What a difference a year makes.
Last season, the quarterback situation was an absolute mystery, with four players seemingly having an equal chance to win the job.
- The grad transfer would surely be the guy; he’s got the experience.
- Last year’s backup: He steps right into the job
- The record-breaking true frosh with the prototypical size, he’s what we need
- The redshirt frosh with great intangibles, meh. OK.
Dylan Morris won the job, and everyone else is gone. Sam Huard enters the picture, but can he beat out Morris?
Let’s turn to the DawgPounders who I always ask “Did I see what I thought I just saw?” - Brad Johnson and Coach B:
So guys, how did Dylan Morris look as a freshman?
Coach B: I think I’m like many other Husky fans in that I was pleasantly surprised by Dylan Morris last season. While he was statistically only average or slightly above average, much of that was by design. As a new starter with no live college experience, Donovan and the staff understandably kept things conservative and let him lean on a strong supporting cast. On the rare occasions where he was asked to step up (like the last possession of the Utah game) he performed well by making off-script plays, shrugging off pressure and delivering darts.
Brad Johnson: In a small sample set during a highly irregular season, Dylan Morris looked like the redshirt freshman version of a highly-regarded QB recruit. He wasn’t empirically great by any stretch, so he doesn’t compare terribly favorably to the upper echelon of college QBs in 2020. He came to Washington with the reputation of being a high football IQ game manager, extremely accurate in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Husky fans may be tired of that particular skill set (since it describes pretty much every guy taking snaps on Montlake the last decade), but it’s accurate and a lot tougher to come by than it might appear. Husky fans should be pleased with the season Morris put together in 2020; the trajectory is incredibly solid (as long as he holds the job) based on what we saw, who he is, and the likely refinement that’s to be expected both from Morris and the members of the passing attack surrounding him.
Where does Dylan Morris excel? What are his weak areas?
Coach B: People pretty quickly forgot that Morris was a highly rated QB coming out of HS, and despite his smaller stature, he is quite talented. He has a “live” arm that has good zip out to the intermediate portions of the field, and he generally has a nice spiral. His accuracy is similarly good out to the intermediate areas of the field, and he seems comfortable under duress. Where he starts to struggle is in the deep passing game. Like most QBs, he needs to really step into deep throws, but his timing was a bit off from his WRs on a good number of those passes. I think the public perception of his deep passing ability doesn’t match his true ability as there were a solid number of well placed balls that were dropped, and if I were a coach I’d consider Morris to be somewhere around league average as a deep passer.
“Browning fatigue” likely taints the comparison, but Morris does have many of the same traits that Jake Browning exhibited in his career 2016 year. Game management, rhythm, and poise can carry him further than a lack of elite arm talent will hold him back, and a continued expansion of the offense under Donovan should allow the staff to capitalize more on what he can bring to the table with the rest of the receiving corp. If someone could guarantee that Morris would be healthy for the remainder of his career at UW, I could see him being an All-Conference type of player that maximizes the talent around him.
Brad Johnson: In terms of his strengths, the comparisons to Jakes before him (and Keiths, and Kellens) are almost impossible NOT to make, as Morris appeared to come straight off of the “Chris Petersen QB” assembly line (honorary membership here to Keith Price, of course). He showed accuracy and consistency on the passes that constitute the overwhelming majority of the UW route tree, from 15 yards and in. He showed a natural tendency to first step forward in the pocket, as opposed to deep and wide, and then to get himself in position to throw the ball either on the move or by resetting.
His arm strength may not approach Jacob Eason’s, but it’s at least on the high side of average; he showed surprising velocity at times even when he wasn’t able to fully utilize his lower body in throws. He showed the ability to move through his progressions, even if not as quickly as you’d hope to see – this is something that likely would’ve improved over the course of a full season and should take leaps forward in subsequent years. While he might not be fast in a straight line, he was more elusive than I’d expected to see (the aforementioned “pocket presence” as well as in the open field).
There was a veteran presence in his pre-snap reads, and in his ability to utilize his cadence to get a defense to tip coverages. Jake Browning and Kellen Moore are both very apt comparisons, but Dylan Morris’ freshman season looked most like healthy Keith Price, in 2011, before the accumulation of damage to his knees took away his mobility and moved self-preservation to the forefront of his pocket instincts. It’s impossible to know for sure from watching him play on TV, but Morris appears to be an enthusiastic, confident player that has the attention of his teammates.
Dylan Morris isn’t very tall, and that is compounded by the fact that he has a fairly low windup and release. While height might be overvalued in and of itself at the QB position, it felt at times that Morris had a full season’s worth of passes batted at the line of scrimmage in only four games. Even if there is an element of randomness in batted balls, he’s not going to get taller. That’s a weakness that Husky fans are just going to have to accept.
Really though, the holes in his game right now are almost entirely due to inexperience – staring down receivers and holding the ball for too long, getting baited by well-disguised coverages, sticking with the wrong play based on the defensive look, etc. And even in 2021, while he’ll have “a season” under his belt, it’s tough to assume he’ll have gotten everything out of 2020 that he rightly should’ve been able to absorb.
Is Morris “the guy” in 2021?
Coach B: In my view, Morris should be the starter next season no matter how much Huard could benefit from live reps. Short of Huard showing the makings of a 2016 Jake Browning type of season, our team’s best chances of succeeding lie with Morris.
