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Washington Spring Preview 2016: Quarterbacks

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An incumbent starter present and accounted for heading into the spring.....Is that even legal?

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

2015 Year in Review

A three-way quarterback battle waged through the summer and into fall camp.  While each of K.J. Carta-Samuels, Jake Browning, and Jeff Lindquist had his supporters here and elsewhere, the prevailing thought was that the (relatively) seasoned Lindquist would earn the nod heading into the first game, on the road, at Chris Petersen's old stomping grounds in Boise.  But those of us that thought that (and I include me in that "us") were dead wrong, and true freshman Jake Browning was under center from game one, and for every game in which he was healthy.

The coaching staff asked very little of Browning in that first game, and Browning certainly didn't "wow" the Husky faithful with a story to be added to the annals of Husky lore.  But he did show that the moment wasn't too big for him, and given the inexperience of the rest of the offense on the field that night, that might be the best you could realistically ask.

Browning made a handful of good throws early in the next game against the flagship university of our 51st state (that being Sacramento), but it was the final drive of the first half that really let Husky fans begin to believe that we had a bona fide quarterback on our hands.  In 1 minute and 15 seconds, Browning executed a textbook two-minute drill, completing five straight passes for 89 yards, before Dwayne Washington plunged in from the one.  On that drive (and really, throughout that game), Browning took advantage of a two-deep Hornet zone defense that allowed massive space in the middle of the field that tight end Josh Perkins was able to exploit for three catches and 61 yards.  Yahtzee.

Browning by no means enjoyed a steady ride in 2015.  As should be expected of any true freshman, he had his ups and downs as the season progressed, and showed that there's still a significant amount of work to be done moving forward.  He lacks accuracy on his deep passes, although he had a receiving corps that didn't appear to offer much assistance in that regard.  He frequently held the ball too long, especially early in the season and against top-tier defenses, and took sacks he could've avoided.  Frequently, those sacks were for significant yardage, as he had a tendency to move backward or laterally in the pocket instead of forward.  And Browning is at best a mediocre athlete, with mediocre arm strength.  Since he plays the most glamorous position on the field, he was the primary target outside of Jonathan Smith for the struggles of the offense, even though many of the issues were due in no small part to the players in front of and along side him.

If you plotted the trend line for Browning's freshman season, the trajectory is most definitely upward.  His best football was played at the end of the season, and any limitations he has were largely offset by his accuracy and anticipation in throwing the ball as or even before his receivers were coming out of their breaks.  He showed a much better understanding of his reads and the offense in general as the season wore on, and it showed in the trust the coaches had in him to adjust plays at the line or even post-snap.  While I personally don't like the comparisons to Kellen Moore's time at Boise State, they're apt; Browning is an extension of the coaching staff on the field, and has all of the tools to be an extremely efficient play maker as time goes on.  He's the quarterback of the present, and of the future for the Huskies.  When he leaves, his name is going to be all over the UW record books.

All of you that thought KJ Carta-Samuels would take the meaningful snaps behind Jake Browning, please raise your hands.

Liars.

That Lindquist wasn't named the starter was a minor surprise, but that Carta-Samuels was the backup all season was definitely a shock.  And while Lindquist appeared in most games in the (hopefully scrapped) wildcat role, it was Carta-Samuels that was given the unenviable task of leading the Dawgs on the road against a top-10 Stanford team.  As was expected, he struggled.  But he showed some toughness as a runner, and settled into the role as the game wore on.  The experience he gained in 2015 should allow him to push Browning moving forward.

After that (typically) long-winded recap, here's what we said heading into fall camp last year:

While there are still significant questions surrounding this position for the Huskies, we'll start to get some answers in a little over a week's time (or not, since fans don't actually get to know anything about the team anymore). 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.

What insight.

Who's Back, and Who's New

Husky fans breathed a sigh of relief when Browning chose to forgo the NFL draft and return for his sophomore season....

In what at least tens of Husky fans think is a mild surprise, KJ Carta-Samuels, at least to date, has elected to remain at the UW.  I still consider this to be a somewhat fluid situation, but a guy, with his accolades, in the same class as the incumbent, frequently looks for playing time elsewhere.  That isn't the case here, at least right now.  And I'm happy about that.

This didn't get much run here or elsewhere (at least that I saw, and I'm far too lazy to try and look it up now), but this tweet from the recent UW combine is interesting:

This raises a lot of questions to me.

  1. Really?  For his senior season?
  2. Is this actually true?
  3. Who's Kyle Waltos?
  4. What's a jersey shirt?
  5. How do I get one?
  6. Do all position groups have their own?
I certainly didn't expect Lindquist to be the guy that would help unstack and sort out the QB depth chart, but if true, the only upperclassman quarterback the Huskies have on the roster is JC transfer junior Tony Rodriguez.  While that isn't necessarily ideal, it's a pretty clear sign that the Huskies are investing in youth at the position.

Daniel Bridge-Gadd joins the team for spring practices.  He was the Arizona Player of the Year over much more heralded players from the state, even though he was only modestly recruited himself; outside of the Huskies, his offers were from FBS and low-level FCS teams.  It appears that the Huskies found something in Bridge-Gadd, though.  While nothing about him jumps off the screen in his highlight videos, he does everything well above average.  And he's going to be afforded time to improve.  This is a solid, under-the-radar signing.

Story Lines for 2016

The Improvement of Jake Browning: And what kind of improvement.  It should be expected that Browning is going to be stronger in 2016, but it remains to be seen if he'll ever have the type of arm that can bail him out of not properly setting his feet, or throwing a ball a split second too late.  With a build more reminiscent of a really good high school quarter miler than a prototypical FCS quarterback, strength may remain his greatest weakness, if you want to call it that.  It's also reasonable to assume that his accuracy will improve on the deep balls that eluded him this past season, but again, it's unknown if he's going to ever going to be a serious threat to score from anywhere on the field.  Obviously, his receiving corps has a large roll in that....To sum it up, is 2016 the year that Jake Browning the playmaker begins to emerge, or do we simply see him refine and become even more successful at the things he already does well?

What About the Development of Depth? Most likely, Carta-Samuels is the primary backup again in 2016.  Especially true if Lindquist has actually moved to tight end.  Given the lack of reps Carta-Samuels got in 2015, the lack he had in any sort of similar offense in high school, and the fact that most of the time, UW's backup quarterbacks play a significant roll in at least one game per year, do the Huskies make an honest push to develop the depth at the position?

For the first time in the Chris Petersen era, the Huskies enter spring with stability at the quarterback position.  More importantly, they enter with a guy that has the mental (particularly) and physical talent to excel in Petersen's highly quarterback-driven offensive system.  The success of the 2016 season will largely be built on the work that's done prior to the start of fall camp in August.  Spring practice opens up the 2016, and with a trigger man that can get the job done.