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2017 Spring Preview: Matt Lubick and new receivers try to catch on

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Dante Pettis returns, but John Ross leaves behind a massive hole to fill. What effect will new WR coach Matt Lubick have?

Idaho v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Spring football is right around the corner. Come March 27th, the Huskies will return to the practice field. Until then, the UW Dawg Pound has got you covered, reviewing each position unit as they head into spring camp.

Today, the wide receivers.

2016 in Review

Where to start? The receivers last season were simply phenomenal and improved over their 2015 season to a level nobody could have imagined. The hire of Bush Hamdan as WR coach paid immediate dividends. While it wasn’t the deepest group, the star power at the top with John Ross and Dante Pettis cannot be overstated. Here’s what we said about the duo going into fall camp before the season:

At receiver, Husky fans are salivating at the return of John Ross III, who showed no loss of speed following two meniscus tears in his knee that forced him to sit out the 2015 season by running a 4.25-second hand-timed 40-yard dash at last spring’s Husky Combine. Ross is unquestionably one of the most dangerous home-run hitters in the Pac-12, as evidenced by his seven touchdowns in 2014 coming off plays of 20, 91, 55, 75, 86 and 100 yards. However, in his career thus far, he’s accounted for just 33 receptions and 579 yards, and only two touchdowns against Pac-12 opponents.

It seems clear, then, the Washington is going to need at least one other receiver to step up into a 40-, 50- or even 60-catch role. Dante Pettis seems to be a good candidate for doing so; no one on the team returning in 2016 hauled in more receptions than his 30 last year, and his 13.8 yards per reception was 17th-best in the conference.

Any concerns about Ross’ ability to be a well rounded receiver and beat Pac-12 defenses were quickly put to bed as he put together one of the best pass catching seasons in school history: 81 catches, 1,150 yards, and 17 touchdowns. Those are simply incredible numbers and the All-American is likely a first round pick in next month’s NFL draft. All season he showed tremendous pace and increased understanding of the game, running more precise routes than in years past. His technique combined with his speed allowed him to have a season for the ages.

Dante Pettis rebounded from a disappointing sophomore season and hit the 50+ catch mark, while going for over 800 yards and 15 touchdowns. He no doubt benefited from the attention given to Ross, but he made plenty of great catches, including the team’s only TD against Alabama. His two touchdown catches in the Apple Cup were back breakers, and he absolutely destroyed Pac-12 north foes Oregon and Cal. He’s one of the best athletes on the team and excelled in the recent Husky combine at the vertical jump, and 3 cone agility drill. The combined 32 touchdowns from he and Ross were the most of any duo in the country and a Pac-12 record.

Beyond Ross and Pettis, the Huskies got contributions from Chico McClatcher, Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, and Quinten Pounds. Chico’s season stood out among this group with 500+ yards, 5 TDs, and averaging a whopping 18.5 yards/catch. He had some eye catching moves and showed he’s a play maker with the ball in his hands. Aaron Fuller looked the most promising of the freshmen receivers and showed a knack for finding soft spots in zones and getting open. Baccellia and Pounds each showed some flashes, and will look for increased roles in the rotation this year.

Who Stays, Who Goes

2016 Spring Camp Receivers

Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Name Jersey # Height Weight Class
Chico McClatcher 6 5'7" 179 lbs JR
Dante Pettis 8 6'1" 192 lbs SR
Aaron Fuller 12 5'10" 186 lbs SO
KJ Young 18 6'0" 188 lbs SR
Andre Baccellia 19 5'10" 173 lbs RS SO
Ty Jones 20 6'4" 206 lbs FR
Quinten Pounds 21 5'11" 183 lbs RS SO
Nik Little 28 6'5" 207 lbs SR
Josh Rasmussen* 29 5'11" 182 lbs RS SO
Max Richmond* 80 5'9" 181 lbs JR
Brayden Lenius 81 6'5" 234 lbs JR
Jordan Chin 82 6'0" 165 lbs FR
Paul Wells* 83 5'9" 170 lbs SO
Forrest Dunivin* 87 6'4" 200 lbs SR
John Gardner* 89 6'3" 187 lbs JR
* - denotes walk on player.

Three Questions

How does Matt Lubick’s presence change things?

There’s no doubt Bush Hamdan was an effective coach who got through to his players - their improvement was noticeable during his tenure. He’s off to bigger and better things, and in comes Matt Lubick from Oregon (via Ole Miss and Baylor). Oregon had some very impressive receivers while he was coaching there, and he also pitched in as a co-OC. Lubick, like Hamdan, is an ace recruiter, suggesting he can connect with kids create a relationship. How quickly is he able to gain the trust and understanding of his WRs? By all accounts Lubick is an excellent receivers coach but there’s always an adjustment period when breaking in new coaches.

Which young player is ready to step up?

Dante Pettis is firmly entrenched as one of the team’s top targets. Chico McClatcher will likely see many passes thrown his way. Who will step up out of the Pounds, Baccellia, and Fuller trio? Baccellia will duel with Chico for touches, but being a little bit bigger he will probably find his way onto the field in more pure receiving roles. Fuller should see improvement after his substantial experience last year in which he played in every game. The son of a Texas high school coach, he’s not flashy, but he gets open and he catches the ball. Pounds showed off a lot of athleticism at the Husky combine day and had the fastest 3 cone drill on the team. All 3 will get plenty of chances this spring to show what they do.

Will a big WR emerge?

For all the praise the receivers deserve for last season, there’s one thing they can’t escape: their size. UW receivers are not the most imposing, and Hamdan tried to address that in recruiting by bringing in 3 receivers all over 6-feet tall. The biggest coup was reeling in Ty Jones from Utah, over late pushes from UCLA and Ohio State. At 6’4” he has the size and athleticism sorely lacking from the UW receiving corps. He’s enrolling early for spring and the coaches will give him every opportunity to secure a spot in the rotation. Then there’s the question of Brayden Lenius. Some off field problems lead to him being suspended for a few games, and he ultimately took a redshirt year to get things sorted out. He’s back now and ready for spring ball, but how football-ready is he? When he came to UW he didn’t have a lot of experience playing football, and sitting out last year didn’t help. To what extent is Lenius ready to deliver on the promise he has shown?

Final Thoughts

Overall, this is a group with a lot to prove. Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher appear to be the leaders, followed by the young trio of Fuller, Baccellia, and Pounds. How much those three improve over spring will go a long way in determining the success of the receivers this fall. What about KJ Young? He played last year in 5 games but didn’t catch a pass. Can he contribute this year? Ty Jones adjusting to the college game and Brayden Lenius finding his way into the rotation will add a much needed size dimension to the team. Figuring out what roles they’re best in and how to maximize their unique traits will be a major task of Lubick this spring. Thankfully for them, they have a veteran QB with an elite ability to see the field and find the open man. They don’t all need to be game breakers like Ross, but if they can consistently get open, Jake Browning will find them to move the chains.