Washington Huskies

Huskies’ John Ross III practices for first time since injury kept him out of 2015 season

Washington returner John Ross III, front left, returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the second half of a game vs. UCLA on Nov. 8, 2014. The Huskies lost to the Bruins, 44-30.
Washington returner John Ross III, front left, returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the second half of a game vs. UCLA on Nov. 8, 2014. The Huskies lost to the Bruins, 44-30. AP file, 2014

Chris Petersen expresses caution when assessing the potential impact of Washington’s fastest football player.

John Ross III isn’t just practicing for the first time since a knee injury wiped out his entire 2015 season. He’s also practicing at receiver for the first time since Petersen moved him to defensive back for the final five games of the 2014 season, a decision made out of necessity that didn’t stick.

And yet it was difficult to watch Ross run the 40-yard dash in a hand-timed 4.25 seconds at this month’s Husky Combine, and to watch him run and catch passes at spring practice Monday — the first of UW’s 15 workouts over the next four weeks — without wondering just how much the fourth-year junior might contribute to what the Huskies hope will be a more dynamic offense this season.

As Petersen said: “He looks good. John Ross always looks good.”

Still …

“Like I said before, John Ross has played very little receiver,” Petersen said. “Since we’ve been here, he’s really been all defense, and then by the time we got him back, he didn’t make it out of spring ball. And so I think expectations are great, but expectations need to be kept in check. We all know the explosive player that John is, but it’s not fair to him to expect him to be the answer to solve all of our issues.”

But he can surely help solve some of them. The Huskies lacked a big-play threat in their receiving corps last season. Ross is nothing if not that.

In 2014, Ross scored five touchdowns on plays from scrimmage in nine games as an offensive player — on receptions of 91, 55, 75 and 86 yards, plus a 20-yard rush — in addition to two kickoff returns for scores.

His career receiving totals — 33 catches for 579 yards in two seasons — support Petersen’s insistence that Ross still needs to develop to become a truly consistent offensive weapon. But of sitting out last season after sustaining a knee injury during spring, Ross said: “I’m actually happy that it happened, because I learned a lot, and I feel like it was a blessing in disguise.”

“… Now I can say that I can see what the defense is doing just by them rotating or pre-snap,” Ross said. “I’ve got to know a lot more fundamentals than I did before.”

He showed a familiar burst on Monday, particularly during a 1-on-1 drill in which he blazed past all-Pac-12 cornerback Sidney Jones and hauled in an accurate deep throw from sophomore quarterback Jake Browning.

Ross said his knee isn’t 100 percent in terms of sustaining contact, but “as far as me just waking up and feeling good and not having any pain after practice, I feel great.”

Petersen said Ross is “good to go” when it comes to practicing this spring, though he might choose to slow him down at certain times to ensure that he stays that way.

“I think any time a guy has a significant injury like that, we’ll always monitor it and we may pull back,” Petersen said, “but he didn’t miss a rep today, so we’ll just take it day by day. We don’t have to win spring ball with him. We’ve got to have him ready to play in September.”

Which means Ross might have to learn how to bide his time.

“Sometimes I forget, and the trainers tell me to slow down because I just don’t remember sometimes,” Ross said. “I’m just happy to be out here. I feel like a kid again. I just want to get up and go. Before, I didn’t really have to stretch as much as I did, but now I have to stretch a lot. I don’t really think about it that much, though.”

Christian Caple: 253-597-8437, @ChristianCaple