In a press conference Friday, Petersen talked about Vita Vea, Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, recruiting and more.

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Washington coach Chris Petersen met with the media for the final time this spring after Friday’s practice. Petersen will be in attendance with Vita Vea at the NFL draft next Thursday in Texas. He spoke about Vea, Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, recruiting, the new kickoff rules and more:

(on format for Saturday’s spring preview) “It’s a practice with a little bit of scrimmaging at the end. You know, the game has changed tremendously. You don’t practice like we used to (where) every fourth day was a scrimmage and you’re tackling. We’ve had a lot of reps (this spring). We’ve had 600-plus team reps and a handful of live reps. And we still think we’re building skill and getting better and those types of things. But it’s hard when you lose seniors and you don’t have a big bunch of numbers (on the roster). It’s our job as coaches to be as smart as we can to get to the fall. But we’re excited about tomorrow because it’s another chance for us to go out and get better. It might not be quite as exciting for the fans, unless they want to see how we practice and how we do things. That’s where we spend the majority of our time — on this grinding kind of grunt work. It’s what makes us better.”

(There are some programs that draw 30,000 or 40,000 for a spring game. Is that something you desire for this?) “We could get a lot more people if we had a full blown spring scrimmage game. We just don’t have the numbers. I’m just saying to all Dawg fans: Hey, we’d love to see you out there (Saturday), but we need you in the fall. That’s when it matters to me and this team and this program. We get 72,000 regardless of who we’re playing — that is game-changing. Not necessarily spring ball.”

(on goals for Jake Browning going into the summer) “Like I’ve said, Jake needs to take the next step in his game. If he doesn’t, we’re not going to be the team that we need to be, for sure. What you’re talking about is the summer … and we’ve got a lot of team stuff that needs to come from him and a handful of others. But he’s got a lot on his plate because it’s hard to take care of your teammates and run things. He has a tremendous responsibility of getting himself better. I think he’d be the first to tell you — he’s got a ways to go. And we’ve got to take the next step.”

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(Where does that start for him) “It’s been started, since the winter. I think he’d be the first to tell you we’re not ready to play right now and the good thing is we don’t have to play right now. But he understands the urgency that every day counts. It seems like two days ago spring ball had just begun. Now we’ve got one more and it’s over. The old guys understand that. The young guys are kind of still trying to keep their head above water and they’re going to look up in a week and go, ‘Did spring ball just happen?’”

(on Myles Gaskin’s decision to return for his senior season) “First of all, he’s had a really good spring. I love Myles because Myles is a football guy and Myles shows up every day to go to work and get better. He doesn’t show up to go to work and punch the time clock. He’s on a mission and he always has been. Now what I think about him coming back for the program — I think it’s awesome. It makes us a better team. But there are some decision that need to be made down the road for that next-level football. It’s not all about the team; it’s about him a lot and could he up his stock a little bit coming back. Myles thinks he has more to do for this program but also for himself. I tell ya: I love football guys. A lot of guys think they’re football guys and they’re not. They like the pageantry and all this and it’s all fun. Myles likes to go out there at practice and do that grunt work I was talking about. And that’s what makes him special.”

(You think Gaskin could improve on his fourth-round projection?) “I think he’s such an underrated player. You just put the tape on and you watch him catch the ball and you watch him block and watch him do all these things. I think he’s as good as anything that’s out there. I really do. So we just need more people to pay attention to this guy. I think he’ll do some really great things this year.”

(You’re going to play at team in Auburn that’s from a region where college football is talked about and hyped 365 days a year. Would you like something like that here at UW?) “I think when there’s excitement around your program, everybody cares about it. We sit in the Greatest Setting in College Football, and those kids come into the stadium and it’s packed, you don’t have to say a word. They are in awe. I think we all are. We don’t want to talk about it, we want to be about it in everything that has to do with our football program. So look at a packed stadium and say wow. This is awesome, this is what college football is.”

(How have you been able to maintain focus when everyone in college football wants to know everything about a program all the time?) “I think it has to do with who we are recruiting, the message that our program has to our kids. It goes back to Day One stuff. We need passionate, Myles Gaskin-type guys that love football so passionately but also realize that there’s more to life than just football. This education really matters. That not only getting this education but what am I going to do with this education and trying to figure that out here, that’s what I want our guys…we truly believe that we can play with the best and be the best, but it doesn’t mean that every waking second is all football. We can still have those passionate guys. This football is a platform to play a game that we really love but we have to use this platform to get connected to other people and other ideas and other things, create this really cool life that we want these kids, and they want to have. Because this football window is short. We need to celebrate it and be all about it, but there’s more to it than just this.”

