Elijah Molden won the coveted “Best Hands” trophy with a team-best six interceptions this spring.
The Washington Huskies concluded their four-week run of spring practices with their open scrimmage at Husky Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Established players such as Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Nick Harris, Benning Potoa’e, Ryan Bowman, Ben Burr-Kirven, among others, had a productive month.
Here are some up-and-coming players who stood out during spring ball:
ELIJAH MOLDEN, sophomore cornerback
Three times a year, the “Best Hands” trophy is up for grabs in the defensive backs’ room: once for spring ball, once for fall camp and once during the season.
Molden was determined to win it this spring, and he did just that with his sixth interception of the spring during Saturday’s scrimmage — breaking a three-way tie with Keith Taylor and Myles Bryant entering the final practice.
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“Every day Elijah Molden was diving for balls,” defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “You could see it: He wanted this really, really bad.”
Molden, a 5-foot-10, 191-pound second-year sophomore, is one of the most improved players on the entire roster and could push Bryant for snaps at nickelback next fall.
KEITH TAYLOR, sophomore cornerback
It’s not fair to Taylor at this stage of his career, but the comparison to Kevin King is an easy one to make. Like King, Taylor is long and lean — 6-feet-2 and 193 pounds with a pterodactyl’s wingspan. In other words, just about ideal for a cornerback.
“I feel like I’ve really matured a lot over these last four weeks,” Taylor said Saturday. “I’ve become a smarter player, and that was something Coach Lake really emphasized during my freshman year — just making more plays on the ball. That’s one thing I felt like I really had to work. I still want to keep building on that when we get into fall camp.”
Taylor played sparingly as a true freshman last fall, and mostly on special teams, but he spent most of the spring at right corner with the No. 1 defense as Jordan Miller (ankle) and Austin Joyner (hamstring) recovered from injuries. When Miller and Joyner return in August — and when incoming freshmen Kyler Gordon, Julius Irvin and Dominique Hampton arrive on campus — the competition at cornerback will get really, really interesting.
JARED PULU, junior defensive lineman
A former walk-on from Federal Way, Pulu earned a scholarship last fall. He finished the 2017 season with six tackles in 10 games, but has “definitely” earned a spot in the D-line’s regular rotation, defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe said.
Pulu, 6-4 and 283 pounds, had one sack during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“His confidence has definitely grown, and I think maturity in his film study has been huge,” Malloe said. “I think he’s going to play the way people expected him to play the whole time.”
JOE TRYON, redshirt freshman outside linebacker
The Huskies like what they have at Buck linebacker in sophomore Ryan Bowman and junior Benning Potoa’e, both of whom are expected to be key contributors next fall.
Tryon, at 6-5 and 262 pounds, adds a new twist to the position with his size and physicality. Tryon still has a ways to go in his development, but coaches are excited about his upside.
CADE OTTON, redshirt freshman tight end
The rich get richer. Much like the deep defensive backs room, Jordan Paopao’s tight end room was already loaded with a nice blend of experience, youth and versatility coming into the spring.
The room got even better with the return of rising star Hunter Bryant and the emergence of both Otton and sophomore Jacob Kizer.
Otton, 6-5 and 244 pounds, matched Bryant with a team-high five catches in Saturday’s scrimmage. Otton is football royalty back at Tumwater High — Cade played for his grandfather, Sid, the winningest coach in Washington state high school history — and it doesn’t look like it will take Cade long to make a name for himself in Seattle.
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JORDAN CHIN, sophomore wide receiver
Wide receiver remains the biggest question mark on the roster. Junior Aaron Fuller had a great spring, and Andre Baccellia and Ty Jones look like capable starters, too.
Chin, a 6-foot, 164-pound sophomore, came on strong in the final two weeks of spring, and he had two touchdown catches in the early portion of Saturday’s practice — a 25-yard catch from Haener and a 46-yard pass from Browning during a 7-on-7 period.
JAKE HAENER, redshirt freshman quarterback
Perhaps the No. 1 breakout of spring, Haener established his hold on the No. 2 quarterback job. He capped his stellar spring by completing 9-of-15 passes for 139 yards, including a perfectly thrown pass to Max Richmond for an 83-yard touchdown.
As for the two true freshmen QBs: In fairness, neither had a much time in the pocket to work through the spring. The third-string offensive line is, to be polite, a work in progress, and the defensive pressure on the quarterbacks was constant. That said, the young QBs did appear to get more comfortable as the spring went along, and I think that was true slightly more so for Jacob Sirmon. On the other hand, Colson Yankoff was able to do some nice things with his feet, as he showed a bit in Saturday’s scrimmage. Bottom line: Both have a loooong way to go, but that’s to be expected for early-arriving freshmen who have so much to digest in such a short amount of time.
PEYTON HENRY, redshirt freshman kicker
Have the Huskies found their answer at kicker?
Henry, a left-footed walk-on, got the bulk of the field-goal attempts during the spring, and particularly over the last two weeks. He’s been solid.
Then again, as Chris Petersen knows all too well, practice kicks in April don’t mean a whole lot. It’s difficult to simulate late-game pressure kicks in practices, and the only way coaches really know if a kicker can handle them is if they prove they can do it. So we probably won’t get any real clear answers until September, but for now Henry appears to be a reasonable option.
NOTE: Petersen named his most valuable players from spring on Monday (below). In the photo from left: offensive lineman Henry Roberts, Haener, Molden, Otton, Potoa’e and Taylor.