It’s not that hard to think that he could surpass Eason’s production pretty quickly in year 2 or 3 despite possessing far less raw talent just because of how much better his pocket presence and rhythm within the offense is. However, if you’re looking for a transcendent QB that will elevate a program almost single-handedly, Morris probably isn’t that guy. Those guys are few, far between, and even the guys with that type of talent don’t always elevate programs (I’m looking at you Locker & Eason).
Brad Johnson: Morris is definitely the man in 2021, as no other QB on the roster has taken a single snap as a Husky. While many Husky fans believe the future at the position is incoming freshman Sam Huard, that isn’t likely to even be an option until 2022 at the earliest as both he and father Damon Huard have made it clear they desire a redshirt season for Sam. I don’t see this as a bad thing; Dylan Morris showed enough talent and potential that a true freshman was going to face a Herculean task unseating him, and it’s far from a given that Morris is simply a placeholder next year and beyond. He can play, and the passing game is at a point that the biggest bites at improvement come from development in the receiving corps leading to a more aggressive scheme, rather than a different player behind center. It’s possible that he eventually loses or shares his job, but based on the miniscule sample of 2020 and extrapolating that over another three (or possibly four) years, Morris is a guy that probably won’t ever shine as brightly as rocket-armed athletes at other schools, but can be an all-conference caliber QB that carves out a career in the NFL.
What about Sam Huard this fall? Can he beat out Morris?
Coach B: Huard and Morris both fall into the typical Petersen QB mold (and the same mold that Donovan has described in the past). Instinctive, intelligent, efficient QBs who can execute the system. Pure arm talent doesn’t always translate into effective QB play in the types of offenses that we have run on Montlake, and it’s something that gets glossed over in recruiting sometimes. That being said, Huard does have tremendous talent. His mechanics, anticipation, control of touch/velocity, and accuracy are elite for a HS QB, even if his arm strength isn’t the best in class. Similar comments could’ve been made of Morris a couple years ago when he was coming out of HS. With two years of development & experience, Morris is still probably a year ahead (at least) of Huard in terms of pure ability to perform on the field, and that’s why I’d expect Dylan Morris to win the job.
Brad Johnson: I think Huard smart and accurate, but there are a lot of fans that are going to be really disappointed when they see how marginal his arm is. Frankly, I think Huard is pretty much exactly Jake Browning. Maybe slightly better, but the margin is super small. If he doesn’t have better receivers than Browning, he’s not going to have a better career at Washington. Huard is a talent amplifier, not a star on his own.
The backup situation is murky to say the least. You have (presumably) Huard who is (likely) redshirting, then its:
Jesse Martineau. 6’1” 205. Junior from Mountlake Terrace
Patrick O’Brien. 6’ 5” 235. Senior. Grad transfer from Colorado State
Jaden Sheffey. 5’11” 190. Junior. Transfer from George Fox University.
Jack Stewardson. 6’1” 205. Redshirt Freshman from Danville, Calif.
Coach B: Hmmm... the back up QB situation. In my opinion, it’ll shake out in one of two ways:
1. Morris retains the starting job, Huard is allowed a redshirt year (as his father has expressed his support for), and O’Brien is the primary backup for most of the year. If Huard can’t beat out Morris in camp, or at least challenge him enough to legitimately push for the job, the coaches would probably look to O’Brien’s experience as the bridge QB should something happen to Morris. However, the 4-game redshirt rule gives a lot more flexibility in managing this in the second half of the season. If Morris does go down with a serious injury in the second half of the season, then there’d be enough time for Huard to get further acclimated in the offense. The staff would be able to reevaluate their options, as well as possibly retain Huard’s redshirt eligibility (there’s no real downside to keeping the extra eligibility if we don’t need Huard until late in the season).
2. Huard wins the job in camp, Morris/O’Brien is the back up, and we’re essentially in the same position that we were in last year. Huard winning the job significantly increases the odds of someone transferring out, but we’d still have either Morris or O’Brien (possibly both) as quality depth. Typically you want 3 QBs on the roster with “future starter” potential, but that’s more to hedge against the chances of one of them being a bust down the line. Once you get past the primary back up, the chances of winning games with the 3rd string QB are so slim that it really doesn’t matter all that much, so heading into the season with QB1 Huard, QB2 Morris/O’Brien, QB3 Sheffey/Martineau isn’t that huge of a deal. All it’d mean is that we’d need to keep hitting the QB recruiting trail to shore up our future depth.
Further down the depth chart, I’m not super familiar with Sheffey or Martineau, but I’m not all that concerned about it. Realistically, the ceiling for either of those guys under normal conditions (i.e. non-COVID tracing or a serious rash of injuries) is 3rd string. Sheffey probably only projects to be average P5 QB at the end of his eligibility (he’s listed as a junior). However, his two seasons at George Fox sets the floor pretty high (assuming he can digest the offense quickly and simply manage the offense. He has athleticism that Martineau doesn’t really have, but their arm talent wouldn’t be the deciding factor between the two.
Brad Johnson: The backup probably depends on why (injury vs blowout vs bad performance) and for how long (one series or game vs a big chunk of the season).
Huard isn’t getting garbage time snaps, and probably wouldn’t be the choice if Morris’s was out for a game. If Morris breaks his leg in week 2 and is done for the year, the calculus might change.