(Has it ever been tempting to think about deviating from that plan at all?) “To us, it’s not a choice. It blows me away when it’s that narrow of a focus with coaches and programs. Why would it be like that? I keep saying this: everybody’s life is too important to be about just football. Mine is. I’m not showing up here every day just to be about football. And I think the same thing for these kids.”

(Could you ever see yourself coaching in the SEC, given the level of expectations there?) “I think this: there’s a fit for everybody. I have tremendous respect — I’m about passionate people and they’re passionate about football. I love that. But this is my fit. That’s why I’m standing here at Washington. It’s not about the SEC. … I can see myself at Washington. That’s why I’m here. And that’s all I think about, is how to make this program as good as it can be. This place fits me and fits all the kids that are here and fits our coaches. So I don’t ever have those thoughts. I’m right where I need to be.”

(Did you, at any point in your career, have thoughts about coaching in the NFL?) “I haven’t thought a whole lot about that. I have a lot of friends that are in the NFL and I think there’s some really unique things and cool things about the NFL, for players as well. And I think there’s some not unique things and not cool things about the NFL. I always think you’re trading in one set of problems for another. When I left where I was, it was time. The job is really the same, but you’ll trade one set of problems for another set of problems. And sometimes you’re ready for a new set of problems. I’m not that naive to think that that’s where I’ve got to be. It’s a different set of problems. Right now I’m good with the problems that I’m dealing with. I haven’t figured out how to solve them all, and when I do maybe I’m on to the next thing.”

(What does it do for the UW brand to hear Vita Vea’s name called in the first round of the NFL draft?) “It’s awesome. This is one of the reasons we’re here. I don’t want anybody to mistake all that stuff I said about my life is too important to be just about football. But it is. But we’re here to recruit and develop NFL players if we can get that done. That’s really, really important to us. But that’s not the only thing and that’s probably not even the first thing. But for us to be back there, to celebrate that, that a kid has worked so hard and been blessed with these tools to put to football use…I think it’s awesome. It’s awesome for the kids. But we all know that’s going to be a short window. Let’s say he plays for nine or 10 years, which is an unbelievable window. All the stars have lined up, and he’s still got what? Sixty or seventy years of his life left. That’s what we’re talking about.”

(You’re going to the draft on Thursday?) “I’m going to be there.”

(What is Vita’s potential ceiling?) “Vita is one of those unique guys that, he could still come back another year. That’s how young of a player we’re still talking about. And if he would have, he would have probably been the top pick in the draft, I don’t know. I just still think he has more to him. He knows that as well. What an awesome situation to be in. What an awesome situation for a club to pick this guy and know he still has more to him.”

(When the NFL guys call, what do they ask about him or what are they most curious about?) “It’s always the same for me. They watch tape, they are experts on tape. They aren’t asking for my opinion on whether or not he’s a good d-tackle, or if a kid is a good corner or whatever. They are like, how is this guy in the locker room? Can this guy handle money? Can this guy be on his own? Does he have his house in order? Can this guy handle all his stuff? What happens when it gets really hard? Everything we’re about in this program, trying to develop that.”

(What have you told them about Vita?) “If they were all like Vita, this job would be really easy, right? He’s a great kid, very focused on his academics, no issues. Not one time. No issue with anything. All he did was work and get better. That’s easy.”

(What have you seen in the place-kicker competition and how will the new fair-catch rule inside the 25-yard line change strategy this year?) “Fair catch rule, still working on that like a lot of people are. We have some strong ideas about what we think we’re going to do but I would not discuss here and now. Never going to talk about strategy.

“And the place-kicking competition, like everywhere — those kids have been working really, really hard. I think Peyton Henry has done an excellent job. You don’t know much about him, he redshirts, kind of in the background all last year. But he’s been working tremendously and there’s no question his game has taken a tremendous jump since this spring ball we’ve got to see him.”

(Is that rule change on the right track for safety concerns?) “I think it probably is, just because if you read the studies there’s a lot of head injuries going on on that play. If that’s one thing we need to do to ‘safen’ the game up, we’re all in.”

