It’s beginning to smell like spring.
Granted, Jimmy Lake and Co., will have to wait a few more months before the Huskies finally hit the practice field. But, with the vast majority of incoming freshmen already signed and the transfer portal becoming slightly less crowded, Washington’s 2021 roster gradually is taking shape.
As always, there have been additions and subtractions along the way. Some — such as defensive backs Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor and quarterback Kevin Thomson — have opted for the NFL draft. Others — including signal callers Jacob Sirmon and Ethan Garbers and wide receiver Ty Jones — opted instead for the transfer portal.
Meanwhile, offensive linemen Jaxson Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg, outside linebackers Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Ryan Bowman, tight end Cade Otton and running back Sean McGrew all decided to return to UW in 2021. And they’ll be joined by two quarterback additions in graduate transfer Patrick O’Brien and five-star freshman Sam Huard.
Of course, there could be further departures in the Huskies’ future. But, all things considered, UW appears to have the pieces to contend for a Pac-12 title this fall.
So, as we float through some mercilessly gray days on Montlake, let’s familiarize ourselves with the Huskies’ 2021 roster — starting, of course, with the quarterbacks and running backs.
Dylan Morris, rs-fr., 6-0, 200
Patrick O’Brien, rs-sr., 6-5, 235
Sam Huard, fr., 6-1, 190
Outlook: Last fall, four men competed for the starting quarterback job.
One remains on the roster.
That, in many ways, reflects the reality of college football in 2020 — a landscape where quarterbacks have essentially been afforded free agency. After redshirt freshman Dylan Morris made all four starts in 2020, graduate student Kevin Thomson opted to pursue a professional future, and redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon (Central Michigan) and true freshman Ethan Garbers (UCLA) sought a starting job elsewhere.
Morris — a 6-foot, 200-pounder from Puyallup — is all that’s left.
Not that the cupboard is bare, by any means. In his first taste of Pac-12 competition, Morris completed 60.9% of his passes and threw for 897 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions. He led the Huskies to a Pac-12 North title and spearheaded the go-ahead 88-yard touchdown drive in a 24-21 comeback victory over Utah on Nov. 28. In doing so, he earned the respect of both his coaches and teammates.
He was the unquestioned starter last season.
And now, he’ll have to win it once again.
But Patrick O’Brien and Sam Huard are standing in his way. O’Brien — a 6-foot-5, 235-pound graduate student — announced a transfer to Washington last month after completing 56.3% of his passes and throwing for 591 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in four games (three starts) for Colorado State in 2020. After transferring from Nebraska to Colorado State, the San Juan Capistrano, Calif., product completed 61.8% of his passes and threw for 2,803 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 games in 2019.
And then there’s Huard, who Washington football fans have been waiting to watch since he verbally committed in 2018. The 6-1, 190-pound Kennedy Catholic standout was ranked as a five-star recruit and the No. 1 pro-style passer in the 2021 class by 247Sports. He led the state in passing yards as both a sophomore and a junior. In 2019, he completed 63.1% of his passes and threw for 4,172 yards with 56 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
But how quickly will that production transfer to Pac-12 play? And could a true freshman — even one this talented — really beat out a returning starter and a sixth-year senior?
Only time will tell.
Sean McGrew, rs-sr., 5-7, 175
Kamari Pleasant, rs-sr., 6-0, 230
Richard Newton, rs-so., 6-0, 210
Cameron Davis, rs-fr., 6-0, 205
Jay’Veon Sunday, fr., 6-0, 200
Sam Adams II, fr., 6-1, 190
Caleb Berry, fr., 6-2, 210
Outlook: Here’s a whole lot of familiar faces.
Alongside its offensive line, Washington also brings back its entire running back room this fall — while adding three-star freshman Caleb Berry as well.
In a relatively small sample size in 2020, fifth-year seniors Sean McGrew (227 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry, four touchdowns) and Kamari Pleasant (144 rushing yards, 4.3 YPC, 3 TDs) earned the lion’s share of the work — proving reliable (if not spectacular) options in first-year coordinator John Donovan’s run-first scheme.
But redshirt sophomore Richard Newton’s inconsistent usage proved more of a conundrum. The 6-0, 210-pound tailback — who led the Huskies with 11 touchdowns in 2019 — rushed for 122 yards, 5.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns in his first two games last fall, before standing on the sideline for each of the next two games. In explaining Newton’s no-shows, Lake said only that “we’re going to play the guys that are ready to go.”
Which all makes Newton’s future production somewhat difficult to predict. It’s also worth wondering if former four-star redshirt freshman Cameron Davis — who received just 15 carries in four games last season — is due a more significant role, after repeatedly earning praise from UW’s coaching staff. And freshmen Jay’Veon Sunday, Sam Adams II and Caleb Berry could each work their way into the rotation as well.
As far as expectations, an offense that returns its entire offensive line and all scholarship running backs — in a scheme that emphasizes its ground game — should reasonably land near the top of the Pac-12 in rushing. But don’t forget, UW ranked just sixth in the Pac-12 in rushing offense (176.25 yards per game) and eighth in yards per carry (4.52) a year ago.
The Huskies will look for steady improvement with much of the same personnel. But it’s possible new standouts could still emerge on Montlake.
Coming tomorrow: wide receivers, tight ends and offensive line