Chris Petersen isn’t preaching perfection.
The sixth-year Washington head coach spoke for more than 30 minutes inside the Founders Club on Thursday, a day before his Huskies embark on their first fall practice. And, as expected, the quarterback competition between junior Jacob Eason and sophomore Jake Haener (and, to a lesser extent, redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Dylan Morris) was a recurring topic of discussion.
Expect that line of question to linger long into August. Petersen emphasized that the QB competition won’t likely find a swift conclusion.
And that’s by design.
“I don’t want them to feel like they have to be perfect out there,” Petersen explained. “‘Oh, I’m only going to get so many reps and I’ve got to be (perfect).’ Because that’s not it. That’s not real. Football is not a game of perfect. Life is not a game of perfect. There’s books titled that. It’s so true.
“So the worst thing we could do is put more pressure on those guys, feeling like they’ve got to make every play … at whatever position. Because that’s not true. So we’ve got to let them make mistakes, and it’s OK as long as we’re learning and all that. It wouldn’t be fair to say next week we’ve got our guy.”
Eventually, though, the Huskies will have to settle on someone … and the favorite is the 6-foot-6, 227-pound Eason — the former Lake Stevens standout, five-star phenom and true freshman starter at Georgia.
But even if/when Petersen ultimately opts for Eason, he made it clear on Thursday that the competition will continue. The UW coaching staff maintained the same standard four years ago, when a true freshman named Jake Browning beat out K.J. Carta-Samuels in August as well.
“When we named Jake the starter as a freshman he kind of had earned it at that point, and it was like splitting hairs between him and KJ,” Petersen said. “We said, ‘Hey, we’ll give him the first shot and let him go play.’
“We knew it wouldn’t be perfect. We get that. But it also wasn’t like, ‘Well, Jake Browning’s going to be the starting quarterback for the next four years.’ That’s not the mentality. It’ll be the same here.”
So, no, perfection is not the expectation. But Petersen also acknowledged that the UW passing game must improve in specific areas. That includes the red zone, where UW converted just 56.45 percent of trips into touchdowns last season (105th nationally).
It also includes down field strikes.
“(Second-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan) and I have looked at it long and hard,” Petersen said. “Some of it is just that we have to take more chances and throw the ball downfield, so we truly can put it on those (wide receivers). I do think they have the ability. In college football now, a lot of these colleges are lining up and playing man coverage and you’ve got to beat that guy down the field.
“We’ve got to give them, as coaches, a chance to go make a play.”
The kickoff question
Commissioner Larry Scott acknowledged at Pac-12 Media Days last week that the conference is contemplating scheduling 9 a.m. kickoffs, presumably in an attempt to boost nationwide television ratings.
Petersen is no stranger to the early starts. On Nov. 13, 2004, his 8-0 Boise State Broncos traveled to meet 2-6 San Jose State. Kickoff time? 9:02 a.m.
In a seemingly lopsided match up, Boise State escaped with a 56-49 overtime victory.
And nearly 15 years later, Petersen has formed some strong opinions.
“OK, don’t get me started,” Petersen said, when the topic of 9 a.m. kickoffs was broached. “I have (experienced it). I’ve been one of those guys. We kicked off against San Jose State at 9 a.m. It was miserable. You get your players up at 4 a.m. to go play. And I get what we’re trying to do – be creative. I do. And maybe we do that. But it’s hard on the guys.
“So now, OK, you’re just going to get them up on Saturday at 4 a.m.? That doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to get them into a routine, so you’re trying to get them up all week at 4 a.m. and do this practice thing. So that starts with the players. Fans, are they going to get up to get here?”
They sure didn’t get to Spartan Stadium on that fall Saturday in 2004. The official attendance was 5,028.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Pac-12 shouldn’t experiment with early starts. But Petersen’s opinion on the matter couldn’t be much clearer.
“I know we’re trying to be creative, but it’s hard,” he said. “We probably should have done a lot better than we did (against San Jose State in 2004). We went into overtime to win the game in overtime. We’re looking back and going, ‘Is that because of the (early start)?’ It’s just a different feeling. It feels much different than certainly a noon kickoff or a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. It’s just different to those players, for sure.”
Luciano moves to tight end (for now?)
George Fant won’t be the only converted offensive lineman playing tight end in Seattle this fall.
Corey Luciano — a 6-foot-4, 268-pound sophomore, who recently transferred to UW from Diablo Valley College — will make the move in training camp as well.
“It could be permanent. It could be temporary,” Petersen said. “He could be a swing guy. I know he’s got a big smile on his face. I just saw him. He’s like, ‘I was home and it was great, and I caught some passes.’ I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s not really why we’re putting you there.’
“Don’t tell him that. I think it’s awesome for him. I think he’s excited, and we’ll see what he can do. We’re just trying to get guys on the field.”
Like Fant, Luciano could conceivably act as an extra blocker in jumbo packages. It’s unlikely he’ll be targeted on any play-action passes.
But then again, Petersen stressed that he has the athleticism to stick at several spots.
“That was kind of the thing we loved about him when we recruited him. Super, super good feet,” Petersen said. “That didn’t disappoint when he came in. He’s been playing some center. He played tackle in junior college ball. So it wasn’t like we didn’t think he could play (on the offensive line). We do.”
Washington signed 20 players in its 2018 class.
All 20 redshirted last fall.
Of course, under new NCAA rules players were allowed to appear in up to four games while maintaining the extra year of eligibility.
Regardless, Petersen expects more of his true freshmen to play this fall.
“We have some good young players, and certainly on this team we’re going to need to play them,” Petersen said. “So that’s not the plan, to redshirt all these guys, and that wasn’t the plan last year. But we didn’t know how that four-game rule would work out.
“I think the plan going in is that some of these guys are going to play. They’re not going to redshirt. And there’s probably going to be a lot of them that play in four games. So we’ll just kind of figure that puzzle out as we go.”
Washington will enter fall camp with a relatively healthy roster.
But, of course, there are unfortunate outliers. Petersen said that three players — true freshman offensive lineman Troy Fautanu (foot), sophomore offensive lineman Cole Norgaard (ankle) and junior tight end Jacob Kizer (back) — will not practice immediately in August.
Petersen said that there’s no set timetable for Kizer’s return, but UW’s doctors also don’t believe it will be a long term injury. Without Norgaard, who served as Nick Harris’ back up at center throughout the spring, senior Henry Roberts and redshirt freshman Matteo Mele will practice both at tackle and center in training camp.
“Henry can do a lot of things,” Petersen said of Roberts, the Bellevue native. “He can play all of the positions on the o-line. It’s awesome to have a fifth-year guy like that, that has great experience.”