(Can you illustrate anything UW can concentrate with a long run-up to Auburn?) “Yeah, that process really is not going to change because it’s a certain opponent. We still got to take care of our self. I think everybody does the same thing. They take a look at the first couple opponents, to see what’s there, and then look what there is — their teaching progression should look like in fall camp. To make sure we are hitting these type of things. So we’re not pulling out something totally brand new the week of the game. That would be ridiculous. So it doesn’t matter who we play, that process will be the same. Now our kids they understand who Auburn is. I mean what are we talking about. They beat the two teams that played in the National Championship game. We’re talking about playing the best of the best right now. So our kids, they know that. I don’t have to say a word about that. I know what Auburn’s going to be. I’m more worried about what we are going to be. And so it’s always a focus back to us and where we are as coaches. That process, what we install the first couple games, that doesn’t really change.”

(Is there an opportunity to use the time now that doesn’t come in the regular season?) “I mean, you can spend another extra practice day or two on that first game, which I think everybody does. But really you don’t know exactly what they are going to do. They’re going to come up with a handful of wrinkles. You’re not locking in like you are game five. Everybody looks a little bit different. So again it comes back to us being assignment sound, and really assignment perfect. Like I know what my job is, regardless of how they line up. That’s always the message for us there. The urgency and all that, the hype around the game, like I said the kids they’ll feel that. As coaches it’s our job to make sure we know what we are doing with our stuff.”

(On depth behind Jake Browning) “That’s always a work in progress. I think it’s been really good for those guys. I think Jake Haener has had a tremendous spring and has done a great job. For all three of the new guys it’s been great as well. It’s a tremendous learning opportunity, and I just always think okay, they’re going to have these 15 practices and all these meetings that we have. Now they’re going to study all these cut-up’s through the summer time. Then we come back in the fall and go through it all again. That just accelerates — but it can be hard coming out here new to this spring football thing. But it’s great for those guys. Great for Austin Osborne. I think about him as well. He’s handled it well mentally. That’s the hardest thing. There’s so much stuff…getting lined up right. So they’ve all made really good progress there and excited about that.”

(Are you comfortable with the WR corps?) “I mean, like I said, nobody is comfortable around here. If anybody is comfortable I’m not doing my job right. I mean what are we talking about. We’re not ready to play. There’s so much work to be done. Guys are improving and all that, but no, no we’re not comfortable. Like is this like crew(?) way to win, win big and win it all. No. Ask me about another group. I’ll repeat the message.”

(On the running back group and managing enough touches for Savon Ahmed) “That’s our job as coaches. Get the playmakers the ball. I think Kamari Pleasant has had a good spring. I think Sean McGrew has done a nice job back there as well. All those guys are good. We need them all. That’s the most physical position on the team. So in the return game, when we get them on the field in unique ways, we’re going to figure that out.”

(On new NCAA rule allowing earlier official recruiting visits, starting with a high school athlete’s junior year) “I said it again, last time I spoke. I don’t think it’s good. So they give us this rule so everybody tries to figure out the strategy. … I don’t think earlier is better in this whole recruiting process. For a kid that’s been able to be at the campus a couple times, really get to know us and our staff and those type of things, and it’s the right thing to do then great. But we’re just accelerating and accelerating, making decisions earlier and earlier, and I think overall for the game and the process its not necessarily better. That’s my two cents. I think most people feel like that. I don’t know how it got, you know there’s so much horse-trading in these rules. We’ll do this if you give us this. I don’t know of any coaches that wanted this. But everybody adjusts and adapts, and tires to figure out how make it work for them. In college football earlier is better. That’s the mantra. Offer early. Throw a thousand offers out there. See how many guys we can get in. Same thing with, lets visit them early, lets try to get them locked in. So that’s what we’re dealing with.”

(Format for Saturday?) “So it will be a practice for three quarters, and then we’ll scrimmage a little bit at the end.”

(Is the program on track with where you want it to be entering Year Five?) “Yeah we’re headed in the right direction. I don’t think year five. I know you’re suppose to have a one-year plan, five-year plan, and a 10-year vision. That isn’t me. I know what it’s suppose to look like, what it’s suppose to feel like. Our vision is like right now. So I’m like, we’ll be patient about this – there’s no patience in this thing. You know we’re pointed in the right direction. The kids are awesome to coach. They’re really good teammates. We got a way to go in terms of like every little thing. And they know that. But we like showing up to work with these guys and the coaches, and we’re all rowing hard in the same direction.”