Chris Petersen knows quarterbacks.
He was one in high school and later in college. Coaching quarterbacks was one of his responsibilities early in his career.
Quarterback play and innovative offenses are part of the University of Washington football coach’s reputation. And this year, Petersen may have outdid himself by landing two of the top quarterbacks in the West, guaranteeing the Huskies a stable of talented signal callers stretching into the future
Petersen signed four-star recruits Jacob Sirmon and Colson Yankoff – both are members of The News Tribune’s Western 100 – for the team’s 2018 recruiting class. The Huskies also have a commitment from 2019 prospect and Graham-Kapowsin star Dylan Morris.
And then there’s Jacob Eason. A former five-star prospect, the Lake Stevens grad recently left Georgia and is looking to transfer. Should Eason come to UW, it raises the talent level even more.
Eason, who would have to sit out the 2018 season, becomes the favorite to start in 2019. That, in turn, would give Sirmon and Yankoff extra time to develop while affording Morris a larger window in adapting to the college game.
Just like that, Seattle has become the hot spot for quarterbacks.
“I think that this analysis is really simple. Washington is winning and there’s a quarterback who is playing well,” said KJR 950 AM analyst and former NFL quarterback Hugh Millen about the Huskies and their current, senior-to-be quarterback in Jake Browning.
“(Browning) is a Pac-12 Player of the Year. They run a pro system. Aspiring NFL quarterbacks are going to be drawn to Washington.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
To see what the future of UW looks like, Millen and Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor of 247 Sports, said to look to Petersen’s past.
And that looks pretty good.
“A 6-4 strong-armed high school kid was not going to Boise,” Millen said. “They were going to UCLA, USC and Stanford. (Petersen) was getting the second grade of the pro-style guys.”
At Boise State, Petersen built the persona of being a quarterback guru because of the program’s success under quarterbacks Kellen Moore, Joe Southwick and Jared Zabransky.
Moore held the unofficial record for most wins by a starting college quarterback. The Prosser native went 50-3 and spent five seasons in the NFL. He recently was named the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach.
Southwick threw for 2,730 yards plus 19 touchdowns and helped Boise State finish 11-2 during the 2012 season.
Zabransky was a three-year starter who would throw for 8,256 yards and 58 touchdowns. He was Petersen’s quarterback in 2006 when the Broncos went 13-0 and upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Great accomplishments, for sure. But the three were not top-end recruits coming out of high school.
Millen said Moore, who is 6-foot and 200 pounds, didn’t have prototypical size, a strong arm or great feet. What made Moore successful was his feel for the game. To some extent, the same holds true for Southwick and Zabransky,
Now imagine what Petersen can do with quarterback recruit who not only has a knack for the position, but elite physical skills.
“We all look at what he did with Zabransky, Moore and Southwick. Kellen Moore is the poster child for what Chris Petersen can do,” Huffman said. “He can now get guys who are more highly-touted because he has a 10-year track record and he’s at a Power 5 program in major city that’s in a major conference.”
Millen, who played 11 NFL seasons, said there are four categories of quarterbacks. He said Category 1 players are dual-threat passers with limited passing capabilities. Millen said those are players who can be productive college players but not guys the NFL wants.
Category 2 are the dual-threats who can run but can also throw. Millen said examples include Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson.
Category 3 players are the “pro-style” passers who possess athleticism like Sam Darnold, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers.
The final group, he said, are pocket passers who don’t have the greatest mobility such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.
“I think if you go to Washington, that’s a pro-style system,” Millen said. “It’s very multiple but it values a pro-style quarterback. You need a guy who can make the reads, make the throws and can play at a winning program.”
Millen said UW has two of those players in Sirmon and Yankoff. That number could push to three should Eason transfer to Montlake.
He considers Yankoff, who is 6-4 and 204 pounds, to be a Category 3 player as someone who has both the arm and mobility. Millen rates Sirmon, who is 6-4 and 227 pounds, as a Category 4.
Then there’s Eason, who at 6-5 and 235 pounds, already has an NFL frame.
“I expect him to come to Washington and he will have the best passing arm in the history of Husky football,” Millen said. “I’ll be stunned if he’s not the starting quarterback in 2019 for Washington.”
