A position-by-position analysis of the 2015 Washington Huskies roster before national signing day on Feb. 4. Today: Quarterbacks. Wednesday: Running backs.
2014 review: A year ago, in assessing the Huskies’ outlook for 2014, I wrote here that the new coaching staff “should feel good” about the quarterback situation, even while needing to break in a new starter. Oops. A year later, the same question hangs in the air like a bad pass: Who will be the Huskies’ starting quarterback next season? Cyler Miles remains the odds-on favorite to retain the job, but there was no guarantee on Miles — or anyone, anywhere — from coach Chris Petersen after the Cactus Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Nor should their be. As a third-year sophomore, Miles was maddeningly inconsistent in 2014. That makes him an easy target for fans’ frustration now. Some of that, as I wrote last week, is reasonable; some of it is off-base. Miles was hardly the only problem for the UW offense in 2014 — just the most obvious one. UW’s veteran offensive line was underwhelming and the run game unpredictable. Miles started 12 games this fall, with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. His completion percentage of .666 ranked No. 2 in UW history and his 142.4 passing efficiency ranked No. 6 all-time. His experience is meaningful. Will it be enough for him to keep the starting job?
Who’s out: Troy Williams, so., 6-2, 194
Who’s in: Jake Browning, fr., 6-2, 205
— Cyler Miles, jr., 6-4, 225
— Jeff Lindquist, jr., 6-3, 246
— K.J. Carta-Samuels, r-fr., 6-2, 228
— Jake Browning, fr., 6-2, 205
2015 outlook: With Troy Williams transferring to Santa Monica College, the Huskies currently have four quarterbacks on the roster. It’s a safe assumption that all four will get an equal opportunity to showcase themselves during spring ball. It will be especially important for the two freshmen, Carta-Samuels and Browning, to get extra reps as they get acclimated to the offense. Carta-Samuels, of course, redshirted this fall and earned scout team player of the year honors. He has a strong arm and, at 228 pounds, looks like a capable runner, too. Because of closed practices, and because he played in a run-first offense in high school, there’s still a lot of unknowns about him from the outside. And UW coaches might not have a good feel for Carta-Samuels’ potential yet, either. They figured to only have limited work with him during the season; that’s typically the case with a scout-team quarterback and perhaps more so this fall because of the youth and experience of the quarterbacks who were actually going to play in games.
Lindquist figures to still be in the mix, too. We know he has a big arm and brings a fullback’s mentality as a runner. (In hindsight, it’s fair to wonder whether using Lindquist in a Wildcat-style attack against Arizona State would have been a better option than throwing Williams to the wolves — and the wind — on that wild October night). There’s still potential there with Lindquist, but he wasn’t able to wrestle the job away from Miles in the fall, so it’s difficult to imagine him being able to do so in the spring. Some have suggested a position change could be in order for Lindquist, and I do think that’s a possibility. He is a versatile athlete and was a regular on the punt team, often chasing down the opponents’ returner. He’s a humble young man and a true team player, and I think coaches would be happy to try find a role for him somewhere.
Browning is the centerpiece of the Huskies’ 2015 class. He signed a financial-aid agreement early and began classes at UW last week. It’s extremely rare for a true freshman to immediately step in to a starting role, and Browning is a long-shot to win the job. But he does have the most impressive resume you’ll ever see from a high school quarterback. The highlights: 229 career touchdown passes and 91 this past season, both national records. The California Gatorade Player of the Year led his Folsom High team to a 16-0 season and a state championship last month. Having watched him play in October, Browning looked like he knew exactly what to do on virtually every snap. His arm strength would probably be average by Pac-12 standards, and he’s not much of a runner, but his accuracy and decision-making are what truly made him special at the high school level. Those are two traits, by the way, that Coach Petersen often preaches for the position. “I think Jake can be exceptional at Washington,” Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor, a former Cal quarterback, told The Sacramento Bee. “He has so much data in his brain, taken so many reps. He’s seen everything. He sees the game at a slow pace, and that’s innate. Can’t teach that. He definitely sees it at a slower pace than I ever did, and the adjustments and poise he has are uncanny. And he’s hard to sack. He has great feet. Washington will love him.” How soon will Husky fans love him? We’ll start to form an answer for that this spring.