Ding-dong, b*tches. The clock is ticking and football is on the spot. In 30 days, we’ll be popping tops, tossing balls, and getting it on.
No, I’m not talking about the kinds of parties you liked to frequent as a sexually confused teenager.
Ladies and gentlemen, Huskies football is just 30 days away.
As is our tradition here at the UW Dawg Pound, we will be bringing to you a daily debate covering a variety of subjects that will help you sharpen your preparations for the football season. The process is simple. A celebrated UW blogger on this site will post a subject for debate and analyze the various sides of the issues. He/She will then post a poll and let you all decide on the right answer to the debate.
It’s that simple.
Today we start with a look at the top storyline for UW football as we get closer to the start of the season.
Everyone can identify a story that speaks to his or her own biases and interests. However, the qualifications for what constitutes the most important "storyline" for the team have to be crafted somewhat objectively. First, the storyline in question must be relevant to performance of the team on the field in the season ahead. Second, it must involve players and/or coaches who are actually attached to the team. No Sark options here. Finally, the resolution must be in doubt with otherwise rational people (which excludes some of you guys...you know who you are) having differing reads on how the outcome is likely to play out.
Here are our top 3:
The evolution of Jake Browning the QB
This is the obvious storyline. It is always about the QB.
Husky fans know that Browning is a special player. The nation is just starting to figure that out. Just last week, Pro Football Focus ranked Browning as the #81 player overall across all of college football. They noted:
Browning quietly graded as the top true freshman in the country last season, handling pressure better than any quarterback on a per-snap basis. He actually accomplished the rare feat of grading better under pressure than he did from a clean pocket, and overall, he did a fine job of taking care of the ball and making strong throws at the intermediate level.
The question now concerns just how special will Browning become. Can he make such a great leap forward from his freshman season that he can take this program to the next level?
To do that, the storyline will focus mostly on how well Browning improves his performance with explosive plays (chicks dig the long ball), how he balances out decisions on when to take chances and when to take the easy yards, and how he makes adjustments at the line based on reads.
The impact of John Ross on the WR corps
Lord knows that we could apply any of a variety of angles to the WR situation. It is undoubtedly the Achilles heel of this program and you can see how Chris Petersen is adapting to it. Not only did he replace Brent Pease with Bush Hamdan, but he also started tinkering with the depth chart. Former QB Jeff Lindquist and DL Will Dissly are now officially part of the "pass game," and the time is apparently now for young players like Chico McClatcher, David Ajamu, and Andre Baccellia.
But the biggest factor in the UW receiving unit this year will be John Ross. Not only is he returning from a season-cancelling injury in 2015, but he comes back at a time when UW is in desperate need to pair a playmaker with its young QB.
And what a playmaker J-Ross has been. In 2014, Ross averaged 75 yards per touchdown (two of which were kickoff returns). His shortest TD reception came from 20 yards out. He is the only one of four UW players to have a 100-yard TD play and is the only one to have done it twice (Shaq Thompson, Hugh McElhenny, and Paul Arnold are the others). As a receiver, he averages about 20 yards per reception for his career.
Not only does J-Ross bring game-breaking chops to the equation, but he has filled out his body. At 195 lbs, he is now one of the strongest receivers on the unit. If that muscle can translate into improved physical performance in getting off the line and run blocking on the perimeter, Ross could very well become that #1 outside receiver that UW so needs.
The return of the pass rush
It was always going to be hard to replicate the remarkable 2014 season when it came to the pass rush. Not only did DE Hau’oli Kikaha lead the nation in sacks (19), but our #2 guy, Andrew Hudson, was also in the top 10 with 12.5. The falloff from #2 in the nation as a team to #24 wasn’t bad, per se, but it represented a step backwards on a unit that was mostly moving forwards.
2016 could go either way. UW loses its two best pass rush specialists in Cory Littleton and Travis Feeney, but replaces them with talent that has more physical potential. The physical Joe Mathis looks very much like he’s going to get more opportunities as a pass rusher while younger guys like Shane Bowman, Jason Scrempos, and Benning Potoa’e all will finally get their chances to show their skills.
If UW wants to rise to elite defensive levels and make the offense nearly a non-factor in projecting the outcomes of most games, a dominating pass rush is the last challenge left to conquer.
The Pick is ...
John Ross’s Impact on the WR Corps
This is the biggest storyline for UW heading into fall camp; mostly, I think, because of the level of uncertainty surrounding the answer. By way of comparison, Browning’s trajectory - especially going from a freshman to a sophomore - looks as predictable as such a thing could be, while it simply seems a matter of "when" rather than "if" on the pass rush given all of the underlying talent available.
The WR situation, however, is in dire straits. UW doesn’t have a bankable X or Z receiver in this offense as it stands today. Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius each have upside. However, as juniors, we are getting a sense of what their ceilings might be. Ross is the wild card. If he has developed the physical capabilities to excel at either of the outside positions, he will have a tremendous impact on the offense. No question.