Welcome to The Great Unknown.
For Washington football fans, this must be an equal-parts terrifying and exhilarating offseason, filled to the gills with offensive upheaval. Jacob Eason is gone. Salvon Ahmed is gone. Hunter Bryant is gone. Trey Adams’ somehow-always-wet brown mane is moving on to the NFL, and Bush Hamdan is a freaking offensive assistant at Missouri. Nick Harris’ “We don’t lose to Cougs” undershirt is probably packed in a suitcase somewhere, headed out of Seattle.
This is a new era for offensive football — and what, exactly, does that entail? On 950 AM KJR last week, coach Jimmy Lake said “we don’t want to run horizontal. We want to run vertical, right at people. We want to make them defend that first. Of course, we’re going to have some other stuff going sideways. But I’m not a sideways type of guy. I want to go north and south in the pass game and the run game.” He hired offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan to help implement that vision.
But, when spring practice opens this offseason, who — besides Donovan — will lead the way on offense? Who will take the first snaps under center? Which skill players will emerge on Montlake?
Those answers will come in April … but the speculation never stops. So let’s reset the roster and begin to look ahead. While Seattle is submerged in another wet winter, here’s an early primer for Washington’s 2020 offense — starting with the quarterbacks and running backs.
Jacob Sirmon, so., 6-5, 234
Dylan Morris, rs-fr., 6-0, 196
Ethan Garbers, fr., 6-3, 193
Outlook: Here’s a safe assumption: Jacob Sirmon will take the first starting snaps of the spring.
The 6-foot-5, 234-pound redshirt sophomore has earned that much. Despite the fact he has attempted just three passes in his three seasons in Seattle, Sirmon still has more FBS experience than any of his fellow quarterbacks in what will undoubtedly be a spirited and sustained offseason competition. The former Bothell High School standout was once ranked by 247Sports as a four-star prospect and the No. 6 pro-style passer in the 2018 class, not that those accolades matter much now. Can Sirmon use his obvious athleticism to pick apart Pac-12 defenses? Can he set protections? Can he rebound from mistakes? Can he elevate others? Can he lead?
Sirmon — who briefly entered the transfer portal last offseason, only to return to UW — will begin to answer those questions, one way or the other, this spring. He’ll have daily opportunities to prove to Donovan he deserves to start against Michigan on Sept. 5.
But it won’t be easy. Dylan Morris will almost certainly make sure of that. The 6-0, 196-pound redshirt freshman was voted UW’s offensive scout squad MVP by teammates this offseason. By all accounts, the former four-star prospect at Graham-Kapowsin High School is accurate, efficient and — above all — intelligent, having earned a 4.0 GPA in UW’s last academic quarter. Morris fits the mold of a Chris Petersen quarterback. But how will he integrate into Donovan’s offensive system?
And how does Ethan Garbers fit into all of that? Garbers — a 2020 signee who will arrive on campus this spring — threw for a whopping 71 touchdowns with five interceptions at Corona Del Mar (Calif.) High School last season, leading the Sea Kings to a perfect 16-0 record as well as a state title. Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth told The Times in December that, should Eason declare for the NFL draft, Garbers “is going to be the best passer in the meeting room.”
But that doesn’t mean he’ll be the starter. Heck, the starter might not even be on the roster yet. There’s still a possibility, however remote, UW dips into the graduate-transfer market for a quarterback like, say, Stanford’s K.J. Costello.
So, yes, it’s safe to assume Sirmon will take the first starting snaps of the spring. But, beyond that, there are few safe assumptions.
Richard Newton, so., 6-0, 210
Sean McGrew, sr., 5-7, 186
Cameron Davis, rs-fr., 6-0, 197
Kamari Pleasant, sr., 6-0, 213
Camden Verstrate, rs-fr., 5-9, 167*
Sam Adams II, fr., 6-1, 194
Jay’Veon Sunday, fr., 5-11, 196
Outlook: Richard Newton runs like his jersey is on fire and there’s an extinguisher in the end zone. He runs like his scholarship is hanging precariously in the balance. He runs like Forrest Gump after he broke free of the leg braces, bounding away from the bullies in their beat-up trucks. He’s all elbows and sharp edges and stiff arms and spin moves. He’s all anger and energy and exclamation points.
At least, that’s what the 6-0, 210-pound Newton showed in his redshirt-freshman season — running for 498 yards, 4.3 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns in 10 games. Now, with Ahmed off to the NFL, Newton will have an opportunity to claim a starting spot in Seattle. And, given Lake’s emphasis on running downhill, Newton seems like the perfect punishing torpedo for that system.
But UW is also blessed with significant depth in the backfield. Senior Sean McGrew is an all-purpose option who led the team with 6.2 yards per carry and posted a pair of 100-yard rushing performances last season. Redshirt freshman Cameron Davis is a former four-star back who will likely earn a more significant role in his second season on campus. Senior Kamari Pleasant is another established runner, and freshmen Sam Adams II (6-1, 194) and Jay’Veon Sunday (5-11, 196) are both tantalizing physical talents who could break into the rotation early.
Though the systematic specifics are hazy, we know Lake wants to run the football this fall. He has the horses — or Huskies — to do it.
Coming tomorrow: wide receivers, tight ends and offensive line