Sawyer Racanelli is making a compelling case for playing time.
In the University of Washington’s sixth football practice of the spring Friday, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound wide receiver made a series of impressive catches — the most notable being a wide pass from quarterback Patrick O’Brien that he deadened with his left hand before pulling into his body.
A redshirt freshman from Brush Prairie, Racanelli didn’t play in UW’s four games last fall but has showcased a stout frame and reliable hands through six practices this spring. He continues to work alongside sophomores Ja’Lynn Polk and Taj Davis with the second unit, behind the starting trio of senior Terrell Bynum and redshirt freshmen Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan.
Speaking of McMillan, the 190-pound speedster — whose hands have been suspect at times — produced several difficult catches of his own, the most noteworthy being an out along the sideline in which he extended to snag the pass and dragged his feet to stay in bounds. And, when McMillan does get the ball in open space, his speed continues to stand out.
With only so many balls to go around and Michigan transfer Giles Jackson arriving in June, UW’s wide-receiver rotations will continue to intrigue moving forward.
Here are some other observations from UW’s sixth practice of the spring.
Nickels and dimes
UW’s top two nickelbacks, sophomore Kamren Fabiculanan and senior transfer Brendan Radley-Hiles, stood out. The 6-1, 185-pound Fabiculanan claimed the day’s only interception — when he jumped a shallow crossing route from freshman Sam Huard (who telegraphed the pass) to sophomore tight end Quentin Moore, picked it out of the air and took off the other way. Fabiculanan later sacked Huard — though tackling was not allowed — as well.
The 5-9, 175-pound Radley-Hiles made one of the more athletic plays of the day — perfectly timing his leap to bat away a pass from Dylan Morris to McMillan. The play drew a huge response from Radley-Hiles’ defensive teammates, who seem to have taken to the Oklahoma transfer.
Though he’s playing primarily nickelback, “Bookie” briefly slid back to safety alongside Asa Turner with the starters as well.
Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls, who played sparingly in scrimmage drills through the first week-plus of practice, worked more consistently with the starters opposite senior Ryan Bowman on Friday — even more so after junior standout Zion Tupuola-Fetui left because of an ankle injury.
Elsewhere on the injury front, junior right tackle Victor Curne — who appeared to tweak something during Monday’s practice — sat out scrimmage drills for the second consecutive day. In his place, junior Matteo Mele and redshirt freshman Roger Rosengarten worked with the starters at right tackle.
Junior cornerback Trent McDuffie also participated in individual drills but sat out the scrimmage sessions, allowing cornerbacks Elijah Jackson and Mishael Powell to slide in with the starters opposite junior Kyler Gordon. Likewise, senior safety Alex Cook was dressed for Friday’s practice but watched from the sideline. Redshirt freshman tight end Mason West and offensive lineman Gaard Memmelaar were in attendance but did not participate as well.
- O’Brien — who showed off his arm strength with several impressive passes with the No. 2 offense — hit sophomore tight end Quentin Moore for a long gain on the first play of half-field scrimmage drills. If he can digest the offense and catch everything in his vicinity, the 6-5, 245-pound Moore has the sheer athleticism to be a difference-maker.
- UW has consistently played with three defensive linemen in spring practice, one more than it typically employs in its nickel-heavy defense. With the starters, that defensive line trio consists of juniors Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam “Taki” Taimani and sophomore Faatui Tuitele.
- Senior running back Sean McGrew played primarily with the starters and showed off a nice burst with several long runs. Senior Kamari Pleasant played with the first-team as well, and sophomore Cameron Davis worked with the second unit after getting a lion’s share of starting reps last week. Junior Richard Newton, who missed a pair of practices last week due to false-positive COVID-19 tests, practiced with the fourth team and caught a long touchdown on a wheel route from freshman walk-on QB Camden Sirmon.
- Keep an eye on sophomore quarterback Dylan Morris’ scrambling ability. The 6-0, 210-pounder isn’t known for his wheels but has a knack for stepping up and escaping a caving pocket — which he did with a significant scramble to convert on third-and-long Friday.
- Besides Fabiculanan, cornerback Kyler Gordon, defensive lineman Draco Bynum and outside linebacker Cooper McDonald racked up sacks.
- Redshirt freshman wide receiver Rome Odunze was UW’s punt returner, and Sean McGrew, Richard Newton and Cameron Davis worked on kick returns.
- UW kickers Peyton Henry, Tim Horn and Jarrett North connected on 37-yard field-goal attempts to close practice. I don’t believe Henry has missed a kick this spring.