Washington opens its second spring under coach Chris Petersen with just 10 returning starters and major concerns on both sides of the ball. The quarterback position is up for grabs, and the battle includes true freshman Jake Browning after he enrolled in time to compete this spring. Defensive standouts Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton must be replaced, and the secondary needs to take a step forward after ranking near the bottom of the Pac-12 last season.
5 Storylines to Watch in Washington’s Spring Practice
1. The Quarterback Battle
Petersen planned to open the quarterback battle to all candidates after the Huskies ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in passing offense in 2014. However, this battle became even more of a question mark after it was announced Cyler Miles was taking a leave of absence from the team. Miles is not expected to play in 2015, which leaves three candidates vying for the starting job: Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and freshman Jake Browning. Will a leader emerge this spring?
2. Improvement at Receiver
While improved play from the quarterback position is needed, Washington has to develop more playmakers at receiver. This unit loses DiAndre Campbell (24 catches in 2014) and Kasen Williams (20 receptions) but returns Jaydon Mickens (60), Kendyl Taylor, Dante Pettis and two-way talent John Ross. This is a big spring for players like Ross, Pettis and Brayden Lenius to take the next step in their development.
3. Restocking the Offensive Line
The Huskies must replace three starters from a line that allowed 28 sacks in 2014. There’s a foundation to build around with the return of guard Dexter Charles, center/guard Siosifa Tufunga and tackle Coleman Shelton. How quickly can Washington find a consistent starting five this spring? Will freshmen like Matt James, Henry Roberts (arrives in the summer) or Kaleb McGary make a push for playing time?
4. Rebuild the Front Seven
Washington finished third in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 24.8 points per game last season. The Huskies have some major issues to address if they want to match that number in 2015. The front seven must be revamped with Shaq Thompson (LB) leaving for the NFL, along with Danny Shelton (NT), rush end Hau’oli Kikaha (rush end), John Timu (LB) and Andrew Hudson (DE) expiring their eligibility. Elijah Qualls is a potential breakout candidate up front, but can coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski find a few answers at end? Joe Mathis is a name to watch after recording two sacks in a backup role last year.
5. Improvement in the Secondary
The Huskies struggled to prevent big plays in the secondary last season, giving up 55 plays of 20 yards or more. Youth was largely to blame, as the depth chart from the Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State showed mostly freshmen and sophomores in the rotation. With another spring to work under Kwiatkowski, it’s safe to assume the secondary will show improvement in 2015. But how will the starting spots look by the opener? Sidney Jones (cornerback) and Budda Baker (safety) are two rising stars in the Pac-12, while fellow sophomore Naijiel Hale could claim the other spot at cornerback. How healthy is Jermaine Kelly after playing in only two games last season? Petersen also recruited a junior college safety (Ezekiel Turner) to add to the mix this spring. Could Ross slide back to cornerback after playing here last season? Or will Petersen keep Ross on the offensive side?
Pre-Spring Outlook on Washington in the Pac-12:
Petersen was considered one of the top coaching hires in the 2014 cycle, but Washington didn’t show major improvement in the win column and capped the year with a bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Surpassing last year’s win total would be a surprise with the new faces and question marks on both sides of the ball, but the future looks bright with several talented freshmen and sophomores receiving significant snaps. If the Huskies find a quarterback, finishing third in the North is a realistic goal.