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Spring Position Preview: Quarterback

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How tight is Dylan Morris’ grasp on the QB job this spring with 2 new challengers entering the fray?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 28 Utah at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are now officially 2 weeks away from the start of Husky football spring practices! In any season there’s an eagerness to get whatever news we can but given the brevity of the 2020 season this spring is even more highly anticipated than ever. Given the continued pandemic there won’t be a lot of media access but we’ll certainly learn more than we have since the calendar hit 2021.

Over the next 2 weeks we’ll run position-by-position through the roster so you know what to look out for in any practice reports we get. We start with the quarterback position which will be missing several old faces but will includes a few new ones, one of which has quite a familiar last name...

2020 Season Position Recap

It was a short-lived debut at the quarterback position for Dylan Morris in 2020. Morris won the job in a 4-way QB competition with fellow former 4-stars Jacob Sirmon and Ethan Garbers plus Sacramento State grad transfer Kevin Thomson.

The redshirt freshman Morris seemed like the perfect compromise. He didn’t have the dual-threat skills of Thomson but still had good pocket mobility. He didn’t have the arm of Sirmon but he wasn’t a slouch in that regard. He didn’t have the experience of Thomson or Sirmon but wasn’t as green as Garbers.

Ultimately the one thing he did have the most of was the trust and confidence of the coaching staff and that’s ultimately what matters. There was talk of a timeshare with and/or packages for Kevin Thomson but he suffered an injury late in fall camp and so regardless of what might have been in the back of Coach Lake’s mind, Morris took every non-garbage time snap for the Huskies.

Given that Washington only played 4 games his stats are probably best viewed as rates: 60.9% completion percentage, 8.2 yards per attempt, and a 136.0 college QB rating. Those numbers were pretty close to the ones put up Jake Browning as at true freshman when he had a 63.3% completion percentage, 8.0 yards per attempt, and a 139.7 college QB rating. Browning of course went on to have possibly the greatest season ever for a UW quarterback as a sophomore but those expectations aren’t reasonable especially given that Browning returned to earth his final 2 seasons.

Still, Morris flashed at times. He led a game-winning drive to complete a 21-point comeback over Utah in the final minute and got the Huskies back in the game with a similar effort against Stanford even if it fell short. The only sack Morris took all year was running out of bounds behind the line one time. Washington’s offensive line played well but he showed an ability to get rid of the ball that some of his Husky predecessors named Jake did not. Morris’ deep ball struggled to connect but it was a wholly adequate debut for Morris in his first season as the starter.

Key Losses

Jacob Sirmon (transfer), Ethan Garbers (transfer), Kevin Thomson (pro)

Unfortunately, Morris’ ascension led to a complete emptying of the depth chart around him. Kevin Thomson decided to try to turn pro after not winning the job which made sense as a grad transfer. Jacob Sirmon saw the writing on the wall after failing to win the job yet again, this time by someone below him in experience, and transferred to Central Michigan. The last and most surprising move was that highly touted true freshman Ethan Garbers transferred closer to home to UCLA after little more than 6 months on campus. Out of the 4 scholarship QBs that Washington entered the 2020 season with on the roster only 1 still remains.

Spring Additions

Patrick O’Brien- 6’5”, 235 lbs, Graduate Transfer

With only 1 quarterback on the roster entering the offseason the Huskies immediately headed to the transfer portal for reinforcements. O’Brien was rated by the 247 Sports Composite as the 10th best pro style QB in the country coming out of high school in San Juan Capistrano, California. He decided to head to Nebraska and redshirted his first year on campus and then threw just 30 passes in his second season.

That was apparently enough for him to realize he wasn’t winning the starting job anytime soon and so transferred to Colorado State where he sat out a year due to transfer rules. In 2019 and 2020 combined, O’Brien started 12 out of a possible 16 games and threw for 3,396 yards with 16 TDs and 9 INTs at a 8.1 YPA clip.

Sam Huard- 6’1”, 190 lbs, True Freshman

If you clicked on this article you already know about Huard. Sam’s father and uncle both started at quarterback for Washington and neither had the raw ability of Sam. Huard is the #11 overall prospect in the 247 Sports composite which makes him the highest rated player to sign with Washington coming out of high school since Shaq Thompson in 2012.

For a while there was uncertainty about whether Huard would be able to participate in spring practices. The fall football season for Washington high schools got pushed back to spring and Huard decided to pursue playing for Kennedy one last time. In the end he decided upon a compromise. Huard will play another 1-2 games for Kennedy and then will be enrolling at UW for spring quarter to participate in spring practices. Coming into this season Huard had thrown for 11,741 yards with 132 TDs and 21 INTs in 3 years. Through 2 games so far he’s added on another 959 yards with 13 TDs and only needs another 345 yards to break Brett Rypien’s all-time state passing yards record which will almost certainly be wrapped up on Friday night.

Expected Fall Additions

NONE

Storylines to Watch

Can Anyone Dethrone Dylan?

When Sam Huard committed to Washington there was a real thought that he would, just like Jake Browning and Jacob Eason (at Georgia), be anointed the starting QB right out of the gates. It’s unclear to what degree Dylan Morris’ play in 2020 changed that thought. Morris had a perfectly acceptable first season. Pro Football Focus isn’t the be all end all of stats but they gave Morris a higher grade that 3 of Browning’s 4 years and slightly below Jacob Eason right before he became a 4th round NFL draft pick.

How the coaching staff feels about Morris’ job security likely depends on what they want from that spot. If they are looking to infuse explosiveness into the offense then Morris deserves legitimate criticism. He finished 4/15 for 146 yards with 0 TDs and 3 INTs on throws at least 20 yards downfield. You can certainly nitpick some of the individual elements given the sample size. One of the picks was an end of half hail mary. Another bounced off Ty Jones to the defender. 2 more seemed eminently catchable for Jalen McMillan. But more often that not the ball seemed under or overthrown to an alarming degree.

Morris however showed poise in the pocket and a command in the offense. With the potential of another spring and fall set of practices to cement his understanding of John Donovan’s system he could easily take a major leap forward.

If Sam Huard lives up to the hype though then it might not matter. You can be sure that Jimmy Lake will maximize his chances to win with a veteran roster and if you’re going to break in a talented true freshman then doing so with 5 returning starters on the offensive line isn’t exactly a bad time for it. Huard’s motion is effortless and while he might not have a Jacob Eason level arm he definitely has the ability to make every throw.

Does Huard Redshirt?

This is a little bit of looking ahead to the fall but the question is if Sam Huard doesn’t win the starting job then will he be okay letting Patrick O’Brien be the backup? Huard has put on some weight over his high school career but it wouldn’t hurt him to add 10 pounds of muscle before getting hit by college defensive linemen. O’Brien is an experienced college quarterback and if Huard can’t beat out Morris then there’s reason to think that in year 1 he’s not going to be that much better than a grad transfer who put up solid numbers at Colorado State. Why not preserve that year of eligibility if you need someone to come in during garbage time against Montana?

The answer of course is that Huard might not be around to use that extra year of eligibility anyways. There’s certainly a middle ground where Huard recognizes he’s neck and neck with Morris but is okay with the extra time to work on his body before taking the reins as a redshirt freshman and still shows the talent to be an early entry 1st round pick in a few years. Of course if that future ends up being evident already then how is that not going to beat out Dylan Morris?

Spring Game Depth Chart Prediction

  1. Dylan Morris
  2. Sam Huard
  3. Patrick O’Brien