Quarterback Jake Browning connected with John Ross III for a 50-yard touchdown early in Monday’s spring practice, further evidence that Washington is improving its deep passes.
John Ross III hauled in a long pass in stride from Jake Browning along the left sideline, beating one of the Pac-12’s top cornerbacks, Kevin King.
The first play of the first team period Monday morning gained about 50 yards. More important, it offered further proof that the Huskies’ passing game is starting to mature this spring.
This winter, while studying film of his freshman season as Washington’s quarterback, Browning said it was apparent that he needed to improve his deep passes. Ross’ return from two knee surgeries certainly has helped, but is only one piece of the puzzle.
Other receivers have emerged this spring — notably Dante Pettis, Chico McClatcher and Andre Baccellia. Browning has worked to improve his timing on deep throws and his posture in the pocket.
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“We did study that quite a bit. It was an emphasis,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “I think he’s giving guys chances on deep balls. … We aren’t going to complete every one, but he’s got to give them chances. We’ve got to do a good job running routes. I think he’s building some confidence there.”
Last fall, UW’s passing attack lacked a consistent big-play threat outside, and it showed. In their nine Pac-12 games, the Huskies managed just 24 passing plays of 20 yards or more, fewest in the conference.
Browning, who turned 20 Monday, believes the passing game has made good progress after nine spring practices.
“We’ve obviously got to get a lot better …,” he said. “We just gotta go produce. You can’t think like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be this; it’s going to be that; we’re all returning.’ … You gotta get better every day, or else you’re just potential, and it doesn’t really matter.”
Browning, the first true freshman in UW history to start a season opener at QB, was pleased with his short and intermediate passing last season. A few forced throws led to interceptions, but that goes for just about every quarterback.
Browning, listed at 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, appears more self-assured and relaxed on the field. He says he’s recognizing defensive coverages quicker, and he’s quick to correct receivers running routes without proper timing or depth. Teammates say he’s also maturing as a leader.
“I think he’s grown a ton,” Smith said. “He looks a lot different. There’s no question there’s a comfort level and a command he’s got going for him right now. He’s making good decisions with the ball. … The only time he’s had a couple errors is when he’s extended the play and tried to make something more than what was there.”
Browning and Ross, UW’s junior receiver, connected twice for long plays Friday, beating King both times. Ross is a legitimate home-run hitter on the perimeter — he ran a hand-timed 4.25-second 40 yards last month — but Browning said he’s been just as impressed with Pettis this spring.
“Everybody sees Ross’ 40 time — and obviously he’s a great deep-ball guy — but I think Dante’s coming along very well, and he runs a good deep ball, too,” said Browning, who also singled out McClatcher and Baccellia as two of the most improved offensive players.
King, UW’s senior cornerback, intercepted a pass Monday during a 7-on-7 drill, but Browning responded at the end of practice by leading the No. 1 offense on a five-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 30-yard touchdown pass to Baccellia.
Browning has also shown some feistiness, shoving linebacker Azeem Victor late in Monday’s practice after Victor was holding onto him as the clock wound down.
“He’s tough and he’s detailed with us,” McClatcher said. “That’s what we need out of a quarterback.”
• Budda Bakerspent one period Monday running routes with wide receivers and catching passes, the first time this spring that the all-Pac-12 safety worked with the offense.
On the last play, Baker came around the right edge and blocked a potential tying field goal by Cameron Van Winkle, securing the “win” for the defense.
• RT Kaleb McGary, who injured his left knee Friday, remained out with his knee wrapped. He did do light conditioning with other injured players.
• G Jake Eldrenkamp was limited Monday, but LT Trey Adams and G Michael Kneip were back after sitting out a couple of practices last week.