And don’t forget about Morris, who still has a year of high school football.
He’s considered to be the composite No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the nation. At 6-1, he does not possess the size of Eason, Sirmon or Yankoff.
But the four-star prospect, Huffman said, is comparable to Moore. The difference being Morris has a better arm, Huffman said.
“(Petersen) is going to have one flavor of that, one of that and one of that,” Huffman said. “It’s all about what fits best with his personnel.”
IT WASN’T ALWAYS SO GOOD
When Petersen arrived at UW in December 2013 the quarterback situation was much different.
Keith Price had graduated meaning the Huskies would enter Petersen’s first year without an established starter.
“They had to scramble,” Huffman said.
A recruit Petersen had tabbed at Boise State, three-star Jalen Green, decommited from the Broncos, committed to the Huskies and then ultimately chose USC.
That left three options – Jeff Lindquist, Cyler Myles and Troy Williams. UW picked up another quarterback, KJ Carta-Samuels, who wound up redshirting after switching his commitment from Vanderbilt.
Lindquist, Myles and Williams all wound up playing, with Myles getting the bulk of the time. Although he threw for 2,397 yards and 17 touchdowns, Myles retired months because of a chronic hip injury.
Lindquist had only had 30 attempts and would eventually move to tight end. Williams, who threw 36 passes that season, left UW and transferred to Utah.
Those moves resulted in the Huskies going into the 2015 season with limited options again. Petersen could go with Carta-Samuels or Browning, a true freshman.
Browning won the job, led UW to 7-6 record, a win over Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and set the stage for the Huskies’ rise back to prominence as a program and destination for top quarterbacks.
He has thrown for 9,104 yards and 78 touchdowns in his three seasons. He owns the career record for most touchdowns and is 1,116 yards away from passing Cody Pickett for the most in school history.
As for Carta-Samuels, he left UW and will play for UCLA in 2018 as a graduate transfer.
“They are in a better situation now,” said Huffman, noting that the days of the state’s top prep quarterbacks leaving – like Eason or former top recruits like Max Browne and Jake Heaps – for other schools are over.
“Now? Dylan Morris commits to them. Sam Huard (the son of former UW quarterback Damon Huard, who was selected National Freshman of the Year by Max Preps after his first season at Kennedy Catholic) is a legacy I would be shocked if he ended up anywhere else. He’s talented enough and signs point toward that.
“There’s now a generation of quarterbacks that will only know Washington has a winning program.”
CAN THERE BE TOO MUCH TALENT?
Having too many quarterbacks can be a good problem for Petersen to have. Still, it can be a problem.
Nearly 47 percent of four-and five-star quarterbacks transferred from 2011 to 2014, according to 247 Sports. Already the top pro-style passers in 2016 — Eason and Shea Patterson — will be at different schools in 2018.
How will Petersen handle the issues of playing time and keeping players happy? Again, look to the past. The Huskies’ past.
Under Don James, UW was a destination for top-level quarterbacks with NFL aspirations.
Damon Huard was one of those players. He came to UW and was part of a group featuring Mark Brunell, Billy Joe Hebert and Eric Bjornson.
“I thought, ‘Maybe if I can start junior or senior year, that would be awesome,’” Huard said. “That was the mindset 25 years ago.”
For this season, Browning is the clear-cut starter. After that, it gets murky as to who’s No. 1, especially if Eason shows up and takes his redshirt season.
“Everyone knows the nature of the quarterback position,” Millen said. “It’s not like being a pitcher with set-up guys and relievers. It’s competitive.”
This isn’t the first time a major program has stockpiled elite talent at one position.
Alabama, starting in 2008 with Mark Ingram, built a fleet of four-and-five star running backs that have helped the Crimson Tide win five national titles since 2009.
Here’s the difference. Saban could use a two-running back system to give guys playing time.
Petersen, however, can only play one quarterback at a time.
“Everybody today thinks they’re going to go to college and they joke about being ‘excited for my three-year scholarship’ and then off to the NFL,” Huard said. “It’s not all that realistic. I think that’s what everyone thinks. There’s a lot of competition ... if you’re the best, it comes to light. It just does.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark