Bryant played just a few snaps against Stanford in his return from knee surgery. Coaches say he will be full-go against Oregon State on Saturday.
No, Chris Petersen said Thursday, there are no more limitations in place for sophomore tight end Hunter Bryant.
And, yes, that is most welcome news for the No. 17 Huskies, whose offensive struggles this season have been well documented.
Bryant, and the offense at large, could be ripe for a breakthrough Saturday against Oregon State, which comes to Husky Stadium for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff with the worst defense the Pac-12 has seen in five years. The Beavers are allowing 45.1 points per game, the most since California in 2013 (45.9 ppg).
A 2017 ESPN Freshman All-American, Bryant played just a few snaps two weeks ago in the Huskies’ 27-23 victory over Stanford. In his first game action since an initial injury to his left knee Oct. 28, 2017, Bryant had one catch for 9 yards.
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The Huskies (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) had their bye last week, and this week coaches said Bryant should be full-go for the final two regular-season games.
“It’s been huge to have him back,” offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said. “Any time you add a guy that you feel confident with in man coverage — if they make a decision to stop the run, we feel like we have the opportunity to win some of those one-on-one matchups.”
Bryant, a 6-foot-2, 224-pound second-year sophomore out of Eastside Catholic, could be especially useful in the red zone, a particularly troublesome area for the Huskies this season.
In seven conference games, the Huskies have made 28 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Of those 28 drives, the Huskies have converted 15 into touchdowns — a 53.6-percent touchdown rate that ranks among the worst in the Pac-12. (Only UCLA, Arizona and California have a lower touchdown rate.)
By comparison, Oregon State, led by former UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, has converted 69.3 percent of its red-zone drives into touchdowns (18 of 26).
The return of senior running back Myles Gaskin (28 carries, 148 yards, one TD) from a shoulder injury did wonders for Washington in its win over Stanford. The Huskies are hoping Bryant can also be a difference-maker in their push for a second Pac-12 championship in three years.
“He’s making really good progress, and we’re kind of rolling with him,” Petersen said.
Despite missing the final month of the regular season last year, Bryant still finished third on the team in receptions with 22 catches for 331 yards and one touchdown.
He did not have surgery after the initial injury against UCLA in October 2017; instead, he rehabbed and was back on the field as a limited participant during spring practices in April, even hauling in a team-best five catches during the spring scrimmage.
But he re-injured the knee sometime after that — when and what the exact nature of the injury was have not been revealed — and he needed surgery in early June.
He returned to practice in late October, and finally got back on the field against Stanford, five months after surgery — if only for those few snaps.
“I thought how much we used him was a good way to get him back into the mix,” Petersen said after the Stanford game, “and he’ll only gain confidence going forward.”
(Petersen said Thursday the plan is not necessarily for Bryant to redshirt this season, though that does remain an option. If the Huskies win their final two regular-season games — against Oregon State and at Washington State next Friday — then they would win the Pac-12 North and would qualify for the Nov. 30 Pac-12 championship game. Add in a bowl game, and that would potentially be five games played for Bryant, one more than the limit under new NCAA rules. But that’s a secondary consideration for the Huskies at this point. And, besides, who knows if Bryant would want to stick around for a fifth year anyway?)
There remains the possibility of more good news for the UW offense: Left tackle Trey Adams, out since mid-October 2017, returned to practice in late October and sources have said there is still a chance the preseason All-American could return at some point this season.