It's crisp, clean and refreshing. Not Irish Spring, mind you. Something more effervescent. Something more electric. Something more ... unusual.
What is that smell?
Could it be ... optimism? Husky fans, particularly the most hardcore amongst us, are typically pretty optimistic in spring. There have been plenty of springtime all-stars that have graced the purple and gold over the years. I wish I had a nickel for every "breakout" spring star like Cody Habben, Craig Chambers, and Nick Montana who went on to star in the fall. I might have had enough for a cup of coffee. Or a call on a pay phone.
Remember pay phones? I wonder how people dealt with the germ-infested handsets before the age of alcohol wipes and Purell. But I digress.
The point is that people tend to get a little hyperbolic when it comes to spring football. It is completely understandable. As Eddie Murphy used to stay, if you are starving in the desert and somebody offers you a cracker, it would be the best damn cracker you've ever tasted. If you are in the midst of a long offseason looking for a breakout wide receiver, the first guy to make a nice grab will most certainly become the best damn receiver you've ever seen.
The fact of the matter is that it is hard to divine anything from spring football other than those things that are clear to the naked eye. For example, it is easy to judge whether or not an offensive lineman has gained weight. It's much harder to judge whether or not he's made progress in learning the playbook. It is easy to see which quarterback is getting the most reps with the Twos (assuming that you have access to practice), but it is hard to assess whether or not he has the footwork or the timing to handle meaningful snaps in a real game.
That is not to say that there isn't real, honest, bet-your-life-on-it progress made by many players in any given spring camp. But it is fair to point out that many performances that jump out to the average observers are nothing more than mirages born from a situation where a team is, in essence, playing against itself in an environment constructed and controlled by the coaching staff.
Chris Petersen understands this and has gone out of his way to undersell spring performances in each of the past three seasons. As it turns out, he wasn't underselling his team at all his past two seasons as both squads struggled with the .500 mark in conference play. But 2016 feels different to many Husky fans given the growing hype that surrounds this particular team. A dominating defense that goes a legitimate two-deep in just about every position, a young QB who had a breakout campaign that nobody noticed a year ago, and a record-setting running back entering into his prime are the pieces upon which Husky fans are building their hopes and dreams of a darkhorse PAC-12 North championship run.
But we all know it isn't enough. For those pieces to translate into a wins against the likes of Oregon and Stanford, more has to be achieved by the other pieces across the team. A consistent pass rusher has to emerge. The book-end tackles have to grow into their physical potential. Tight ends have to become factors in the offense. So do wide receivers.
With these things in mind, I present to you my thoughts on what we can bank on and what might be fool's gold coming out of the 2016 Washington Football Spring Camp.
Real Money: Bank On These...
1. Elijah Qualls at DE
The uber-versatile and athletic 300lb Elijah Qualls spent much of the spring developing his skills as a two-gap type of DE who will see time as a 5-technique in the fall. Many Husky fans have wondered what a guy with the size and speed of Qualls could do if he had more of an opportunity to rush the passer in a Pete Kwiatkowski defense. This might be the chance. It looks like he is going to get the chance to reprise the Andrew Hudson role from 2014, except that he'll do it with a 40-pound weight advantage and a rotation of Vita Vea, Greg Gaines, Joe Mathis, and Damion Turpin around him. The Dawgs haven't had a d-line rotation with this kind of size and athleticism in forever. As such, Qualls is going to get plenty of 1:1 opportunities, many of which will come against opponents with less physical skills and less overall experience. I think that he'll absolutely shine.
2. Jake Browning's Deep Ball
Yeah, I'll bite. Count me as one of those guys that wasn't ever really convinced that Browning had a "deep ball problem" a year ago. Arm strength is what it is and will be a limiting factor to him for his career. However, I have always thought that there was more than enough juice there. To me, the bigger issues had to do with the factors of protection and timing with receivers. I expect that both of those factors will improve as the o-line develops and as Browning gets in more reps with his receiving corps. I don't see any reason it shouldn't come together for the sophomore this year.
3. Jeff Lindquist the H-Back
I do not get the impression that the move of Jeff Lindquist to the tight-end/h-back role is a fluke or an accommodation to a loyal Dawg. Quite the contrary, I think Lindquist gives Chris Petersen and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith a legitimate fullback-type of guy who has the versatility to play different roles on a team that doesn't employ a traditional fullback. The fact that we've already seen Jeff play the role of placekicking holder, punter protector, and wildcat running back should be a strong hint that the coaches are comfortable with him in the role of "football player" and I expect him to see the field in his new role.
Fools Gold: We Need to See More of ...
1. The Backup Running Back
With the losses of two of the top three depth chart running backs off of last year's squad, I think Husky fans ought to temper their rushing game expectations for now. Both Lavon Coleman and Jomon Dotson earned well-deserved praise for their strong spring showings. However, we are still talking about a veteran who has yet to distinguish himself and a lightly recruited jitterbug-style back who effectively shared a spot with a walk-on way down on last year's depth chart. With both Brandon Wellington and Sean McGrew on their way this fall, it isn't clear to me at all that a pecking order has been established on a running back committee that still looks perilously thin.
2. Andre Baccellia as a Major Contributor
The redshirt freshman earned much attention this spring with his sure hands, quick feet, and playmaking in drills. For playmaking-starved fans of the wide receiver position, it was a sight to behold. It remains to be seen, however, how things will ultimately shake out in a receiving corps that was missing key contributors like Isaiah Renfro and Brayden Lenius for big chunks of the spring and who took their time reintroducing star John Ross into his natural position. I'm desperately hoping that Baccellia and fellow ankle-breaker Chico McClatcher become major factors in the UW passing game. But I need to see how the rest of the unit shapes up and how the tight ends emerge before I'd bank on it.
3. Psalm Wooching at SAM
Let's be clear here - I love Psalm Wooching. And I hope that in his senior year he has finally found himself a home. But we are talking about a guy that has had as many position changes over the past four seasons as Oregon has had uniform changes. Wooching finds himself concluding this spring holding on to the starting strongside backer position now that he has moved out of the BUCK role. To hold on to that spot Psalm will have to hold off some stellar young talent, including stud Tevis Bartlett. While I think he can do so, I'm not sure I'm willing to bet on it before seeing how the fall plays out. The good news is that Cory Littleton a year ago showed how this position could be played as a "BUCK, part II" type of role. If Psalm can capture some of that mojo, it might well work out.