Eason Season is underway.
But that’s not all. In the wake of Washington’s first of 15 spring practices, let’s table talk about the “quarterback competition” between junior Jacob Eason and sophomore Jake Haener, if only for a moment.
Yes, Eason and Haener shared snaps with the starters on Wednesday. Yes, Haener served up an interception to early enrollee linebacker Josh Calvert during a scrimmage drill. Yes, Eason overthrew some open receivers. And, yes, the intrigue is practically overwhelming.
But the spotlight, in this case, shouldn’t exclusively shine under center. Here are some other highlights from UW head coach Chris Petersen’s post-practice press conference.
McClatcher’s back in the fold
Chico McClatcher was a Washington wide receiver on Wednesday.
That statement is not quite as obvious as it sounds, given that the 5-foot-8, 184-pound senior suffered a torn ACL and broken ankle in the same leg in Sept. 2017, then left the team for personal reasons after eight games (and significant struggles) last season.
The time away, it seems, has made McClatcher appreciate what he was missing.
And, for the record, Petersen — and the entire UW offense — missed McClatcher, too.
“It’s awesome just having Chico out there,” Petersen said. “I mean, I just like being around Chico, first and foremost. It’s just really good. It puts a smile on my face, and it has for a while. He’s kind of bouncing around (out there) … and I really hope we’re enjoying this game for how we’re supposed to enjoy it. I think that’s the one thing that so many of these guys lose sight of, that us as coaches can lose sight of, and certainly people on the outside — how much these kids really care about what they’re doing.
“Really, we have an issue of them putting too much pressure on themselves. They care too much. We’ve got to keep this thing in perspective.”
So here’s a bit more perspective: in his sophomore season in 2016, McClatcher led the Pac-12 Conference with 18.5 yards per reception. In eight games last season, he managed just nine catches for 134 yards. There’s no telling which Chico will line up against Eastern Washington on Aug. 31. But for now, everybody’s just happy to have him back.
The Junior Adams adjustment
Speaking of the wideouts, former Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Junior Adams took the reins inside the wide receivers room this winter. A former receivers coach at Boise State and Eastern Washington, Adams has spent a significant time around Petersen … even if they’ve never previously served on the same coaching staff.
Still, it appears to have been a seamless transition.
“I think every coach does (bring something different). It’s part of their personality,” Petersen said. “That’s probably one of the things that I’ve been most pleased with. I really like just being around him. I think he’s a really, really good guy, and I think the kids like him a lot.
“So that coupled with being a really good wide receivers coach, I’ve been really encouraged and excited, because we can teach him the rest of how we do stuff.”
Now, it’s Adams’ turn to teach a wide receiver unit that underwhelmed at times in 2018. The Huskies’ three most productive wide receivers — seniors Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia and junior Ty Jones — all return. So do highly regarded redshirt freshmen Marquis Spiker, Austin Osborne and Trey Lowe. Add McClatcher and four-star freshman Puka Nacua this summer, and Adams should have plenty to work with.
Several injury updates
The leading receiver among that group, Fuller, did not participate in practice on Wednesday — though Petersen said that shouldn’t be a reason for concern.
“It’s nothing serious at all,” Petersen said. “We actually were going to try to get him through spring ball and then maybe take care of his issue afterwards. But then at the last second we readjusted. He had a little procedure done that’s not major, and we’re just going to be smart with him.”
More concerning is the status of senior linebacker D.J. Beavers, who appeared to suffer a significant leg injury in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. The 6-1, 211-pound senior — who has made 69 tackles in 22 career games — was nowhere to be seen on Wednesday.
But will we see him in the fall?
“We’re still kind of figuring out D.J.’s situation,” Petersen said. “He will not play spring ball.”
Senior Kyler Manu served as a starting inside linebacker in Beavers’ place on Wednesday, beside fellow senior Brandon Wellington.
Bulking up the running backs
Washington did not have a tailback that weighed more than 204 pounds last season. Now it has two.
But is that a good thing?
Junior Kamari Pleasant and redshirt freshman Richard Newton both unveiled a more muscular frame on Wednesday, as Pleasant jumped from 204 to 215 pounds and Newton moved from 195 pounds to 213 pounds.
Now, the coaching staff must conclude whether both players actually subtracted by adding.
“It’s always about speed and agility in our opinion,” Petersen explained. “So they can put on as much weight as they possibly can, but if it slows them down at whatever position – tight end, running back – then it’s too much weight. So that’s (strength and conditioning coach Tim) Socha’s department with the position coach. But as long as those guys aren’t losing any movement skills, that’s fine. We want them to be able to carry the weight that they can naturally carry.
“Everybody’s trying to get bigger and all those things, but I think that’s one of the most overrated things in my opinion,” Petersen continued. “‘I’ve got to get bigger.’ That’s one of the things we see with some of the young guys that’ll come in the summer time and all year long they’re working to get bigger, ‘Because I’m going to play college football.’ They walk in and we’re like, ‘Uh oh. This is going to be a problem.’”
For now, though, Petersen doesn’t see a problem.
“I thought they were moving fine, without analyzing the tape,” Petersen said. “So it does look like they can carry that weight. But we’ll see. We’ll see.”
It might be nice to see a complement on Montlake to the Huskies’ two most experienced running backs, Salvon Ahmed (193 pounds) and Sean McGrew (184 pounds).
Hilbers takes lead at right tackle
Washington returns four Rose Bowl starters this spring: left tackle Trey Adams, left guard Luke Wattenberg, center Nick Harris and right guard Jaxson Kirkland. But 2018 Morris Trophy winner Kaleb McGary is gone.
So who fills the void at right tackle?
On Wednesday, at least, it was 6-7, 305-pound senior Jared Hilbers. That shouldn’t come as a shock, considering that Hilbers started 11 games at left tackle last season while Trey Adams was injured.
Sophomore Henry Bainivalu — who played in all 14 games in 2018 and worked with the second team on Wednesday — could eventually compete for a starting spot. But Petersen’s confidence in Hilbers is evident, regardless of his role.
“I think he can play – and he has – either side,” Petersen said. “Some of these guys that have experience, we’ll cross-train those guys at different positions to get our best five guys out there and figure out who our best eight to nine guys are when it’s all said and done.”
Potoa’e (kind of) switches positions
It’s almost all said and done for fifth-year senior Benning Potoa’e, who has started 23 games over the last two seasons. The 6-3, 285-pound former four-star prospect has totaled 87 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 40 career games.
Still, he struggled to produce last season, managing just one measly sack while starting 13 games at the outside linebacker position.
That’s why Potoa’e is suddenly listed as a defensive lineman.
“So, Benning’s always kind of been that hybrid,” Petersen said, after Potoa’e lined up with the starters on the defensive line on Wednesday. “He’s an outside backer, but our outside backers play like d-linemen anyways. So we kicked him a little bit more inside to see if that’s a little bit more where he can take the next step with his game.
“He’s strong. He’s agile. He can move. So it’s not like he hasn’t really been in the mix with all those things. Those guys don’t play out there in space. So we’re just getting him down there with more traffic and maybe letting him use his physicality a little bit more.”