Contrary to popular belief, the competition to be the next Husky quarterback is not predetermined, not a charade, and not mere window dressing.
At least, that has been the steadfast declaration of Washington coach Chris Petersen. The sentiment was seconded on Saturday by offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan after the Huskies’ second preseason practice.
I asked Hamdan flat out if the competition was truly open.
“Absolutely. It really is. It absolutely is,’’ he said. “We’re trying to cut these guys loose. Give them enough information, but not bog them down. Let them go play with some freedom and see who can kind of just feel this thing.”
In other words, hold off for now on the Jacob Eason coronation. Most people have long assumed that it became Eason’s job the moment Jake Browning moved on to the Minnesota Vikings after four years as the starter. It’s hard not to look at Eason’s prototype NFL frame and rocket arm and not come to that conclusion.
But just as when Browning and K.J. Carta-Samuels battled it out in Browning’s freshman season, I’d expect this decision to hang in the balance until the week before the season opener against Eastern Washington – perhaps even the final day.
Jake Haener, a sophomore entering his third year in the program, is getting plenty of reps with the first unit. He looks smooth and confident running the offense, and on a windy Saturday, connected on some nice passes downfield, particularly a diving grab by Aaron Fuller.
Redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Dylan Morris are technically in the mix, but it would seem to boil down to Eason or Haener.
Frankly, it would benefit the Huskies if Eason seized the job – and I expect that he ultimately will. He simply has the raw tools and potential to provide an explosive element to their offense that has waned in recent years. You could see it Saturday when he threw a dart downfield to Fuller (who had a superb day), and also had a nice deep ball to tight end Jack Westover.
After his transfer from Georgia, Eason apprenticed last year under Browning, whom he called a willing tutor.
“Jake was a real great guy to learn from because he’s real smart and knew exactly what he wanted to do with each play,’’ Eason said. “He’s a student of the game. I got to observe that from afar and also get to know him pretty well.
“I also got to get to know a lot of guys on this team without having the pressure of going in and playing right away. So it was a different kind of year for me, but I learned a lot from it and I made a lot of great connections with guys on this team. It’s going to stay that way going forward.”
During the summer, Eason attended the celebrated Steve Clarkson Quarterback Retreat in Southern California, as he has done for the past few years. There, he got to rub elbows with the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Pat Mahomes and many other elite practitioners of the throwing arts.
Aesthetically, Eason fits right in with what Hamdan calls his “incredible arm talent.” But he also had high praise for Haener as well: “He’s a gutsy player. He always has been. He’s another guy, you have to let him go play. It seems like the way he is, the way he knows this system, it’s almost like he’s 25 years old. He’s a guy that has great command, he cares a lot about his game, he can make all the throws. He’s a guy that people will fight for.”
That sounds a little like Browning to me. The question may ultimately be whether Petersen values command of the system over big-play potential.
Here’s Haener’s take: “Jacob’s a great guy. He works his tail off, just like me. We work very hard. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing, man. There’s other guys in the NFL the same height as me. (People) put them down their whole career and then they go prove everyone wrong. You’ve got to keep doing the same thing; hopefully it all works out and this team does what we have the potential to do, whoever’s at quarterback. We have a lot of great guys, so I think whoever plays quarterback, we’re going to have a great season.”
Eason said similarly, “We understand this is a competition, but we’re all in this for the team.”
Hamdan added that these competitions have a way of sorting themselves out. But despite any preconceived notions, some sorting still remains.