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2017 Spring Preview: Can Jake Browning Hold the Starting Spot?

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Spoiler alert: Yes.

Pac-12 Championship - Colorado v Washington Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

In two weeks, Jake Browning will begin his third spring session with the Husky football team, and his second firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback.

New for 2017, though, will be the sky-high expectations that come with being one of the best returning quarterbacks in all of college football. While Husky fans may choose to focus on performances at the end of the season that may call into doubt such lofty expectations, that is in fact the bar that Browning has set for himself heading into next fall.

Even with the loss of All-American receiver John Ross, the expected growth on the offensive line and with the rest of the receiving corps means that an offense that was the most prolific in University of Washington history in 2016 is poised to be even more dominant in 2017. And it won’t take a Superman-sized leap in performance from Browning’s freshman to sophomore seasons to trigger it. Even a normal, human step from the Husky quarterback sets the limit slightly above the sky.

2016 in Review

Jake Browning opened the season with a 48-point bang, completing six of his eight passes in the first quarter of the first game, for 154 yards and three touchdowns. As expected, it was all downhill from there...

Except that’s not remotely true. After a near-virtuoso performance in week 5 against a Top-10 Stanford team on national TV, when Browning’s ultra-efficient three-touchdown performance (plus a defense that wasn’t half bad) spurred a 44-6 “call-off-the-Dawgs, we-just-want-to-go-home, slip-into-our-jammies-and-cry-while-we-write-in-our-diaries” obliteration of the formerly feared ‘Furd, Browning topped himself the next week in Eugene. Browning wasn’t perfect against the Ucks (there’s no D in Eugene)—there were those six incompletions, after all—but he turned in an effort Husky fans won’t soon forget with eight total touchdowns (two on the ground) in a little more than three quarters of play in a streak-busting 70-21 win that returned the world to its normal rotation.

And henceforth, all Husky quarterbacks past, present, and future shall be called Jake: Jake Locker, Jake Price, Jake Browning, K. Jake Carta-Samuels, Daniel-Jake Bridge-Gadd, Jake Haener, Jake Sirmon...

Three things happened on the way to a school-record-with-three-and-a-half-games-to-play and conference-tying 43 touchdown passes: 1. The competition got a lot better. 2. Husky fans got a tad spoiled. 3. Jake Browning injured his throwing shoulder, to the point that he needed surgery two months ago.

In the lone regular season loss to USC, and then to Alabama in the Peach Bowl, the offense couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t throw the ball, and generally danced to the beat of 11 different drums. Outside of near-dominance running the ball against Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the offense struggled again; the passing game again was nearly nonexistent, as Browning was afforded very little time to throw to very well-covered receivers. Browning made his own share of mistakes in those games, most visibly in lacking just a little of the poise that was such a huge part of his surgical success most of the season. But the failures were systemic to the offense, and Browning wasn’t able to elevate the team at that point.

Jake Browning’s 2016 season is all over the Husky record books. (In fairness, when evaluating some of the “counting” stats, they came with the benefit of an additional game.) His 43 touchdowns beat the previous mark by 10—and that record was broken in less than nine games. His passer rating is first, his yards per attempt is first (and he averaged more than 10 yards per attempt an astounding seven times in 2016), and he set the UW record for touchdown passes in a game (as well as total touchdowns). Browning will always have limitations as a quarterback; most notably, he’s never going to have more than an “average” arm in terms of how hard and far he can throw the ball. But his accuracy, and most importantly, his mastery of the offense in only his second year are both pretty okay. He’s an extension of the coaching staff on the field, and he’s astoundingly efficient.

It was a good year.

Returners, Additions, and Spring Storylines:

All of the Jakes on the roster on Montlake in 2016 return in 2017. Browning will be a junior, K.J. Carta-Samuels a redshirt junior, Tony Rodriguez a redshirt senior, and Daniel Bridge-Gadd turns in his Shirt That Was Red for one That is Yellow, but apparently has to repeat his freshman year. Jake Haener will join the team this fall, but will almost undoubtedly redshirt.

Very little of the spring will center around the starting quarterback. For one, it remains to be seen how healthy he is. The recovery from his surgery was said to be six weeks, but with the lack of information given, it’s not known if that means six weeks to full participation, six weeks until he can start throwing, or six weeks until he’s able to regenerate a new (hopefully bionic) right arm.

Carta-Samuels solidified himself as the backup to Browning in 2016. He even managed to throw his first three touchdown passes as a Husky, although his most memorable snap as a “quarterback” was probably the psuedo-trick play sneak in the Peach Bowl on third down during a critical touchdown drive right before the end of the first half (unfortunately, the “touchdown” part of the drive was a pick six by Alabama, but it sure as hell was critical). While he didn’t get to display it to Husky fans on a truly “meaningful” snap, Carta-Samuels showed a significant increase in his poise and on-field leadership versus 2015. He’s not Jake Browning, but Husky fans should feel comfortable with him as the primary backup.

Assuming he can hold off Daniel Bridge-Gadd, that is. Bridge-Gadd was lightly recruited but a highly productive player in high school. His is an uphill climb, but expect to hear about him this spring. “Daniel is having a good spring. He’s throwing the ball well at times. Part of the deal is that consistency, though. Really understanding the importance of that in our offense. Coach Smith is working with him every day, and we expect good things from Daniel.” Insightful stuff like that.

Frankly, there just isn’t going to be too much coming from this spring at the quarterback position. The pecking order is pretty well set, and the only things that can come out of the information vacuum we have would most likely be bad (Browning suffers a setback in his recovery, K.J. Carta-Samuels makes a late decision to transfer, etc.). Hope for that occasional kernel of news, enjoy the progress at other positions, and as always,

Go Dawgs!!