Let’s call this addition by subtraction … and addition.
At least, according to UW head coach Jimmy Lake.
A year ago, four scholarship quarterbacks competed for a starting job: graduate student Kevin Thomson (who arrived in the summer), redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman early enrollee Ethan Garbers. Morris, of course, ultimately landed the starting gig, and led the Huskies to a 3-1 record while throwing for 897 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions.
Morris was the last one standing in more ways than one. This offseason, Thomson entered the NFL draft, and both Sirmon (Central Michigan) and Garbers (UCLA) plummeted headfirst into the transfer portal. To replenish a concerningly empty quarterback room, Colorado State sixth-year senior Patrick O’Brien transferred to UW, and five-star freshman Sam Huard enrolled in April.
After all that unease, Washington was left with a three-pronged quarterback competition this spring.
And according to Lake, at least, there’s no comparison.
“I’ll say this: right now, our quarterback room is more talented than we were last year … by far,” he said Wednesday, following UW’s ninth practice of the spring. “You put those first three guys, and even (true freshman walk-on) Camden Sirmon — who’s out there making plays — and our quarterback room right now is way more talented than we were at this point last year.”
Of course, Morris — the lone constant — has inarguably improved, and he’s understandably taken the vast majority of the starting reps this spring.
But Lake’s statement may say more about the recent additions, as well as the players they’re here to replace. Huard, as most know, broke Washington’s prep passing record in his final game at Kennedy Catholic, and was ranked as the top prostyle passer in the country by 247Sports.
And yet, it’s O’Brien — who started 12 games and threw for 3,394 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the last two seasons at CSU — who earned his first starting reps of the spring on Wednesday.
“You see him out there. He’s making the plays,” Lake said. “He’s getting in the playbook. He’s digesting it really, really well. He’s playing quicker than a freshman would play coming into a system like this. He’s been around some similar systems, so he’s able to operate a little bit quicker and pull the trigger a little bit quicker, and you’re able to see that out there. I’m really happy with his progression.”
Why Kirkland and Otton came back
Jaxson Kirkland and Cade Otton could have entered the NFL draft.
After all, both were named first-team All-Pac-12 performers following an admittedly brief 2020 campaign. Both had the talent and resume to reach greater heights. The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Kirkland started 25 games at right guard in 2018 and 2019, before proving he could play left tackle last fall.
As for Otton? In his first season as the full-time starter, the 6-5, 250-pound junior led UW in catches (18), receiving yards (258) and receiving touchdowns (3), while asserting himself as an invaluable blocker. He caught the go-ahead touchdown in a 24-21 comeback win over Utah as well.
So, given the circumstances, why’d they stay in Seattle?
“Last year, it was such a unique, weird year,” Kirkland said. “The college experience is important to me. It was just a bit of a taste with coach Lake and the new offense and all that. I love my guys, love my unit. So coming back was kind of a no-brainer to me.”
Added Otton: “Taking a couple weeks to reflect, there was just more I wanted to do here, as far as winning with our team. It felt like we kind of got snubbed last year. There’s just a lot more we want to do: win a championship, a conference, and we want to win a bowl game, whether it’s the playoff or any other bowl game we get to. So I think that was the driving factor.”
The tight end tango
Of course, Otton can’t do everything.
And now, it doesn’t look like he’ll need to.
In a prostyle offense designed to deploy multiple tight ends, four of them — Otton, junior Devin Culp, sophomore junior college transfer Quentin Moore and redshirt freshman Mark Redman — have begun to emerge. The 6-5, 245-pound Moore is perhaps the most athletic of the bunch, while Redman (6-6, 250) has showcased some of the most reliable hands on the team. The 6-4, 265-pound Culp is a physical specimen in his own right whose hands have occasionally held him back in his first three seasons in Seattle.
While Otton and Culp have been the primary starters, all four have worked with the first team in April.
Add it up, and Washington — which won’t hesitate to use three tight-end sets — appears stacked at that particular position.
“(Tight ends coach Derham) Cato has done a fantastic job of coaching those guys No. 1, getting those guys to improve and grow in their game, and then he’s done a really good job of stocking that room with talent,” Lake said. “Even some of our walk-ons are guys that are making plays out there as well.
“Quentin (Moore), coming into this system, learning the system, he’s another guy I see in the hallways all the time meeting extra with his position coach. You can just see, the guys putting the work in are the guys that are going to see results out there on the practice field. And as soon as they start having results on the practice field, that’s going to transition into real games in the fall.
“Devin Culp I’m really excited about. He’s caught the football extremely well these last few practices. If he can do that consistently, that’s going to be another weapon for us.”
- Lake said Wednesday that the team has discussed the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial. “We’ve been having discussions for months about the social injustice that has gone on in this country and around the world,” he said. “Thankfully we have an awesome staff — our coaches — that are really good resources for players. But also we have Sheridan Blanford, who is our new associate athletic director (for diversity, equity and inclusion), and a number of different resources on our team for our players to be able to reach out to when they need to talk to somebody, myself included. We’ve handled that as a team.”
- Junior walk-on offensive lineman Will Pliska fractured his ankle in practice and will miss roughly six months, Lake announced.