Naijiel Hale played the deflection of Jake Browning’s pass perfectly, grabbing the football after it bounded from the hands of sophomore receiver Brayden Lenius before returning it the length of the field for what would have been a touchdown had it not occurred in a controlled drill at Washington’s spring practice on Friday morning.
Later, Hale, a sophomore cornerback, picked off another pass, this time from redshirt freshman quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, and would have hauled that one about 70 yards for another score.
Sophomore cornerback Darren Gardenhire picked off Browning too, and so did linebacker Scott Lawyer during a 7-on-7 period.
These are the growing pains of an offense still in search of a clear-cut winner of its three-man quarterback competition, one that has played out fairly evenly through the first 11 practices of UW’s spring.
Each contestant — true freshman Browning, Carta-Samuels and the most seasoned of the group, fourth-year junior Jeff Lindquist — has flashed promise, particularly during a 7-on-7 drill last week in which the quarterbacks completed 15 of 16 passes and carved up a more experienced secondary.
And each has also shown why this spring is so important to their development.
“We’re still installing some things, and so you expect a little hit and miss there,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said after Friday’s practice. “I think at some point — and we’ve got some things in that we’ve had for a couple weeks, and those need to continue to get executed — we need to get those executed, and we’re not quite there yet.”
Lindquist, the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, has been the steadiest in terms of limiting interceptions and making proper decisions. Those were the traits that earned him the start in UW’s season opener last season at Hawaii, with eventual starter Cyler Miles serving a one-game suspension.
Accuracy was a problem that day, as Lindquist completed just 10 of 26 passes and looked flustered throughout a frustrating second half. Lindquist’s progression as a quarterback hinges upon whether he can place the ball where it’s supposed to be, and whether he can make those decisions quickly enough to be effective.
“I kind of say that with all of our QBs,” UW coach Chris Petersen said of emphasizing accuracy. “When you throw those really, really catchable balls, it changes the game completely for the wideouts.
“I think Jeff’s gotten better, without question, which is nice to see. I always say that the young guys, they’re going to progress pretty rapidly because the expectations are pretty low for them, just in terms of all the different things. So when they’re making really good throws and quick decisions, you’re excited. Jeff’s been here a while, so to see him make progress is really nice, as well.”
As for Browning, who graduated from Folsom (California) High School early so he could enroll at UW in January and practice throughout the spring, Petersen said he’s “doing great” when it comes to processing the offense’s burdensome installation process.
“I think there’s some turnovers out there that will be eliminated down the road by all those guys,” Petersen said. “I think all those guys, Jake included, really understand what’s going on. Now it’s just a matter of being able to process things really, really fast.”
The Huskies return three tailbacks who played significantly last season — junior Dwayne Washington, third-year sophomore Lavon Coleman and sixth-year senior Deontae Cooper.
But Jomon Dotson, a 5-foot-10, 174-pound back from American Canyon, California, who redshirted last season, might be having the most impressive camp of anyone in the group.
Dotson’s “suddenness” and shifty running style stand out during live tackling periods, Huskies running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said.
“I think Jomon has had a great spring ball,” Bhonapha said. “If you talk about a guy who has made the biggest improvement, he’s stood out the most, because last year he was on scout team so you didn’t really see him as much. But to see what he’s been able to do when we’re going (live), I would say Jomon has stood out a lot.
“… All these guys have done something in those live periods. But if you’re talking about from Day One of spring ball to where we’re at, who I feel has been the most consistent in making strides of getting better would be Jomon.”