel Turner grabbed hold of the safety spot next to Baker. I'd hoped to hear that either Greg Gaines of Vita Vea really stepped into the nose guard position, and that Qualls was getting some looks at end.
Ryan: We could answer this question so much better if we had been allowed in (hint hint, UW Department of Athletics!), but from what I've read and heard, it seems like the linebackers still have a long ways to go before the coaches are confident in the unit. Losing players like Shaq Thompson and John Timu, both of whom were natural leaders on the field, was always going to be hard, but the only linebacker I heard effusive praise for this spring was Azeem Victor, with a lighter dose of acclaim added for Sean Constantine. Simply put, the linebackers have to do better than what we've seen.
Chris: Every spring tends to bring more questions than answers. Besides quarterback, what is the biggest new or unanswered question that will linger going into the fall?
Kirk: There are a few, but the most important (IMO) is how the new OL will perform. This group was not helped by the fact that 2 of the most experienced returning players were either limited (Charles) or out (Shelton), hampering the ability of this group to find a clear starting five and building necessary cohesiveness. Winning the battle in the trenches is the surest way to win a game, and we just don't know if this unit is capable of leading this offense to better results than last year's disappointing unit.
Brad: In order: Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line, defensive line, o-line, linebacker, o-line, o-line, running back, o-line, receiver, o-line, o-line, and offensive line.
Ryan: On-field production aside, the Huskies lost a ton of leaders to graduation and/or the NFL draft, and more than a few players will need to step up to fill those vacant roles this summer and fall. It's also important that these new leaders be Petersen's guys—not necessarily players recruited by him, but definitely those who will act as his surrogate coaches while the staff is not allowed to coordinate training sessions and 7-on-7 events in the offseason. Finally, have the Dawgs finished losing players to attrition from the coaching change, or will there be one or two more guys who decide they don't love playing under Chris Petersen between now and August?