This season has the wonkiest spring practice schedule in recent memory with three early practices, a pause for finals/spring break, and then a more normal spring ball rhythm starting back up on 3/29 through the spring game on Saturday, April 22nd.
That two-week gap gives us a chance to focus on the major things to look for throughout the rest of the spring with a little bit of knowledge based on how the first couple of practices looked. There will be some new faces enrolling as of spring quarter who weren’t there during the first three practices and the rotations through the first and second team will surely change as a result.
Without further ado, our spring position rundown series starts with a position that seems about as settled as possible with only two available scholarship players this spring.
Well, we all know how that went (“awesomely”).
Remember the time when quarterback was a question mark? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
At this point it feels almost foreign to look back on one year ago, when “Who will start at quarterback?” was a question none of us had a genuinely confident answer to. Other than Dylan Morris, who, between Andrew and I, we felt was essentially a Tour de France breakaway rider being irrevocably overtaken by the peloton, it felt like a scenario where you could make reasonable educated guesses, but say nothing with certainty.
Welp. It almost feels ridiculous to have a “2022 Redux” section here because we all know how it went: Michael Penix was healthy for the first full season ever, and he kicked ass. It ruled. We all looked back and laughed at ourselves for ever questioning whether he could still function on the field after getting torn to bits each season at Indiana.
I mean, that’s good enough for this part, right? Do any of us really need reminding? If so, I think you should go to the doctor because you might have lingering effects from a concussion. Or Alzheimer’s.
Notable Additions and Departures
Departures: Sam Huard
Arrivals: None until fall.
Originally I had freshman Austin Mack under the arrivals due to what would’ve been an embarrassing brain fart had I hit publish before fixing this. That’s because Mack doesn’t get here until the summer for fall camp. Ha, whoops.
For what it’s worth (not really that much), there’s actually a pretty big stable of walk-ons — preferred and otherwise — here: Teddy Purcell, Camdyn Stiegeler, Tyson Lang, and Alex Johnson, but barring something catastrophic, they’ll almost certainly not come into play.
Obviously the big thing here was Sam Huard transferring to Cal Poly to play for his old high school coach. Once Penix decided to return for one more year, it felt like a 50/50 shot whether Huard would stick around for another year, too. While this movement doesn’t make a huge difference — if everything goes swimmingly injury-wise — in the quarterbacks room this season, we would’ve all been keeping our eye on the backup battle this spring to see if Huard could have taken over the QB2 spot held by Dylan Morris and used that momentum to solidify himself as the QB1 favorite going into 2024. Oh well.
Of course, this transfer opened up a major need for Washington since it left only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in Penix and Morris.
This issue will, come fall, be filled by Mack, a four star, 6’6,” 210 lb quarterback from Jake Browning’s alma mater in Folsom. Originally from the class of 2024, he reclassified to this year’s signing class, both filling a desperate depth need for the Dawgs and managing to spread out what would have been a two-QB class in 2024 with the earlier commitment of Garfield quarterback EJ Caminong. Two birds, meet one stone.
During fall camp, we’ll be paying attention to him, but until then, we wait.
When that point comes, he’ll presumably be little more than a depth piece at this point in his career given how clearly this job is Penix’s, and how securely Morris appears to have the backup job down too.
Getting Mack into the program will be extremely valuable both as depth insurance for this year and to get him a kickstart learning this offense, college ball, etc. considering the potential his future has, but for now it’s really just Mike, Morris, and the walk-on crew.
Vibe Check and Things to Watch
If this were like two months ago, I’d say there’d be two different things we’re considering here: One, the top of the room (vibe check: awesome) and two, the depth (vibe check: scary).
Now, Mack isn’t here yet so the spring practices will still require the walk-on bodies simply to run enough drills. But as far as the implications for the season, Mack joining a year early improves that depth vibe check pretty substantially.
So with that in mind, my main things to watch mostly revolve around the things after Michael Penix. Unfortunately for this writeup (but perhaps fortunately for the program, if you’re risk averse), that’s not actually a whole lot right now. It’s really mainly things like:
Dylan Morris has been widely praised by the new coaching staff for how he’s handled the last year-and-a-half of adversity...
...and embraced both his new role and just learning in the new offense. But, despite his not-so-great final impression under an offense doomed to fail and his physical limitations, what does he look like now after a year of unlearning the horror of JonDon and learning a new, not garbage scheme?
In an ideal world, Michael Penix will take every meaningful snap this season. But things don’t always go according to plan; for the peace of mind of this offense, what’s the difference between Dylan Morris in March 2023 versus March 2022? Sure, it’s not like he’s going to all-the-sudden have Jacob Eason’s right arm, but it would be absurd to think that he’s an absolutely unsalvagable case just because his highest profile hour was the most depressing season since 2008. I mean for crap’s sake, even you and I would improve if we went from Jimmy Lake to Kalen DeBoer.
With that in mind, I’ll be keeping an eye on the interception and PBU reports this spring. That was a huge issue for him under Lake due to both scheme — *gestures vaguely at the memory of JonDon* — and his own arm strength limitations forcing him to muscle throws and subsequently suffer deteriorating accuracy past certain distances.
Now that he’s had a year of unlearning awful habbits in an awful offense that provided no room for even moderately bad habbits, much less awful ones — what will spring tell us about his ability to rebound from tragic figure at starter to serviceable backup?
This is especially important since Mack won’t get here until the fall, and he’s young young.
That’ll mean, along with just needing to physically mature (despite being a big dude to start out with), his brain is still working from an even more “immature” starting point than most true freshmen quarterbacks. The logical conclusion would be, then, that he’ll have a super long leash for mistakes when he arrives just because that’s exactly what his brain needs. That’s how learning happens! And learning is fun! And necessary!
In my mind, anything extra from Mack when he shows up is pretty much house money.
But it also means there’s no backup plan to the backup. Hopefully this won’t be a necessary conversation — and we know our expectations change significantly if Penix is out for a lot of time anyway — but if Morris can show a year under DeBoer and Grubb has had an impact, that could give the team a much higher floor in the event of an *knock on wood* injury-based curveball to QB1.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.