After defying the odds by winning the job as a freshman, Jake Browning sees there is a huge difference between knowing the plays and embracing the nuances of being a Pac-12 quarterback.
Husky quarterback Jake Browning aptly summed up the difference in his approach in Washington’s just-ended spring football practice compared to a year ago, when he was as raw as could be.
“It’s hard to be a leader when you don’t know what’s going on,’’ he said.
Browning hastened to add he was fully versed in the mechanics of running the Huskies’ offense a year ago, when he was barely out of high school and battling Jeff Lindquist and K.J. Carta-Samuels for UW’s wide-open starting job.
“I’m never going to go into something not knowing the X’s and O’s,’’ he said.
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But after defying the odds by winning the job as a true freshman, Browning understands there is a huge difference between knowing the plays and fully embracing all the nuances and intricacies of being a Pac-12 quarterback.
That remains a work in progress – he’ll tell you that will be the case until he hangs up his cleats – but heading into his second year at the Husky helm, Browning has a much keener grasp of the disparate elements of running the team.
And that has allowed him not only to execute with more aplomb, but also to command the offense with more forcefulness.
“He’s definitely a greater leader,’’ said tight end Darrell Daniels. “He’s becoming what we need him to be.”
On Saturday, in the Huskies’ spring preview at Husky Stadium – a glorified practice with intermittent elements of a real scrimmage – Browning was typically self-critical of his performance in the “clutch drive,” a version of the two-minute drill.
His white team ended up losing to the purple, which had dire consequences for hungry college kids – a training dinner on Saturday night of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, as opposed to the victor’s feast of Ezell’s Famous Chicken.
“I thought I missed an opportunity to score, which would have won the game,’’ Browning said. “Obviously, after last season, that’s something I need to work on personally. I think as an offense, we feel that’s something we need to work on. I’ve got to make a couple more plays, because now we’re eating PB and J’s.”
Browning was officially credited with five completions in seven attempts for 65 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Ross. But coach Chris Petersen, who last year made Browning the first true freshman ever to start for him, is far more interested in sustained progress than stats from a contrived event witnessed by a sparse crowd.
“I thought he had a nice camp,’’ Petersen said. “I think he’s sharper in his decisions, I think he’s throwing it well. The ball’s coming off his hand nice.”
Much has changed since last year. Lindquist, Browning’s main competitor for the starting job, drew praise from Petersen in his transition to a new position, tight end. Though Browning is ensconced at No. 1, Petersen stressed that they need the backups, such as Carta-Samuels and junior Tony Rodriguez, to step forward as well.
“It can’t be one guy,” he said. “It can’t be just Jake ready to play and win for us. That’s just not how it goes in college football. We need those other quarterbacks to take the next step as well.”
The entire unit will be aided by the return of Ross, a big-play threat who missed last year recovering from knee surgery. The synergy between Browning and Ross has been a major theme of spring ball, but Browning hastened to throw some love to the other receivers. Hey, that’s part of leadership, too.
“With him being such a deep threat, it also opens up Dante (Pettis) on the other side and he’s had a great spring, too,” Browning said. “Ross is the flashy name right now because he’s new, he’s fast, stuff like that, but we’ve had a lot of guys come a long way, and I think Ross would be the first to tell you that.”
Ross would also tell you that the bonding process between him and Browning actually began last year, when they lived in neighboring apartment complexes. Browning would often saunter over and offer both encouragement and a vision of their future together.
“He’d always say: ‘When you get back, this is what we’re going to do. Be ready, because we need you 100 miles per hour,’ ” Ross said. “After this spring, I can tell the chemistry is going to be great, because he’s a great person. He’s a leader. He plays like he’s been here for years.”
It’s been just one year, but Browning now has 2,955 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and seven victories on his resume. The overriding goal is to increase that last number, which means that Browning is aiming to combine the urgency of last spring with the command that comes with a complete autumn at the helm.
“I try to bring the same intensity like your job’s on the line every single practice,” he said.
Even when all that’s on the line is fried chicken.