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2015 Season Review - Quarterbacks

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Next up in the post-season evaluations is the position that's the QB of the offense - the quarterback.

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The quarterback position for the Washington Huskies was unsettled as incumbent starter Cyler Miles sat out spring practices for undisclosed reasons.  After he retired from football in June, it was official that the UW would start its third quarterback in as many seasons.  But entering fall camp, who the trigger man would ultimately be was still in question, and it remained that way right up until days before the first game at Boise State.

Even though prized freshman Jake Browning enrolled in time for the 2015 spring practices, most people felt that Jeff Lindquist would ultimately win the job in what was shaping up to be a close battle between he, Browning, and redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels.  With the lack of information, we fans were left to speculation, second-hand news, and parsing every single word of the non-answers the coaches provided us.  Right before fall camp began, here's what we said at the 'pound:

There's a substantial amount of talent at this position, but a dearth of experience. No matter who wins the job, a team that's living on the margins on offense needs positive play and an increase in production from the QB position in 2015 to meet the modest success of 2014. And since it's the offseason, and we're all filled with hope, here's hoping that a player emerges that can lead this team on and off the field.

Earth-shattering stuff, to be sure.

2015 Season in Review

Jake Browning was named the starter in the week leading up to the opener at Boise State after taking the lead in the race late in fall camp (and possibly due to an ankle injury to Jeff Lindquist).  He was the first true freshman in the history of the Washington Huskies to start an opening game.  To make the task all the more difficult, the Huskies were rebuilding an offensive line that had boasted multi-year starters across the board, with a group that had just over 10 career starts between them.  And while a star wasn't necessarily born that night, Browning showed a tremendous amount of poise on the road in a tough matchup against a team that finished with a very solid defense (at worst) in 2015.  With an ultra-conservative game plan that looked to protect Browning from having to win the game on his own, his best drive of the game was his last when he nearly drove the Huskies into sure-fire field goal range, before he turned back into a freshman and took a sack that made a long kick into a driving wind a bit too much to count on.  But for all of the things he did and didn't do that night, the most important was showing that the moment wasn't too big for him, and it wasn't going to be in 2015.

There are a myriad of reasons why the 2015 offense struggled to generate production - both yards and points - throughout most of 2015.  People will point to the coaching staff's offensive design and playcalling.  The youth on the offensive line was a major factor (freshmen - one true, one redshirt - at both tackles, and lots of guys moving in and out of the lineup in an attempt to get the best five guys at their best positions on the field at one time).  Browning is certainly a part of this conversation, particularly with regards to the losses to Cal, Utah, and ASU, when his true freshman-ness was most on display in the form of sacks taken and turnovers lost at the most crucial times.

But by the end of the season, it was (or at least should've been) crystal clear to all Husky fans that the Dawgs have found a QB that's both a starter and a potential star for as long as he's playing on Montlake.

Browning isn't the biggest guy, nor is he the best athlete, and he's not going to wow anyone with a howitzer of a right arm that allows him to throw 50 yards on a frozen rope from his back foot.  Instead, he relies on tremendous anticipation in throwing his receivers open, well above-average accuracy in placing the ball where it needs to be thrown, and a great understanding of both his offense, and reading an opponent's defense.  And make no mistake, the level of complexity of the UW's passing offense in pre-snap reads and adjustments, and the route concepts they employ, are far greater than your typical Air Raid passing attack.  While no one really wants to see Browning as a regular part of the running attack, he showed enough ability to use his feet to avoid sacks and even pick up a yard or two here and there, especially in the second half of the season when he began to realize that the safest place for him was forward in the pocket instead of looping wide around it, that fans don't really need to worry about him growing roots when he's back to pass.

