Defensive backs Austin Joyner and Myles Bryant continue to push the competition in UW's rebuilding secondary.
Here are six players — three on offense, three on defense — who caught my eye during the first eight days of the Huskies’ fall camp:
Salvon Ahmed, running back/wide receiver (Fr.)
Coming off a Pac-12 championship and a College Football Playoff berth, the Huskies are very much in win-now mode. Of course they are. Who knows what will happen after this season with the likes of Jake Browning, Trey Adams, Myles Gaskin, Chico McClatcher and Kaleb McGary — all juniors with NFL potential. (That’s saying nothing about the defensive front, which will look almost entirely different a year from now. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.)
Point is this: The window to win is right now. This is it. If you’re the UW coaches, you can’t entertain the notion of “saving” a guy like Ahmed for 2018 and beyond, when there will be more opportunities for him in the offense. As things stand, there’s no obvious need, no clearly defined role for Ahmed to step into right now. This offense would be just fine — better than fine — without him this season. But it’s also becoming more apparent after each practice that Ahmed can help this offense, even in a limited role, and if coaches feel the same there’s no doubt they will design a package or two around him. Same can be said for two other true freshmen — tight end Hunter Bryant and wide receiver Ty Jones. Bet here is all three play this season.
Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman might be the best backfield combo in the country. Redshirt freshmen Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew look capable of helping, too. With such a crowded backfield, Ahmed, the former Juanita High star, has been getting reps at wide receiver, too, showing good burst out of the slot. He’s not a natural out there — he’s had a few drops in the first week — but he also made some spectacular plays, like his diving, over-the-shoulder grab Tuesday.
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“Great attitude, a lot of energy, tremendous speed, a tremendous burst,” UW receivers coach Matt Lubick said of Ahmed, “and for a freshman playing with a lot of confidence and toughness, which is pretty exciting.”
Andre Baccellia, wide receiver (So.)
Browning is looking more and more in Baccellia’s direction, and it is looking more and more likely that Baccellia will be the Huskies’ third starting receiver alongside Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher. One of the fastest players on the team, Baccellia (pronounced buh-CHELL-ee) also has some of the best hands. Browning found Baccellia in the back of the end zone during a 7-on-7 red-zone drill Tuesday, and they connected again during one of the last team periods for a 15-yard gain. Sophomores Aaron Fuller and Quinten Pounds had a solid first week too, with Jones and Brayden Lenius also coming up with some big plays.
Jake Browning, quarterback (Jr.)
Perhaps a no-duh inclusion here. He is, after all, the reigning Pac-12 offensive player of the year who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. We all knew he’s good. What’s different this camp is, well, No. 1 he is coming off January shoulder surgery. He said he was 100 percent in April, and after one full week in August there’s no reason to doubt that. He is fine, indeed.
Browning has thrown a few picks in camp — on Tuesday, he appeared to get baited by redshirt freshman cornerback Byron Murphy, who broke on the ball across the field and returned it for a TD — but there’s an added sense of intensity and confidence about Browning this camp. Coleman, the senior running back, described Browning as “focused.”
“Honestly, I have not seen Jake (like) this,” said Coleman, the senior running back. “The details that Jake is focusing in on right now is abundant, and you guys are going to love what you see. I’m telling you that.
“You see the interceptions and stuff, but when you see the focus that he has … and not being gun-shy and understanding that, ‘OK, this throw here was off by this.’ The next time he makes that throw, it’s going to be on-point. Y’all are going to see something great out of Jake. I know that.”
Myles Bryant, defensive back (So.)
With sophomore safety Taylor Rapp limited, Bryant was the No. 1 nickelback on Tuesday, and it feels like he’s gotten at least one hand — often two — at just about every pass thrown his way. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound sophomore is a great story. At Loyola High in Los Angeles, he had scholarship offers from the likes of UCLA and Colorado … but before he could decide on a school those offers were rescinded. His spots were taken. He settled for a walk-on opportunity and UW and earned his way onto the field as a true freshman last year — then earned a scholarship from Chris Petersen this summer.
Austin Joyner, defensive back (So.)
The former Marysville-Pilchuck star has been as good as anyone on the roster during the first week. He broke up several more passes Tuesday — including one that looked like a sure touchdown for Pounds, but Joyner broke late and ripped it out of the receiver’s hands at the last moment. Two years ago, Joyner tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of his first game at Husky Stadium. Even now, he admits he doesn’t feel 100 percent healthy, but he good enough to push for a key role in a rebuilding secondary. The competition is fierce. Murphy and Jordan Miller are emerging stars at cornerback; Rapp can play anywhere in the middle of the field; and Jojo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner are menacing safeties. But Joyner hardly looks content on the second-team defense, and he’ll continue to push for a greater role.
Jusstis Warren, outside linebacker (So.)
Warren, frankly, was not on my radar coming into camp. He is now. The third-year sophomore out of Tacoma’s Lincoln High has emerged as the No. 2 strong-side linebacker behind Benning Potoa’e, both of whom are playing “down” more than we saw from that position last year. It’s a fluid competition at both outside linebacker spots — with Tevis Bartlett and Connor O’Brien on the other side at Buck — but the 6-foot-2, 252-pound Warren has made the biggest strides of anyone since the spring. He got some time with the first-team defense on Tuesday and had a big touch sack of Browning in the final team series, setting up another practice victory for the defense.