SEATTLE — There were times last season when Washington Huskies wide receiver Jaydon Mickens was involved in jaw-dropping plays.
Trouble was, the mandible movement usually came after an open Mickens dropped a pass.
Short, swift and unreliable, Mickens had a hard time breaking through his freshman season.
Quarterback Keith Price was pummeled much of the year behind a makeshift offensive line. That, as much as anything, took away an expected strength of Mickens — the deep ball. There wasn’t time to launch many his way. When there was, Mickens had a hard time pulling them in.
Another byproduct of the lack of protection was Price focusing on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams. Few others were involved in the passing game.
Among the missing was Mickens. His 47-yard reception against Utah was the longest of the year for Washington, but he caught just 20 passes for 190 yards.
Mickens said his brain slowed his feet.
“Mentally, that’s what really bothered me last year,” Mickens said. “Going slow because I’m not sure of the route, not sure if I’m going to cross somebody’s face and make this big catch.
“Now, I just do it.”
He just did it in the opener Aug. 31. The Huskies lined up Mickens in the slot or motioned him into the flat out of the backfield to get him the ball on the perimeter. He even took a handoff once.
When the 38-6 rout of step-slow Boise State was finished, Mickens had a career-high nine catches for 109 yards, 81 yards short of his total from 2012.
“I love being a moving target,” Mickens said. “That’s the one thing I really want to relate to, being a moving target. Me, John Ross, Marvin Hall, those guys that can really get the perimeter going; it’s what we do.”
Said UW coach Steve Sarkisian: “He’s much more confident. He’s always been a somewhat confident guy, just in general, but I think there’s genuine confidence coming from Jaydon.”
Despite the high-octane output in the opener, Mickens has a list of improvements to make.
“I could have broke three tackles for touchdowns, so, I should have had three touchdowns,” Mickens said. “Route running could have been better. Assignment-wise could have been better. Blocking could have been way better, so that’s what I am working on.”
IDLE, BUT UP
Washington moved up to 19th from 20th in The Associated Press Top 25 poll Sunday despite not playing last week. It’s the highest the Huskies have been ranked under Sarkisian.
Washington remained 23rd in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
Oregon is No. 2 in both polls. Stanford (5) and UCLA (16) are the other Pacific-12 Conference schools in the AP Top firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas