Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
The excitement of fall football camp has worn off; the games are still over a week away. From here on out, Washington’s practices will be closed to the media; the Huskies have a scrimmage on Saturday, and will revert to their in-season morning practice schedule next Friday, a week before they fly to Atlanta for a Week 1 matchup with Auburn.
Eight days until game week, two weeks until gameday. In the meantime, here’s five takeaways from camp thus far.
Haener: The man behind the man
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Redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Haener has looked very good this camp. His pocket presence has improved dramatically, his awareness is better and his decision-making on throws — and the throws themselves — are miles ahead of where he was this time last year.
He’s also got no chance of starting, barring a major injury to Jake Browning. Like Browning or not (and it’s downright amazing that some people don’t), he has been one of the best quarterbacks in UW history, and 2018 — like 2017, 2016, and 2015 — is his year.
Meanwhile, true freshmen Jacob Sirmon and Colson Yankoff have looked, well, like true freshmen. Sirmon may well have the best arm on the roster, but hasn’t developed much touch. Yankoff may be a step ahead of him, but he’s still in his first month with the UW offense.
Right now, the ladder goes Browning, about five rungs, Haener, about 20 rungs, then the freshmen.
There’s a lot of DB depth
Washington already utilizes a nickel set in its base defense, but the Huskies have more than just two corners, two safeties and a nickelback who could rank among the best defenders in the West.
Keith Taylor is nipping on the heels of Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy at corner. Freshman Kyler Gordon has made it as far up the ladder as the second team at safety, next to sophomore Brandon McKinney. The most intriguing race is at nickel, where sophomore Elijah Molden is challenging incumbent Myles Bryant.
The wild card of it all may be Austin Joyner, who has shifted primarily from corner to safety this summer, but who has the size and speed to play anywhere.
Simply put, Jimmy Lake, now the UW defensive coordinator, can’t fit all of his DBs on the field at once.
Though he may try. The defense has tinkered a bit with sets that get even more than the usual five DBs on the field. Especially on third down sets, and going up against offenses like Auburn, Oregon, and Washington State, teams that frequently throw screens behind the line of scrimmage, Washington could try to put out six or seven DBs in at one time.
Offensive line is almost set
Washington either has two or three starting spots on the offensive line settled, depending on how Trey Adams’ knee is feeling. Nick Harris has moved to center and looked good. Kaleb McGary is probably the best right tackle in the Pac-12.
Adams is the best left tackle in the Pac-12, but 10 months removed from tearing his ACL, he’s still in recovery mode. The coaching staff has been easing him back into live drills slowly and is happy with his progress, but he’s definitely not a lock for Week 1.
The two guard spots are still up in the air, not helped by the uncertainty at left tackle. Luke Wattenberg has dealt with health issues; if he’s healthy, he looks to be the No. 1 left guard. If he isn’t, though, it gets murky, as Henry Roberts appears to be the next man up at both spots on the left side of the line.
The one true position battle looks to be at right guard, where Matt James and Jaxson Kirkland are competing for the starting job.
Offensive line coach Scott Huff has been rotating his guys all around, trying to find the best (and healthiest) combination for Week 1.
“There certainly comes a point where you want to get guy settled in and let them start playing together and make mistakes together and fix things together,” Huff said. “That’s coming close, but we’re not quite at that point. But I think we’re making good progress with a lot of those guys.”
Meet the OLBs — all of them
UW has plenty of candidates to line up on the edges, but the group looks more like a revolving door than a set hierarchy, with plenty of raw talent but less game experience.
Ryan Bowman, who led the Huskies with 5 ½ sacks last season, may be the closest to a sure thing in the group. Benning Potoa’e saw plenty of time on the field in 2017 as well, and his size allows him to line up more as a third defensive lineman in short-yardage situations.
Amandre Williams and Myles Rice have both also seen time with the first-team defense, and at 6-foot, 5-inches, redshirt freshman Joe Tryon may be the most physically imposing rusher of the group. Ariel Ngata is the last man listed on the roster as an outside linebacker, and while he hasn’t done much in camp, there’s little reason to think he won’t see the field, especially early in the season.
Spotlight finds Peyton Henry
The owner of the best left leg in Seattle? Yeah, it’s Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski’s. But the most intriguing left leg in Seattle? That would belong to Peyton Henry, who is looking more and more like Washington’s best option in 2018.
Henry, a redshirt freshman walk-on who went to high school with Haener in Danville, Calif., has taken more and more of the reps as fall camp has gone on. At times he’s looked downright good, and at times just the least-shaky of Washington’s options.
“Peyton has risen to the occasion a bit,” special teams coordinator Bob Gregory said after Tuesday’s practice.
In the past week, Henry has taken about three-quarters of the kicks in live practice, a good sign that he has all but won the starting job. His highlight of camp has been a 51-yarder Tuesday that would have been good from even further.