Chris Petersen waited four seconds to say one word.
“Does Hunter’s injury history require you guys to manage his snaps differently?” the sixth-year Washington coach was asked during his weekly news conference on Monday.
Wait for it.
Wait for it.
Wait. For. It.
Petersen later explained that the UW coaching staff monitors everyone’s snaps, both in games and practices — not just those of 6-foot-2, 239-pound junior tight end Hunter Bryant. Still, considering that Bryant 1.) is a crucial, irreplaceable cog in the Huskies’ prospective passing attack and 2.) missed 13 games in his first two seasons with knee injuries, the Eastside Catholic alum’s health is always going to be a concern.
So, came the inevitable follow-up question: Is there any reason to believe that Bryant — who was listed as a co-starter with sophomore Cade Otton on the team’s first depth chart — wouldn’t be available for Saturday’s season opener against Eastern Washington?
“Huh? Why would we think that? No reason for me to think that,” Petersen said. “And just getting back to that, I’m not going to answer that, even if it was a no or a yes. So I don’t know why you even asked that.”
Bryant isn’t the only Husky pass-catcher with a somewhat clouded injury status. The same goes for 6-4, 213-pound junior wide receiver Ty Jones, who missed all but one practice last spring with a dislocated lunate bone and torn ligaments in his right wrist.
Following a pair of surgeries, Jones only resumed catching passes “a few days before fall camp,” he told The Times earlier this month. Though he participated fully in the five practices open to the media in early August, Jones said that he was working to fully recover from the wrist injury.
“I’m limited in some things. At some angles, catching is kind of weird. I’m still trying to strengthen it,” he said. “I’m just strengthening it day-bay-day, and it’s getting more comfortable.”
Jones — who said that this was his first significant injury — told The Times that “I have to for sure rely on my left side a little bit heavier” but that “hopefully in a game I’ll kind of zone it out and do what’s comfortable.”
Jones and Bryant, of course, enter the 2019 season as UW’s two most proven red-zone targets. They combined for 42 catches, 729 receiving yards and seven touchdowns — though Bryant played in just five games — last fall.
On Monday, when asked about Jones’ availability against Eastern Washington, Petersen said: “That was a significant injury, and we didn’t get him back going until — he could run and all that stuff, but in terms of catching balls — it wasn’t before really fall camp started. So he’s been working through that.”
Same as with Bryant, that wasn’t a yes or a no.
Quantity, quality or both at wide receiver?
Petersen was asked on Monday if this is the deepest wide-receiver corps he’s had at Washington.
“I’m thinking about that word, the ‘deepest,’ ” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys there. We need some guys to go out, and that group, to take the next step. That’s one group that really needs to come on for our offense to take the next step. That’s something we’ve been (harping) on for quite a long time, and I’m not off that one yet.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence for a group that has struggled to reload with Pac-12 playmakers following the departures of John Ross and Dante Pettis.
But, like Petersen said, first-year wide-receivers coach Junior Adams has no shortage of guys to work with: Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, Chico McClatcher, Terrell Bynum, Quinten Pounds, Austin Osborne, Marquis Spiker, Trey Lowe, Jordan Chin — the list goes on. There was only one underclassman — Bynum, a sophomore — listed in the two-deeps at the position.
But might true freshman Puka Nacua eventually scale a crowded depth chart?
“He’s been one of our freshmen that we’re planning on getting in the mix,” Petersen said. “Now what that means, I don’t know, because with this four-game (redshirt) rule, we’re planning on playing a handful of these guys (more than four games). But we’ll just kind of see how it goes down the road.
“We might end up playing more with injuries and all those things, and maybe it’s not a bunch the first game but it’s much more the fourth game. It’s kind of a work in progress with all those things, but Puka’s done well.”
Kicking competition conclusions
Petersen finally provided some clarity on UW’s ongoing kicking competition.
Specifically, he confirmed that redshirt freshman Peyton Henry will operate as the starting placekicker on Saturday, while true freshman Tim Horn will handle kickoffs.
But how has Henry — who converted 16 of 22 field-goal tries last fall — improved this offseason, especially with Horn pushing him during preseason camp?
“That’s another hard question for me to answer, because the kicking thing is like anything: I think it shows up more at game time than it does at practice,” Petersen said. “But it’s been great. It really has. Competition truly is a good thing for human beings, if it’s kept in perspective. It can just bring the best out of you.
“I think even for Tim Horn, that’s been really good. I’ve really seen Tim improve a lot since he got here, and settle down and get the timing and those type of things. So it’s been really good for both those guys. Now we’ve got to go play.”
As for the Huskies’ other specialists, Sean McGrew and McClatcher were listed as the team’s starting kick returners, while Fuller and McClatcher were listed as co-starters to return punts.
- There were a few minor depth-chart surprises to note. Senior defensive lineman Josiah Bronson — who earned a scholarship this offseason — was listed as a starter, ahead of converted outside linebacker Benning Potoa’e. True freshman Asa Turner also jumped into the two-deeps at nickelback, leaping over junior Isaiah Gilchrist to serve as Elijah Molden’s backup.
- There were five true or redshirt freshmen listed in the two-deeps in the UW secondary. True-freshman safety Cameron Williams and redshirt-freshman corner Kyler Gordon were classified as starters, while Turner and corners Dominique Hampton and Trent McDuffie are listed as backups.
- One ominous omission from the depth chart was sophomore offensive tackle Henry Bainivalu, who played in all 14 games last season and was a staple with the second team at right tackle throughout the spring. It’s hard to believe Bainivalu would not have cracked the two-deeps unless there’s an injury issue, especially considering the fact that four of the five stated second-team offensive linemen are redshirt freshmen who have yet to play on the collegiate level. When asked about Bainivalu’s status, Petersen said that the 6-6, 326-pound sophomore is “another one of those guys where we’ve made progress and we’ll see how this thing continues to evolve.”