Chris Petersen’s first order of business in the Pac-12 was to change the culture at Washington. Reworking a locker room’s mentality doesn’t happen over night and that led to six losses despite a glut of top flight NFL Draft picks a year ago. Petersen still has to answer questions under center and in his front seven, but his plan has worked everywhere he has been and there is no reason not to believe in the process in the Pac-12.
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Previewing Washington’s Offense for 2015
In his second season as Washington coach, Chris Petersen’s top priority is to settle on a new quarterback. Looking to improve the Huskies’ passing attack that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in 2014, Petersen will choose between redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning, a pair of promising pocket passers. Carta-Samuels would seem to have the edge simply because he’s been in the program longer and is more physically developed.
The ground game is in more established hands with Dwayne Washington. The Huskies’ leading returning rusher (697 yards, 5.3 per carry) in just a half season as the starter, he’s a big back with breakaway speed. The 6'2", 221-pound junior ripped off scoring runs of 66, 68, 51 and 60 yards late in the season.
The new quarterback won’t have any shortage of passing targets, especially if he wants to throw deep. Jaydon Mickens and Dante Pettis run well as multi-purpose threats. Mickens is the Huskies’ leading returning receiver (60 catches, 617 yards), and he scored twice as a runner scooting around the corner. Pettis, the son of former MLB player Gary Pettis, best demonstrated his explosiveness with an 87-yard score on a punt return. However, the receiving corps suffered a setback with the loss of John Ross for the year with a knee injury. Ross was elusive in a limited offensive role — he started at cornerback, too — averaging 75 yards on seven scoring plays coming as a receiver, runner and returner.
Left guard Dexter Charles is the only returning full-time starter up front, back for a fourth season in the opening-day lineup. But given the experience of some of the candidates, this position area might not be as worrisome as it appears.
Previewing Washington's Defense for 2015
The line will require a complete makeover after the Huskies graduated all four starters and now move to a truer 3-4 alignment. Which prompts this pressing question: Can this Washington team stop anyone on the ground? Redshirt freshman Jaylen Johnson, sophomore Elijah Qualls and senior Taniela Tupou will get the first shot at it. None has any starting experience.
The linebacking corps also suffered a huge loss of talent with four-year starter John Timu and All-American Shaq Thompson departing. The only full-time starter returning is senior Travis Feeney, who enters his third season as a regular. He’ll be joined on the inside by sophomores Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria, who played a lot in their first seasons.
What once was a glaring weakness — with as many as three freshmen starting at one time, compounded by cornerback Marcus Peters’ midseason dismissal — the secondary is now the Huskies’ defensive strength. Back for his second season, free safety Budda Baker arguably is the team’s best player and top honors candidate. As a true freshman, Baker was on the field more than any other Washington player, collecting 80 tackles and pulling steady special-teams duty. Sophomore cornerback Sidney Jones is a proven coverage guy who has established himself.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Washington's Specialists for 2015
The Huskies have full confidence in their special teams. Placekicker Cameron Van Winkle was among the nation’s best in 2014, converting on 20-of-24 field-goal attempts. Senior punter Korey Durkee averaged 42.5 yards per kick. Ross already possesses a school-record three touchdowns on kickoff returns in just two seasons and will be missed in 2015. Pettis’ punt return for a score was the first for the Huskies in 11 seasons.
For Petersen’s second season, Huskies followers will lower their expectations. Just nine starters return. The defensive front seven must be almost completely rebuilt. A new quarterback needs to be broken in. Now the rebuilding really begins. Six or seven wins would be considered progress.