None of this is to anoint Browning, even if it sounds like it.  He struggled with his accuracy on the deep ball consistently throughout the season.  He lacks the arm strength to make the deep-intermediate throws when he's not able to get his whole body into the pass - the times when the pocket isn't clean enough for him to utilize his anticipation.  He took bad sacks at critical times, and turned the ball over more than one would like, particularly in a conservative offense that puts a premium on decision-making from the quarterback.  Given his frame, arm strength is probably going to be his limiting factor moving forward, as he's not a guy that ever will (nor should) be much bigger than about 215 pounds.  And really, it's impossible to call his season "great" (and is a stretch to get to even "good") without the qualifier of "for a true freshman" after it, in this day and age of offensive explosion.  What he did, though, was improve throughout the season.  A lot.  Even if one wants to discount his efforts against Oregon State due to the nature of the competition, it's not easy to complete 90% of your passes against even air as a defense.  And while Washington State and Southern Mississippi aren't defensive juggernauts, they fall decidedly into the category of "solidly mediocre."

The future of the QB position at Washington is bright.  2015 was the appetizer.  The main course starts with game one of 2016.

Before the season, most fans and pundits expected redshirt junior Jeff Lindquist to win the starting job.  The real surprise wasn't necessarily that he didn't, but that he found himself the third string quarterback behind K.J. Carta-Samuels the whole season.  Lindquist received a handful of snaps each game when healthy in what amounted to a "wildcat" package, but didn't attempt a pass, and when Browning was unable to play due to injury, it was Carta-Samuels that took the meaningful snaps.  As the coaching staff seemed to hint, Lindquist's snaps were mostly a reward for his perseverance and his leadership.  They weren't effective on the whole, and most fans wouldn't object to seeing that package shelved in the future.

Carta-Samuels got the last desperation drive against Oregon, and to the surprise of no one, wasn't able to lead a miracle comeback.  He also got the start in a very tough road game at Stanford, and again, to no one's surprise, wasn't able to pull off a miracle.  In that game, he mostly looked like a quarterback that hadn't played any real football in close to two years, and wasn't quite ready to make the leap from a run-first offense in high school to a very sophisticated passing attack.  While Lindquist appears to be highly vested in being a Washington Husky, it's less clear with Carta-Samuels; it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he surveyed the landscape of Husky football as it is right now and elected to cast his lot with a new team, whether at a lower level or as an FBS transfer.  Should that happen, it's likely to occur between now and the start of spring practices.

Name

Attempts

Complete

Yards

Comp. %

YPA

TD

INT

Rating

Adj. QBR

Rush

Yards

TD

Jake Browning

233

368

2955

63.3

8.05

16

10

139.7

63.0

65

35

1

K.J. Carta-Samuels

10

24

124

41.7

5.17

0

1

76.7

41.2

9

-1

1

Jeff Lindquist

0

0

0

0

0

0

NA

NA

12

36

1

Looking Ahead to 2016

The Huskies enter the 2016 season with a starting quarterback for the first time in the Chris Petersen era.  The only likely drama would entail someone transferring out of the program.  Should everyone remain, Browning will get the starter's reps in spring and summer (and into the fall), while Carta-Samuels and Lindquist will battle with JC transfer Tony Rodriguez, who is coming off of a redshirt season, for the backup role.

Freshman Daniel Bridge-Gadd enrolled for winter quarter at the UW.  Bridge-Gadd was a lightly recruited prospect out of Arizona before a huge senior season that saw him claim the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year honor over several more highly acclaimed prospects.  He began to receive more interest, but held firm to his commitment to the Huskies.  Most likely, he's headed for a redshirt season.

Given the youth that littered the Husky offense in 2015, the improvement at the quarterback position is going to come from stability and improvement of the units around him, particularly on the offensive line.  With an offensive design that is based far more on efficiency than explosiveness, the Huskies rely on continuity and interdependence rather than trying to hit home runs from anywhere on the field.  And while this approach may seem boring and conservative, it's also a case of form following function.  As the play of the offensive line and receivers steps forward, the play of the quarterback will as well, and swings that were seeing-eye singles will start to become doubles and triples.  And home runs.  Naturally.  Expect Jake Browning and the UW offense to take a large step forward in 2016.