Welcome to the first in our fall camp position preview series for the 2019 Washington Huskies football season! We only have 5 more Saturdays without Husky football before the opener against Eastern Washington. To get you ready for the season (let’s pretend for a second you haven’t been ready for the last several months) we’ll look at all of the roster battles to watch throughout fall camp as well as our traditional 30-day countdown which begins one week from today.
We begin with the position that is up in the air for the first time since August of 2015. Quarterback.
2019 UW Fall Camp Quarterbacks Roster
|Jacob Sirmon||6'5||235||RS Freshman|
(All info taken from official roster on Husky team site)
Position Battle to Watch
I feel very comfortable making one statement about the UW quarterback position. For the 5th consecutive year the Huskies will march out for their first offensive series with a player named Jake/Jacob as their starting quarterback.
Jake Browning secured his starting job entering his true freshman season and never relinquished it except for a few drives in the second half of last season’s game against Cal (more on that one later). He finished his UW career with a remarkable 12,296 passing yards, 110 total TDs, and a 150.5 passer rating. But now he’s gone.
The presumed heir apparent is another man who started as a true freshman, although at Georgia, in Jacob Eason. If you’re reading this article you likely know Eason’s backstory. Eason was a consensus top-10 overall recruit coming out of nearby Lake Stevens and opted to head across the country to Athens due to the allure of the SEC and the promise of early playing time. After an up and down true freshman campaign Eason was injured after attempting just 3 passes in the opener against Appalachian State and never regained the starting job from fellow 5-star Jake Fromm who eventually led the Bulldogs to a national title game appearance. That led Eason to transfer to Washington and redshirt last season due to transfer guidelines while leading the scout team and learning the playbook.
His primary competition will be redshirt sophomore Jake Haener who is an underdog to Eason in every sense of the word. Haener was a medium 3-star recruit per the 247 Sports composite and at the time of his enrollment appeared unlikely to ever start a game at Washington. He played well in mop up duty against North Dakota but then was inserted in place of Jake Browning at Cal when the Huskies were completely unable to move the ball. Haener’s two drives resulted in a 3 and out and a pick-6, the latter of which was Cal’s only TD and the difference in the game. It was completely unfair to Haener to expect him to perform in that spot with no practice reps against a great defense but it will take a while for that play to be erased from the heads of Husky fans.
Given their respective pedigrees it doesn’t feel like Eason vs. Haener should even be a competition. But Chris Petersen has never stopped insisting that it’s exactly that. At this point it would be a monumental upset if Haener won the starting job but given his similarities to former Petersen QB’s Jake Browning and Kellen Moore there’s reason to think he may have the mental attributes the coaching staff wants even if he doesn’t have Eason’s physical tools.
Hype Train Rolling Full Steam Ahead
And good lord does Jacob Eason have physical tools. Take a gander again at Eason’s go ahead TD bomb against Tennessee with less than 20 seconds left in his 5th career college game.
Now Georgia unfathomably lost this game despite kicking off with a 3-point lead with 11 seconds remaining but Eason made the throw that few guys in the sport can make. 50+ yards in the air behind the corner and to the side of the safety when the defense is trying to prevent the big play.
But while Eason made a handful of throws like this which have NFL scouts drooling in his true freshman season, he also made plenty of mistakes. Eason’s final numbers were not good. 55.1% completion percentage, 6.6 YPA, and a 120.2 passer rating while finishing with negative rushing yards. There are plenty of mitigating factors though for those who prefer to focus on the upside.
Eason’s struggles didn’t help but that particular incarnation of Georgia was flawed on the offensive end. The running back duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb behind him was of course sensational but the other parts in the passing game struggled. The offensive line finished ranked 58th in adjusted sack rate and 94th in stuff rate despite having those two exceptional backs. Looking at Eason’s highlights you see a lot of quick passes to compensate for the lack of time in the pocket and an offense which was unable to play to the strengths of Eason’s rocket arm.
WR Riley Ridley and TE Isaac Nauta both grew into fantastic players but each were freshmen alongside Eason and leading receivers Isaiah McKenzie and Terry Godwin were average at best. McKenzie ended up a 5th round draft pick but has yet to do anything in the NFL.
In order for the Huskies to even think about making it back to the College Football Playoff they likely need Eason to have a season in the realm of Browning’s sophomore campaign when he won Pac-12 OPOY. That would require Eason raising his YPA by almost 2.0 over his Georgia campaign. It is possible with an upgrade in weapons, offensive line, and 2 years of added maturity that that’s a reasonable ceiling for Eason? We’ll find out.
Rest of the Depth Chart
Eason and Haener will, barring injury, be the starter and backup during the regular season which leaves Jacob Sirmon and Dylan Morris on the roster. There was a 5th QB on the roster at the beginning of spring football but Colson Yankoff opted to transfer to UCLA after seeing the writing on the wall. It was always an odd fit as a true dual threat option at quarterback has never emerged under Chris Petersen. Yankoff will likely have greater success under Chip Kelly who has thrived in the past with running QBs with Yankoff’s athleticism.
It is somewhat interesting that Sirmon and Morris are essentially mirror images of Eason and Haener. Sirmon is within an inch and 10 pounds of Eason although without quite the oomph on his fastball while Morris is the same height and just 1 pound lighter than Haener. Sirmon struggled with accuracy during his high school career but is capable of making spectacular plays when he puts it all together. Meanwhile, Morris has often been compared to Browning and relies more on anticipation and good decision making to move the chains.
I can’t see a scenario that doesn’t involve half the team catching the flu simultaneously in which Dylan Morris sees the field this season. He will absolutely take a redshirt year and get very few if any reps throughout the fall and during the season. Sirmon used up his redshirt last year and after initially entering the transfer portal along with Yankoff he ultimately decided to return to UW. His goal will be to try to surpass either Eason of Haener and ascend to #2 on the depth chart but given the progress reports from his play in the spring it seems much more likely that he’ll start out 3rd and require multiple injuries to see game action outside of garbage time this season.