OK, so everyone wants to know who’s going to start at quarterback for the Washington Huskies this season.
But the curiosity shared by the Huskies’ receivers might be the most valid. They are, after all, the ones who must catch passes from whomever UW coach Chris Petersen deems worthy of lining up under center.
“We all talked about that before, like, ‘I wonder what the quarterback’s going to be like,’ ” said sophomore receiver Brayden Lenius. “They’ve all been playing really well. Each of them had their off days, but you can’t be perfect every day. They’re all throwing with confidence. They’ve all been looking good.”
This is the second consecutive spring the Huskies have entered without any idea who their Day 1 starter might be at quarterback, which means it’s also the second consecutive spring in which practice repetitions have been distributed almost equally among the participants.
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Last year, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams battled for the right to start UW’s season opener at Hawaii, with eventual starter Cyler Miles suspended for the entire spring.
Miles is absent again, this time on a voluntary, indefinite leave. Lindquist is back and competing again for the starting job, this time with redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning.
Which means the Huskies’ receivers are trying to adjust to the throwing styles and preferences of three different passers.
“A lot of us are not used to going with three different guys every other series,” said senior receiver Jaydon Mickens, “and getting used to this guy, (who) has a little more zip, this guy lofts it up a little more. It’s a little different, but they’ve all been good, all been coping with every receiver, on scholarship or not, and they’re progressing every day.”
The Huskies also hope that’s true of their receivers, a group somewhat light on experience but teeming with potential. Mickens led the team in catches and yards last year (60 for 617) — he ranks sixth all-time at UW with 145 career receptions — and as a senior will likely be a primary target once again. So, too, should junior John Ross III, one of the fastest players in the Pac-12, once he recovers fully from offseason knee surgery. He’s back at receiver after moving last season to cornerback, but hasn’t practiced this spring.
UW also figures to rely more upon a pair of sophomores, Lenius and Dante Pettis, both of whom played a bit last year as freshmen. Pettis came on first as a punt returner, but eventually worked his way into a starting receiver position and finished the season with 17 catches, 259 yards and a touchdown.
Lenius caught only seven passes for a total of 56 yards, but at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he’s an ideal fit as an outside receiver who can bully smaller defensive backs. He says he’s refined his route-running and worked on his speed, in addition to further acclimating to the tempo with which Petersen wants his offense to operate.
“We don’t really have a big guy to go up and get jump balls besides him,” Pettis said. “He’s like a tight end that plays out wide.”
“I think Brayden and Dante playing as freshmen last year, we’re going to see those guys take the next step in their game,” Petersen said.
Marvin Hall, another senior, has been fairly productive this spring after catching just six passes a year ago. He snagged three touchdown passes during Wednesday’s practice alone. And with only four healthy scholarship receivers available, a bevy of walk-ons — Max Richmond, Taelon Parson and Drew Before among them — have stepped into bigger roles during spring practice.
Four more scholarship receivers — incoming high-school recruits Chico McClatcher of Federal Way, Quinten Pounds, Isaiah Renfro and Andre Baccellia — are set to join the program this summer.
“We’re going to play a big role in this offense. We’ve stepped it up so much since last year. We’ve all worked hard,” Lenius said. “We have a diverse group. We have all different ways we can attack defenses. We have mismatches with my height, then we have mismatches with speed and linebackers like Jaydon, mismatches like Dante, who’s fast. We have all those mismatches, so it’s going to break defenses down and we’re going to get open and score.”
Regardless, they hope, of who’s throwing the passes.