Browning was just about perfect during team competition periods Monday.
Notes, highlights and observations from Day 4 of Huskies spring football:
— The Huskies had their first practice in full pads on a brisk Monday morning next to Lake Washington. There is still no tackling, and won’t be for the majority of spring, but the intensity certainly ramped up a bit, and so did the production from the offense. In a big way. Going back the past several years — and this is generally true at most places early on in spring and early in fall camp, too — the UW defense has generally had its way with the offense. I remember in August 2016, Jake Browning and the offense didn’t get into the end zone until almost the first full week of camp. The defense, for one, was that good. But also — and this is important to remember — the offense early in camp is usually installing new plays/trying new things/not necessarily trying to “win” practice, and therefore shouldn’t be expected to be in peak form. That was certainly true during the first two practices last week. That changed Monday.
— Start with this: Browning was as sharp as I’ve seen him in practice, and I’ve seen just about every open practice of his collegiate career (ballpark, that’s 65 practices). He didn’t have a single incompletion Monday, in about 15 pass attempts, during the three team competition periods vs. the No. 1 defense (including a 7-on-7 passing drill). His first throw downfield in the first 11-on-11 period, while rolling to his right, was to WR Aaron Fuller for a 55-yard touchdown. Browning’s last throw of the day was another touchdown to Fuller, covering about 40 yards, off a fade route. Sophomore CB Keith Taylor was coming on a corner blitz on the play; Browning saw it coming and made the defense pay.
— Offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said the offense also had a productive day during a closed practice Saturday. “I really like what we’ve done the last two days,” he said. “I like where we’re headed. We’re trending in the right direction. It’s always that challenge of: Are we installing what we need to install? Or are we preparing to beat our defense? I think those guys have done some good things. And I’ve always said this from Day 1 here: If we’re competing and doing some things against our defense, we’re trending in the right direction.”
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— Also trending in the right direction: redshirt freshman QB Jake Haener. He continues to lead the No. 2 offense, and he’s looked more comfortable each practice. By my count Monday, he completed 5-of-6 passes during his two series in 11-on-11. On his last throw, Haener escaped heavy pressure, rolled right and found sophomore WR Ty Jones for a first down.
— Haener has a fan in Hamdan. “It’s been really cool for Jake Haener,” Hamdan said. “I just knew it — he’s a guy with an edge on his shoulder. You guys give him no attention and he comes out here and he’s had a really good spring camp.”
— No turnovers today. Sophomore CB Elijah Molden almost had one against the No. 3 offense; he leaped to try snag a pass from freshman QB Jacob Sirmon but the ball deflected off his fingertips.
— That came on the first pass of Sirmon’s one 11-on-11 series directing the No. 3 offense. He completed his next pass, a checkdown to RB Nate Ihlenfeldt, but there was a miscommunication on Sirmon’s third and final throw of the day; he threw up the left sideline expecting a fade route, but Jordan Chin ran a slant. Incomplete.
— Freshman QB Colson Yankoff also had one series with the No. 3 offense during a full team period. His one pass was a good one: a 30-yard completion to redshirt freshman WR Terrell Bynum up the left sideline.
— Sophomore OLB Ryan Bowman continues to have a strong spring. He came off the left edge and got a touch sack of Browning during the final 11-on-11. Two plays later, DT Greg Gaines wrapped up Browning for another sack to end that series.
— Heavy emphasis on special teams today. Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia and Byron Murphy were the three punt returners working closely with Chris Petersen, who continues to coach that unit.
— Junior CB Austin Joyner was out today. Sounds like he tore a hamstring during Saturday’s practice. With Jordan Miller continuing to recover from October ankle surgery, Taylor got the chance to work with the No. 1 defense Monday.
— Sophomore Camilo Eifler was back after missing practice last week. He made his debut at outside linebacker, having swapped positions with senior Tevis Bartlett. Sophomore DL Levi Onwuzurike also participated today after missing practice last week.
— Defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Julius Irvin, two of the Huskies’ top 2018 signees, watched practice from the sideline today — notebooks in hand, as Jimmy Lake saw: