Washington faces its biggest rebuild in six seasons with Chris Petersen as coach — the Huskies are replacing 13 starters, including nine on defense — yet the new quarterback has team followers more hopeful than wary about what comes next.
Georgia transfer Jacob Eason brings a pro-style arm, a local pedigree (he grew up 35 miles from campus) and the ability to unify a UW fan base that grew divided over his quarterback predecessor. Jake Browning drew praise for starting four seasons and claiming two Pac-12 championships, but heavy criticism for losing nearly every big game on a national stage.
Eason took only a handful of snaps over the past two seasons because of an injury at Georgia in 2017 and his transfer in 2018, but he regularly tested the top UW defense in practice and impressed with his arm. He should be an upgrade over Browning.
Previewing Washington's Offense for 2019
The strength of the Huskies is their huge and experienced offensive line, which will help take the pressure off Eason. Four starters return in All-Pac-12 center Nick Harris, a stout 6-foot-1, 302-pound senior entering his fourth season in the opening lineup; Luke Wattenberg, a dependable 6-foot-5, 307-pound junior left guard and a two-year starter; Jaxson Kirkland, an overly physical 6-foot-7, 320-pound sophomore right guard; and Jared Hilbers, a 6-foot-7, 305-pound senior now at right tackle after starting 11 games at left tackle. The "newcomer" is senior Trey Adams, a mobile 6-foot-8, 306-pound left tackle, an All-Pac-12 player as a sophomore and a 32-game starter who missed most of 2018 with a back injury. The Huskies will run behind him as much as possible. They might run a lot.
The UW will experience a drop-off at running back after losing Myles Gaskin, a four-year starter and the school's all-time leading rusher. Junior Salvon Ahmed, Gaskin's understudy, has better open-field speed but not nearly the creativity or patience in picking out running lanes.
Goals for the receivers are two-fold: keep tight end honors candidate Hunter Bryant on the field for a full season and find a No. 1 wide receiver. Bryant missed 15 games with knee injuries in his first two seasons; when healthy, he's the Huskies' top pass catcher. In the team's two-tight end lineup, he pairs up with sophomore Cade Otton, a 10-game starter and a superb blocker. Senior Aaron Fuller and junior Ty Jones, who caught 58 and 31 passes, respectively, for a combined 10 touchdowns, return as the starting wide receivers, as does senior reserve Andre Baccellia, who added 55 receptions but didn't score. The downside is that none is a legitimate deep threat.
Eason brings A-list dimensions (6-6, 228) and credentials at quarterback, starting as a true freshman for Georgia and beating out Jake Fromm as a sophomore before a knee injury sidelined him. He’s expected to enliven a UW offense that became stagnant.
Previewing Washington's Defense for 2019
On this side of the ball, the Huskies return only senior defensive end Benning Potoa'e and senior safety Myles Bryant as starters, but all is not bleak, especially up front. They've accumulated an impressive collection of touted young linemen, led by redshirt freshman nose tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa, whose low-leverage frame should make him a disruptive force up front. He'll be flanked by junior defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, a five-game starter capable of bringing heavy pressure, and Potoa'e, who possesses rare game experience but disappointed with just one sack last season.
The most pressing concern is at inside linebacker. Replacements are needed at both spots, and the leading candidates haven't been able to stay healthy. Senior Brandon Wellington started only the Pac-12 title game and the Rose Bowl and senior DJ Beavers just the opener in 2018 because of injuries. Beavers decided to retire in late April, adding even more uncertainty to this position. Speedy sophomore Ariel Ngata moved from the outside to provide another option, while redshirt freshman Jackson Sirmon and freshman Josh Calvert might have to play a lot as untested players.
Washington's five-player secondary took a hit with four starters graduating or heading early to the NFL. Only Bryant, a nickel back and a 25-game starter, returns, but he's moved to safety, joining junior Brandon McKinney. Yet the Huskies have been hoarding and seasoning a glut of defensive back talent. Juniors Keith Taylor and Elijah Molden and redshirt freshman Kyler Gordon are the new cornerbacks. Gordon, with lockdown coverage skills, projects as the UW's next elite defensive back.
Previewing Washington's Specialists for 2019
After then-redshirt freshman kicker Peyton Henry missed a potential game-winning field goal against bitter rival Oregon, change was inevitable. The Huskies will hand the job to Tim Horn, a true freshman from Hawaii. Senior punter Joel Whitford, a two-year starter from Australia, has been reliable, using his rugby-style kicks to win the field position battle.
Eason could give the Huskies a free-wheeling offense that takes pressure off their revamped defense and gives them a chance to add to their string of three consecutive double-digit-win seasons. However, game-changing performers are badly needed at inside linebacker and wide receiver, or there might be a fall-off for this team. A new quarterback can't do it all alone.