Challenges near and far await Chris Petersen entering his second season as the Washington football coach.
Challenges near and far await Chris Petersen entering his second season as the Washington football coach. The Huskies start fall camp Saturday with significant questions at — deep breath — quarterback, offensive line, receiver, defensive line and linebacker, and they have just 27 more days to find some answers before Petersen’s much-hyped return to Boise State for the Sept. 4 season opener.
The Broncos, coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona, are an early 10½-point favorite over UW, though the idea of being an underdog suits Petersen just fine. He said he’s always had that mentality, and he expects his players to embrace that this season.
“With all of the guys we’ve lost, with the schedule that we have, through all of those things, if that gives (UW players) that underdog mentality then I think that helps us,” Petersen said at his fall-camp kickoff news conference Friday.
Petersen added further intrigue to his young, raw roster when he announced that sophomore cornerback Naijiel Hale, a two-game starter last season, had been dismissed from the team for unspecified disciplinary reasons. Hale, the son of the late rapper Nate Dogg, was expected to compete for a starting job this fall.
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Hale is the second player Petersen has dismissed in the past few weeks (linebacker Drew Lewis was booted July 21, also for an unspecified disciplinary matter). But Petersen said the general atmosphere of the program compared to a year ago at this point — when Petersen was still trying to introduce his expectations to his new team — has improved.
“We’re making good progress in terms of just the guys understanding how we do things and everybody just being more on the same page,” he said. “It’s hard to describe other than a feeling. We have a ways to go — we do for sure — but it does feel different. And I think that’s exciting.”
The three-man quarterback competition will get the most attention in camp, of course. For the first week, offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith has charted out equal practice reps for junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and freshman Jake Browning. Eventually, Petersen would like to settle on one QB, but he’s open to playing multiple quarterbacks if necessary.
“We’re open to everything,” he said.
Petersen did not offer details on why Hale was dismissed.
“We need to move forward,” Petersen said. “Wish Naijiel the best.”
Hale declined to comment when reached by The Times. He did post messages on Twitter and Instagram.
“I Thank you coach Lake and Coach Peterson (sic) for being there for me and understanding everything that I go through,” Hale wrote, in part. “Nobody in this world will understand my life yet I’m still moving forward. I’m so thankful to play and start many games as a True Freshmen in the PAC-12 and those memories will stick with me forever. New chapter ahead…. Ride with me.”
Hale, a graduate of St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, Calif., signed with the Huskies in February 2014 as part of Petersen’s first recruiting class at UW. Hale had originally made a commitment to play for Arizona before changing his mind.
The Huskies experimented some with sophomore free safety Budda Baker on offense this spring, and Petersen said that will continue into fall camp. Baker was a star at both running back and safety for Bellevue.
“That guy is special in terms of what his mindset is and how hard he works and practices, and really even plays the game,” Petersen said. “He’s only been with us a year. He’s such a young guy. But there’s not many guys that I’ve been around that really approach the game like he does.”
True freshman cornerback Austin Joyner, a Marysville-Pilchuck product, is also a candidate to play both ways for the Huskies at some point down the road.