See that mountain over there? Pretty sure Jacob Eason can throw a football over it. The quarterback’s arm strength has been well-documented, and rarely disappoints the naked eye.
Need an NFL prototype? Eason is your model. At 6-feet-6, 227 pounds, the Husky’s frame spawns instant salivation from any professional scout.
It’s possible that no Washington signal-caller has been as hyped up as the five-star recruit. As a scout-team player, Eason was a topic of conversation even as Jake Browning was setting records as the winningest quarterback in Huskies history.
But Eason’s Herculean arm and build can only take him so far. If Eason is going to be the next Montlake legend, it’s going to come down to what’s in his head.
On Friday, UW football coach Chris Petersen announced that Eason will be the Huskies’ starting quarterback after a heated competition with Jake Haener over the spring and summer. Such a prolonged battle seemed inconceivable when Eason first transferred to Washington from Georgia two Februarys ago, but this really did feel like an 11th-hour decision.
Perhaps the delay is a testament to Haener, a redshirt sophomore who still has the potential to be a Husky great. Or maybe it means that, despite his genetic lottery winnings, Eason still has much to learn when it comes to the mental side of his position.
Browning might never have possessed the physical tools of his successor, but by all accounts, he was a savant in terms of understanding the game. Petersen’s offense is complex, but rarely did it befuddle Browning.
This was a major reason as to why the Huskies have appeared in a major bowl game in each of the past three seasons while capturing two Pac-12 championships. Plenty of quarterbacks have awed with their arms, but the ones who win typically have the minds to match.
This is what we are going to learn about Eason in the weeks to come. There might be no position in team sports that matches the mental rigors of quarterback, and now we’re going to see how equipped the Lake Stevens native is.
How deep and nuanced is his understanding of the offense? How skilled is he at reading various defenses? Will the fact that he was pushed hard by Haener — who is expected to take snaps vs. Eastern Washington in the opener — have Eason looking over his shoulder? Will the inevitable social-media second-guessing get to him at all?
In terms of pressure, I would imagine it’s harder being a high-profile college athlete now than it has ever been. Regardless of one’s self-discipline, it’s nearly impossible to escape the criticism that goes with starring at a major program. Throw in the fact that you’ve been dubbed a potential first-round draft pick since your high-school days, and that mental weight can double.
Some guys are built for that kind of scrutiny, some guys aren’t.
Based on the way Petersen spoke on Friday, it doesn’t seem as though this QB competition is completely over. It’s more like Eason has a lead in a 100-meter hurdle race but can still get tripped up.
“It comes down to a gut feeling,” Petersen said of picking Eason. “You’ve got to let a guy go play and grow in games and all of those type of things. That’s why Jake Haener’s going to play some, because he deserves it. He doesn’t have much legitimate game time himself.”
Just like I’m sure the overwhelming number of Husky fans are, Petersen’s gotta be rooting hard for Eason. He knows how much natural talent he has, and if he lives up to his potential, the Huskies could be back in the national-championship conversation this year. But this isn’t going to come down to mere physical prowess. This is just as much about mental strength.
For eight months now, Washington fans have been waiting to see what their team can do between the lines. The truth is, that might come down to what the starting quarterback has going on between his ears.