With Spring Practices right around the corner, we at UWDP are kicking off our annual position-by-position rundown of the team. First up, we have the most important position on offense, the quarterbacks.
How’d they do in 2021?
The 2021 season was one of trials and tribulations for our Husky QBs. While Dylan Morris was the incumbent starter after an inconsistent but promising 2020 season, he never seized the job with any certainty. Between an offensive scheme/play calling that regressed from an already simplistic and predictable 2020 performance and a defense that was regularly getting gashed on the ground, a lot was placed on Morris’ shoulders. Playing from behind in most games, and with the opposing offense usually pounding the ball and bleeding the clock, Morris often resorted to “Hero Ball”. This usually turned out poorly for our offense, and poorly-timed turnovers and bone-headed decisions are likely the lasting impression of Morris that many fans have from last season.
The general frustration with the offensive malaise led to calls for freshman Sam Huard to supplant Morris, and they grew to a fever pitch by the end of the season. Huard made his starting debut in a tough 40-13 Apple Cup loss that featured 4 interceptions, an interim HC, an interim OC, and a non-existent run game.
However, in a funny way, the offense was so bad last year that it precipitated a staff change that should help the QBs in a big way.
Key Departures & Additions
Departures: Patrick O’Brien (Exhausted Eligibility)
Addition: Michael Penix (Transfer from Indiana)
From a personnel perspective, the QB room got an upgrade this offseason while still being left a tad thin. With 2021 graduate transfer QB Patrick O’Brien’s eligibility being exhausted, the staff has again had to hit the transfer portal again to avoid heading into Spring Practices with just 2 scholarship QBs, and boy did we get a good one. Michael Penix, a multi-year starter at Indiana, was one of the top QBs in the QB portal this offseason, and he brings both experience and familiarity with Kalen DeBoer’s offense (KDB was Penix’s OC at IU) that instantly elevates the floor for this QB room (and offense as a whole).
The addition of Penix also makes a lot of sense from a big picture perspective because Penix is the ideal bridge QB for UW and this staff. Given his immense talent, experience, and familiarity in the offense, Penix offers KDB & Grubb the best opportunity to hit the ground running on offense. It’s possible that if Penix wins the starting job, he might immediately become a top 3-5 QB in the conference while also helping to establish the culture and mentoring the younger QBs. While the concern with bringing in a multi-year starter like Penix is that you might upset the apple cart in the QB room, those concerns are some what mitigated by Penix’s specific situation. Penix is expected to exhaust his eligibility after the 2022 season, and he’s also never started a full season in his career due to repeated injuries. With those things in mind, the staff could emphasize the opportunities for Huard and Morris despite additional competition.
All that being said, there’s no certainty in today’s game that QBs will stick around. There are any number of scenarios between transfers and injuries where we conclude Spring Practices with only 2 available scholarship QBs on the roster. This is compounded by the fact that the staff was unable to sign a HS QB in the 2022 recruiting class who could’ve at least bolstered depth heading into Fall Camp. This is far from an ideal situation, so I expect one or two post-Spring additions to the QB room.
Spring 2022 Washington Huskies QBs
|Michael Penix Jr.||6-3||218||SR|
Figuring Out the Depth Chart
Predicting the QB hierarchy can sometimes be difficult when there are three candidates with comparable blends of experience and talent, but I feel pretty confident in projecting the top.
Favorite for QB1: Michael Penix
As previously stated, Penix has the most experience in the room, and more importantly relevant experience in this offense. As I stated in my deep dive on Grubb’s offense, this system elevates QB play by providing the QB with options on every play. It runs contrary to the thinking that simplicity is the solution, and there is a degree of truth to the thought that this offense will be more complicated than Donovan’s was. This is why Penix’s head start in knowing the offense is probably going to be the deciding factor in the QB battle.
Aside from that experience, Penix’s blend of arm talent and above average mobility sets him apart from the field. He’s accurate underneath in catch-n-run situations, and he has a big enough arm to hit open targets in stride. Perhaps his best trait is that he processes the field well under duress, which helps him to take advantage of busted coverages and mismatches that occur when he goes off script. This was something we saw a little bit with Morris in 2020, but he was unable to make the throws as consistently as Penix.
In the Mix for QB1: Dylan Morris & Sam Huard
Where I think the real competition will take place is between Morris & Huard for the QB2 spot. Of course, all three of Penix, Morris & Huard will supposedly get a shot at winning the starting job, but sorting out Huard’s place on the depth chart relative to Morris will have the biggest implications on the offense and QB room. Morris, as the incumbent starter last year that ended the season on the bench, has the most to prove this Spring. It’s still possible that he salvages his UW career with the aid of a new play caller leading the way, and if he can regain the confidence and moxie that he had against Utah in 2020, as well as dial back the bad decisions on the field, then he could very well earn himself the starting job. While there’s no guarantees that he’ll stay if he doesn’t win the job, the expectation is that he’d look for other opportunities if Huard passes him on the depth chart.
Huard passing Morris isn’t a done deal though, and I expect a tight competition. As I said earlier, Huard was clearly unprepared to take over the starting gig at the the end of last season, and it was clear that his talent wouldn’t be able to carry him past Morris by itself. With a more QB-centric offensive staff, Huard might be able to capitalize on his talent and accelerate his development trajectory to the point where he can comfortably take over the back up role.
Competing for a Backup Role: Camden Sirmon & the Field
This group, similar to the Penix, Morris & Huard trio, is all gunning for the same spot competing for QB3. There’s a decent chance that the top trio of QBs all stick around for the fall, and at that point they’d likely slot in at QB1-QB3. However, all teams make it a point to plan for 4 options at QB in the event that there are multiple injuries at the position, and since we’re lacking another scholarship QB, Sirmon and the rest of the walk-on QBs get a shot at convincing the staff that another transfer QB isn’t needed this summer.
Sirmon is the obvious choice, and not just because of his last name. Sirmon is widely respected as an important member of the scout team, and he wasn’t completely out of his element last year when he did receive reps in the Spring and Fall practices. He isn’t a natural pocket passer, but he is a natural athlete with some of the best mobility in the QB room. In the event that we lose our top 2 or 3 QBs, we’d likely be revamping our offense to feature the run game anyways, so a dual-threat QB might be the best option in such an emergency.
Predicted Post-Spring Depth Chart:
- Michael Penix
- Sam Huard
- Dylan Morris
- Camden Sirmon
Storylines to Watch:
- Does Penix immediately seize the QB job?
- Does Huard overtake Morris on the depth chart?
- Does Camden Sirmon show enough in the Spring to earn a scholarship as the QB4?
- How does Grubb address the QB battle by the end of Spring Practices? (Name the starter early to dedicate reps with the 1s? Punt on the decision until Fall?)
Let me know what you’ll be watching for from the QBs in Spring Practices in the comments below.
And as always,