A month from now, spring practice at Washington will have begun.
But until then? Well, all we can do is wait — and wonder. We can ask the same old questions in different ways. We can contemplate John Donovan’s offensive system and the limited options at quarterback. We can set outsized expectations for a potentially dominant UW defense. We can hope and dream and submerge ourselves in year-old highlights — all while washing our hands every five-to-seven minutes.
So here’s a mailbag (as well as another reminder to stop touching your face).
How can we compete nationally without 5 star recruits? Oregon may have figured that out. What can WE do to get them?
— Gary Beard
To be fair, Washington has competed admirably in recent seasons without an abundance of five-star recruits. A College Football Playoff appearance, three consecutive 10-win seasons, a pair of Pac-12 titles and a Rose Bowl bid are all proof of that. The Huskies have also consistently developed three- and four-star prospects; UW is one of three programs, alongside Alabama and Ohio State, that has sent at least seven players to the NFL combine each of the past four years.
Still, it’s difficult to consistently compete for national championships without securing the country’s top prep players. Consider that, in the 2020 class, the 247Sports Composite awarded 31 high school seniors with five-star rankings. And a total of six schools — Clemson (5), Alabama (4), Georgia (4), LSU (3), Ohio State (3) and Oregon (3) — signed a combined 22 of those 31 recruits. For further emphasis, there are 130 FBS programs nationally. But it’s not a coincidence that four of those six schools competed in the College Football Playoff in 2019. In the last five cycles, Georgia has signed 22 five-star recruits. Alabama has signed 18. Clemson has signed 14.
Washington has signed one.
So, to get back to Gary’s question, how does UW get ’em? Well, it starts by keeping five-star standouts in-state. This could be the most prolific recruiting cycle in the history of Washington state, with three recruits — Eastside Catholic defensive tackle J.T. Tuimoloau, Steilacoom wide receiver Emeka Egbuka and Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard — currently considered five-star prospects. Huard is already committed to UW, which obviously helps. Great players want to play with great players, after all. And another five-star prospect — Menlo Park, Calif., wide receiver Troy Franklin — is a realistic target for the Huskies as well.
But in the long term, UW can’t depend on five-star legacies like Huard who dreamed all their life of playing inside Husky Stadium. Under first-year head coach Jimmy Lake, the program appears willing to market itself more aggressively on social media — producing frequent videos of the team’s winter workouts and touting UW’s recent string of NFL successes. Lake and Co. may also be willing to expand their recruiting footprint and offer more prospects than Chris Petersen ever did.
New UW director of recruiting Justin Glenn told The Times last month that “there’s definitely some differences (in recruiting tactics from Petersen to Lake). Coach Pete has laid this foundation. Jimmy is younger. He plans on bringing this energetic attack mode mentality. The way we play on the field, that same mentality is going to be how we recruit … in terms of taking chances on (trying to get) guys that people think we may not have any chance with.”
Under Lake, the Huskies won’t be afraid to pursue five-star prospects. We’ll see soon enough if they can reel them in.
Who do you see rising to the top of the deep pool of receivers this year?
— Ray Wilson
I like your word choice, Ray, because Junior Adams might need a pool the size of Lake Washington to contain all of UW’s scholarship wide receivers.
But, of that group, who will sink, and who will swim?
Let’s start with the obvious choices. Terrell Bynum — a 6-foot-1, 189-pound junior — caught 28 passes in his last six games last season, and added a touchdown apiece against Boise State and Washington State. Along the way, he showcased the ability to pile up tight-window catches to move the chains. And, after recovering from a broken foot that ended his freshman season early, Puka Nacua should again emerge as an explosive option on the outside. He recorded a whopping 24 yards per reception in limited time in 2019.
But this is where things get spicy. Coming out of a redshirt season, it’s conceivable that 6-4, 213-pound junior Ty Jones — who led the Huskies with six touchdown catches in 2018 — could return to form. But he’ll need to prove he’s put last season’s wrist/hand issues behind him. Senior Jordan Chin and sophomore Marquis Spiker also made impressive cameos late in 2019, and they (along with former four-star wideout Austin Osborne) could earn a more significant role next season.
But we’re not done yet! UW also signed perhaps the west’s premier wide receiver class in 2020 — adding Jalen McMillan (6-2, 182), Rome Odunze (6-3, 205) and Sawyer Racanelli (6-2, 208) to an already combustible competition. The Husky coaching staff attracted some criticism last season for its perceived hesitation to play young receivers, especially after Nacua proved plenty capable after finally joining the rotation. It’ll be interesting to monitor if McMillan, Odunze or Racanelli can scale the depth chart under first-year UW offensive coordinator John Donovan.
So, if my admittedly spotty sportswriter math is accurate, I just listed nine wide receivers who could earn legitimate playing time next season. But, come Sept. 5, nine guys won’t play. So, if you’re searching for spring story lines, this is a good place to start.
Have you heard anything lately about UW adding a grad transfer or walk-on QB to add depth?
— Seth Preston
Some might have assumed that, after former Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello opted to play his final season at Mississippi State, UW was done monitoring the transfer market for a fourth signal caller this spring.
I’m not so sure that’s the case.
In a podcast with The Athletic’s Andy Staples last month, Lake stopped well short of saying that Washington was settled at the quarterback position. When spring practice starts next month, the Huskies will trot out three scholarship signal callers: redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and early enrollee freshman Ethan Garbers. Of that group, only Sirmon has thrown a pass at the collegiate level (he was 2-3 for 19 yards in mop-up duty last season).
Now, maybe all those guys need is an opportunity. Maybe one of them is a star, and we just don’t know it yet. That could certainly be the case.
But, given UW’s enthusiasm in pursuing transfer quarterbacks during the last several months, I’m not convinced they’ll suddenly stop now. Inevitably, a fresh set of signal callers will enter the transfer portal following spring practice. Lake will keep his eyes open, and maybe he’ll like what he sees.
Why have both college and professional teams become horrible at the lost art of tackling? Teams used to practice it. Don’t say injuries
— Pat Selfridge
(This is my mailbag and I’ll say what I want.)