Mid-Spring Review: QB's

SEATTLE - When Cyler Miles was indefinitely suspended for a violation of team rules and Chris Petersen didn't add a walk-on quarterback for Spring Football, the stage was set: Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams would be the signal-callers relied on to carry the torch - and hand it off to the right guy at the right time - for spring football.

With a new coaching staff and two non-starters vying for a potential starting role come August, the UW QB battle had all the makings of a great competition. Has it been?
5 Jeff Lindquist - So.
3 Troy Williams - RFr.

"There going to get more work, like I said, than they ever dreamed," Petersen said before the start of spring football. "We'll maybe have two groups, the ones and the twos, and those guys are interchangeable and those groups are interchangeable. So we certainly don't have any starters at that position for sure. We'll get them a lot of works and guys don't need to worry about their rank in the depth chart - they just need to get better each day."

Lindquist was a bundle of nerves coming to Washington from Mercer Island, as Miles was the quarterback that eventually moved to the coveted role backing up Keith Price. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Lindquist has always dealt with the Jake Locker comparisons for better or worse; he's a big, strong runner like Jake was but came to Washington with more of a reputation as a passer than the former first-round draft pick. Lindquist was incredibly prolific at Mercer Island, running and throwing for over 8500 yards in his high school career. More importantly, Lindquist was seen as the key instrument in head coach Brett Ogata's transformation; he helped take the Islanders from three wins to eight wins and a playoff berth by the time he graduated. When he got to UW, Jeff was his own admitted worst enemy due to his perfectionist nature, and he was swallowed up by the playbook for good measure. Two years later, Lindquist has made steady strides in his development, but the progress is still slower than most Husky fans would like.

Williams came to Montlake as the clear heir apparent for many due to his pedigree and athletic gifts. The two-time CIF City Section MVP was seen as a leader like Price, a player the offense would rally behind. It didn't hurt that the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Williams also had a cannon for an arm and a penchant for picking defenses apart from the pocket. As a three-year starter at Narbonne, Williams threw for roughly 9,000 yards in his career and 115 total touchdowns as a Gaucho. When Williams came to Washington, it was best-situated for him to bide his time and learn the offense his first year behind Price, Miles and Linquist, and then would come to spring football this March and blow the competition away.

In short, despite Miles' start at Oregon State and his jump ahead of Linquist on the depth chart for Steve Sarkisian, this spring was supposed to be seen as a fresh start for everyone under new coach Petersen and first-year offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith. That has happened, but not in the way people would have thought.

Miles' suspension has thrown things into chaos - as much for how his exclusion has impacted practice as much as the impact it has had on the competition itself. Former quarterback Thomas Vincent is currently in the two-deeps at safety, so the coaches don't have anyone else but Lindquist and Williams to throw the football - for everything. In fact UW program CAO Damon Huard, who initially came back to his alma mater in a development and fundraising role after a 14-year NFL career, was recruited by the coaches to help out in practice as another arm to throw to receivers during individual practice periods.

What have they done in practice? - As you would expect, it's been a bit of a mixed bag. The entire offense is not just learning a new offense, but the language that comes with it.

"We came in here and we got some new ideas," said Smith. "We're trying to have some carry-over, so with that mesh it's taken time, which we expected. We expected mistakes to be made the first couple of weeks as we're installing new things and working through that. I like their effort, I like their energy and how they are approaching it and trying to learn, trying to practice hard - I think that's been great. If we can sustain that I think we'll be fine at the end of the day."

Lindquist has probably been the more hit-and-miss of the two, making the bigger plays down the field but also throwing more interceptions. Williams has been pretty steady, but the play of both has been so inconsistent through the first six practices that neither one of them has stood out.

Where does the position stand after two weeks? - Honestly, while progress has undoubtedly been made by both quarterbacks, the competition itself remains stagnant. Neither quarterback has separated themselves, and that is not completely unexpected. The Huskies lost their incumbent to graduation and the next in line to suspension, so the position was in a state of flux to begin with.

"Really way too early to evaluate," Petersen said after the first practice, but if he had been available to the media last Thursday he would have said the same thing. "I thought they threw some good passes and threw some bad passes. But that's why we're out here working. We said it from the start; we need a really good decision-maker and a really accurate thrower. So I think you guys could see some of that. Some of it was really good, some of it - that's why we practice."

While Miles' exclusion has thrown an unwelcome wrinkle into the quarterback competition, it's hard to believe he would have been necessarily ahead of Lindquist and Williams after watching the first two practice weeks of the Petersen era. For starters, everyone has been given a clean slate, so Miles' 2013 exploits would have been left for the history books and on the film room floor. Secondly, things have fundamentally changed on offense to the point where both Lindquist and Williams haven't been able to get out of first gear because they are doing too much thinking and not enough playing.

"They're working really hard," Smith said of the two quarterbacks Thursday. "We're putting some new things on ‘em and we're stretching them mentally. They are trying to grasp on that, but they need way more turns to start separating themselves."

That is saying something, considering the sheer number of throws that have been made between the two. Petersen joked that they better have enough ice on hand to make sure their arms don't fall off from the reps they've taken to date.

What to look for in the second half of spring - More than any other position going forward, both quarterbacks have a chance to really push ahead in the race for a starting spot by the time spring game is over April 19th. It's extremely doubtful Petersen would be at the point where he could name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practices, but like most coaches would tell you - it's the players that determine their worth by the way they practice and play. So it's not inconceivable the competition could move forward with some heavy movement if one comes back from the two-week break refreshed and re-focused to take the fight to the other.

Lindquist admitted that his focus has been less on competition the first two weeks and more on mastering the playbook and the new terminology to the point where he doesn't have to think about it. "Maybe on the back end of practices in spring it'll feel more like a competition, but for right now, especially me and Troy, we're just splitting reps 50/50, trying to get a good grasp on all the plays and trying to get comfortable with the system," he said. "Right now I would say it's more learning-based than competition-based, but that could definitely change."

With roughly half the playbook installed so far, the quarterbacks aren't done learning - not by a long shot. That means more up-and-down play during practice while they continue to digest the new offensive system and the language that comes with it.

Miles' inclusion to the quarterback competition can't come soon enough - if it comes at all - but it won't come this spring. For that, the position has definitely suffered. Whether or not his absence will give rise to a more prepared Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams is still yet to be seen. How they come back and look April 1st will go a long ways toward determining how well the two have absorbed what they've learned to date and bounced back physically from the reps they've taken.

There's always going to be an opportunity for one quarterback to jump ahead of the other on Petersen's ‘seating chart', but based on the Huskies' first six spring practices I wouldn't expect anything else but more learning and more struggling from the quarterbacks as they soak everything in and work toward mastering every detail of the new Washington offense. When they get comfortable and can cut loose and play - that's going to be when the quarterback competition will fully be joined.

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