Key Losses: Cyler Miles (QB), Kasen Williams (WR), John Ross (WR), DiAndre Campbell (WR),Kendyl Taylor (WR)
Key Additions: K.J. Carta-Samuels (QB), Jake Browning (QB), Isaiah Renfro (WR), Chico McClatcher (WR), Quinten Pounds (WR), Andre Baccellia (WR), Nik Little (WR), Drew Sample (TE), Connor Griffin (TE)
If you spent any time around the Dawg Pound last season, you know that the passing game was a topic of much debate among readers. While it was fairly efficient - the Huskies threw only 6 interceptions against 400 attempts (1.5%) and completed 63.8% of their passes - there also weren't a lot of big plays resulting in only 19 touchdowns thrown and a pedestrian 10.98 yards per completion. Their pass efficiency rating of 135.26 ranked 52nd in the country, and by S&P's metrics the Husky pass offense ranked 90th.
How much of that was due to philosophy and how much to the players on hand? Hard to say, but the key triggerman for the passing game - QB Cyler Miles - was forced to retire due to a hip condition, so the Huskies will be breaking in a new starting QB for the 2nd season in a row.
Besides Miles, the Huskies will be without the explosive John Ross for the season as he rehabs a knee injury, and that takes away the fastest player on the offense and the player with the greatest ability to turn a routine play into a long touchdown. They also saw the physically gifted Kasen Williams exhaust his eligibility, and he finished his Husky career #3 on the all-time receptions list with 162.
On the other hand, for all his talent the Huskies didn't get the ball to Ross that often as he had just 17 receptions. And the lingering effects from his brutal lower-leg injury limited the effectiveness of Williams, especially early in the season.
The Huskies welcome a significant number of new faces to the receiving corps, with JC transfer Nik Little joined by freshmen Isaiah Renfro, Chico McClatcher, Quinten Pounds and Andre Baccellia. They also added walk-on transfer Connor Griffin and freshmanto the TE group. While Neal seems destined to redshirt, the rest of them are candidates to play this year.
Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius were thrown into the fire last year as true freshmen and will now be counted on to be key contributors. Pettis had a promising debut season, showing a nice all-around game with soft hands, deceptive speed and nice athleticism. He's got the tools to be the next great Husky WR. Lenius is still learning the game - this is just his 4th season playing football - but he has obvious physical gifts starting with his height and leaping ability, and he's already become a favorite of QB Jake Browning in practices.
Jaydon Mickens is the senior leader of the group, both vocally and with his steady play. The leading returning receiver with 60 receptions last year, he's poised to put himself 2nd in the history books in career receptions (he's 35 away from tying Jermaine Kearse).
The TE group looks as balanced and deep as it's been in a long time. Joshua Perkins is an under rated threat - he was 2nd on the team with 25 receptions last year and should continue to provide a mismatch for the Huskies against opposing linebackers. Darrell Daniels has game-breaking speed as we saw last year vs. Oregon State, and both he and Perkins are candidates to be moved around and split wide at times. David Ajamu and Drew Sample are more traditional big in-line blockers, but both have the hands to be threats in the passing game as well.
The biggest question mark is at quarterback where Head Coach Chris Petersen has yet to name a starter. Jeff Lindquist is the only QB with game experience, and while he had a Jekyll/Hyde performance last year in his only start vs. Hawaii, he's looked steady, efficient and improved in spring and fall camps. Browning is the big name, the hyped freshman that broke several national records in high school and enrolled early for spring practices. He's displayed a good touch on deep throws and made some big plays; he's also been picked off a lot as he adapts to the speed of the game at the college level. K.J. Carta-Samuels doesn't get as much ink, but he appears to be somewhere in-between Lindquist and Browning in terms of taking care of the ball and producing big plays.
It would be easy to say this aspect will be worse this year. Losing an established starting QB and your most explosive play-making WR while returning not much experience in your receiving corps is a recipe for trouble.
However it's important to remember that, as explosive as Ross could be and as much of a mismatch as Williams could represent, their actual production last year was modest. Whether due to physical limitations with Miles or philosophical approaches by Coach Petersen and OC Jonathan Smith is up for debate. We know that both have stated the need for more downfield passing this season, and to that end you can understand the reason why Browning is still in the race to be named the starting QB despite all the reasons why it would make sense to redshirt him. And while Ross is still likely the fasted player on the roster, don't sleep on the play-making potential of McClatcher and growth in the games of Pettis & Lenius. I also have to believe that Smith sees the strength of his TE group and will get them more involved this season.
While I'm not prepared to predict definite improvement, I think a 2nd year together will result in players and coaches feeling much more comfortable with each other, and I see enough raw talent on hand to counteract reasons for decline.