Jimmy Lake’s smile said even more than he did.
On Tuesday — following his team’s second fall practice, four days after the Pac-12 announced a seven-game season starting Nov. 6 or 7 — Washington’s first-year head coach met the media over Zoom for nearly 30 minutes. He addressed strength and conditioning concerns and quarterback competitions and even congratulated the Tampa Bay Lightning on winning the Stanley Cup. And each answer came with an enthusiastic undercurrent.
Pac-12 football is coming back.
And Lake sure looked like it.
“It’s like we just won the lottery,” he said with a wide grin. “We’re so excited around here that we have a season to look forward to and we have something to prepare for. Our morale right now is through the roof. But no question, a few months ago it was a roller coaster. We’re playing a Pac-12 season and then we’re not playing it until January and now we’re playing.
“So at this point of the roller coaster, we’re at the top right now. We are extremely excited to put all of our schemes in. We’re out there practicing all together again. And right now we are fired up that we get to play football and go play against an opponent here in about six weeks.”
But Lake also knows, with total certainty, that an absence of accountability could cause that roller coaster to crash. As part of the Pac-12’s partnership with Quidel Corporation, UW will have access to rapid-results daily COVID-19 testing throughout the coming months. Theoretically, they’ll be able to identify positive cases and remove those players or staff members from the community before they become contagious to others.
But it will be up to each individual player to be accountable as well.
“There is no signed document (promising that they will be responsible away from the facility),” Lake said. “It goes back to our goals. If we’re going to reach our goals, we have to protect the team by not bringing the virus into this building. We have to protect the team by not getting the virus outside this building and spreading it to your roommates. We have to insulate ourselves and create our own bubble here at the University of Washington football program. The team that does that the best in the Pac-12 is most likely going to be holding up that trophy.”
And the Huskies can only hold that trophy if they’re both physically and mentally prepared to play. Despite a three-week break from practice, followed by another week spent completing a seven-day quarantine, Lake said he’s confident the team’s veterans will be ready to play football in 5 1/2 weeks.
“Our vets are going to be physically prepared to play when we open the season in November,” he said. “Eighty or 70% of our roster are all vets. They didn’t leave the city of Seattle (during the three-week break). They were right here, lifting. They were training. We still have to get into football shape and be able to run football plays and be tired and then run a football play again after getting hit and getting back up. That’s going to be the difference. But in terms of training, (strength and conditioning coach Tim) Socha and his staff are doing an unbelievable job.
“Our true freshmen, we’ve just got to see if those guys are ready to go physically. We don’t know that yet until we get the pads on and start banging around a little bit. But that’s always the case in any year, not just in 2020.”
Simplifying the offense
A constant complaint from Husky fans in recent seasons was that the complexity of UW’s offense made it difficult for talented freshmen — like, say, standout wide receiver Puka Nacua — to make an immediate impact in Pac-12 play. Lake relieved offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan of his duties this offseason and replaced him with Jacksonville Jaguars offensive assistant John Donovan.
The goal, Lake says, is for Donovan’s pro-style offense to be easier for everyone to digest.
“It’s not even just (helpful) for the young guys. It’s easier even for our vets,” he said. “The simpler we can keep things, but it’s still sophisticated for our opponents, it’s going to make all of our guys play a lot faster. Now going to the young guys, we bring in these guys that are fast and tall and explosive. The last thing that we want to do as coaches is slow them down. We want these guys to play as fast, if not faster, than they played when we looked at them on tape and we thought they were going to be big-time players for us. On both sides of the ball, freshmen should be able to insert into our scheme mentally and be able to play right away. It shouldn’t be that confusing.
“I think we are taking steps that way. I know we are, because I’ve seen a bunch of young guys out there right now on offense making plays in June, July and August, and even in these last couple days getting lined up correctly. So it’s been fun to watch.”
Let the quarterback competition commence
This might come as some surprise, but there’s about to be another quarterback competition on Montlake. In all, four scholarship signal-callers — graduate student transfer Kevin Thomson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman Ethan Garbers — will battle for starting snaps.
Tuesday, Lake essentially said it’s anybody’s game.
“All four are going to vie for the starting job here,” Lake said. “It started yesterday. It (actually) started way back in the offseason, but these last two days we’ve ramped up our installs. Definitely as soon as we get into training camp it’s going to be an exciting competition. It’s going to be exciting for our team to watch, our coaching staff to watch, and I know for you all to watch and our fans to watch.
“Whoever shows that they can run our scheme, can lead our offense, make smart decisions and make plays is going to be the one that’s going to be the starter. They’ve got to do it and they’ve got to be consistent, and we’re looking forward to watching the competition.”
- Lake confirmed that defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike and outside linebacker Joe Tryon — who have both declared for the 2021 NFL draft — will not opt back into the 2020 season. He also said no one else on UW’s roster is a threat to declare for the draft.
- Redshirt junior offensive lineman Cole Norgaard has medically retired from football, Lake announced. He will remain with the team while he works toward a UW degree.
- Lake saluted former UW and Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who officially announced his retirement from football Tuesday. “What a phenomenal football player. What a phenomenal man,” Lake said. “I’m going to try to recruit him to be around our program as much as possible. He’s a shining example of what a Husky is all about.”
- While he said he has no inside information, Lake hoped the team’s 2020 fall schedule will be announced sometime in the next five days.