Either way, 2015 is now in the rear view mirror, and this spring brings a chance for the wide outs to prepare for a more successful season. That won’t come without a few struggles. Washington will need to find replacements for Jaydon Mickens and Marvin Hall.
From a numbers standpoint, the former will be much harder to move on from; MIckens led the team in receptions in each of the past three seasons, and his 203 career grabs ranks second in Husky history. He vacates a critical role as a top target in Washington’s offense.
Hall and Mickens aren’t the only people that are no longer Huskies, as receivers coach Brent Pease was dismissed shortly after the Apple Cup. New receivers coach Bush Hamdan will be tasked with trying to find a replacement for Mickens, but benefits from the return of John Ross III this spring.
Position Group (By Class)
John Ross III (5-11, 192, Jr.)
Dante Pettis (6-0, 185, Jr.)
Brayden Lenius (6-5, 220, Jr.)
NIk Little (6-4, 205, Jr.)
Isaiah Renfro (6-1, 207, So.)
Chico McClatcher (5-7, 176, So.)
Andre Baccellia (5-9, 160, RFr.)
Quinten Pounds (5-11, 170, RFr.)
Neel Saluhke (5-11, 175, Sr.)*
Drew Before (6-0, 197, Sr.)*
Forest Dunivin (6-4, 217, Jr.)*
Taelon Parson (6-1, 192. Jr.)*
Max Richmond (5-9, 178, So.)*
John Gardner (6-2, 195, So.)*
Jamon Jones (6-2, 227, RFr.)*
Josh Rasmussen (5-11, 173, RFr.)*
Jaydon Mickens had the slot receiver spot on lockdown for each of the past three seasons, and operated with incredible efficiency there, catching 61 passes per year over that span. In his absence, there are quite a few catches up for grabs. And even with the slot position up in the air in terms of a sure starter, it’s likely that the majority of targets will move outside to a player like Dante Pettis.
Pettis, after catching just one pass over his first six games at UW, has caught 46 passes over his last 21 games. Although that mark is just over two catches a game, that’s largely due to being third in the pecking order for targets behind Mickens and tight end Joshua Perkins the past two seasons. With both players now graduated, the junior-to-be is the most likely to fill the role of reception machine in 2016. He has more catches than any returning player on the team, including senior tight end Darrell Daniels.
Pettis made an exciting showing at the combine; not only did he place in the top-5 in forty times, but he also posted the highest vertical jump on the team
If nothing else, that’s the first of the many times his name will be called this season.
After missing the entire 2015 season with a knee injury sustained during Washington's 2015 spring football campaign, John Ross III should make his return to action this spring. Any question of whether or not he will be ready was answered during the Husky combine. He coupled a 38-inch vertical with a jaw-dropping 4.25 forty-yard dash.
Clearly Ross's injury didn’t do much in terms of taking away his athleticism. However, it did cause him to miss a year of football. Spring football will be big in getting his feet wet again and preparing him for the 2016 season. That being said, I expect coach Hamdan to err on the side of caution with Ross this spring. As important as it is to get Ross back into the swing of college football again, I wouldn’t expect that to take a priority over the health of a player as high caliber as Ross.
The return of a guy like John Ross takes away the sting of losing Jaydon Mickens to graduation. That being said, his game is a lot different than Mickens'. It’s unlikely that Ross will be a 60-catch receiver in 2016. What is for certain, though, is the Huskies just got their most explosive playmaker back. He scored seven touchdowns in 2014, including four through the air, one on the ground, and two kick returns.
However Hamdan and the Huskies decide to use him, Ross will always be a big play threat.
Manning the slot
With Mickens out of eligibility, the Huskies have a spot to fill that they haven’t had to worry about in over three years. Obviously Ross is a name that comes to mind right away when talking about the slot receiver position. He has the speed and dynamic skill set required of a Pac-12 level slot.
However, limiting Ross to just the slot this early on wouldn’t be ideal. Coach Hamdan might want to experiment to find different ways to get him the ball. That being said, Hamdan has all spring and fall camp to find his answer at that position. For that reason, I expect him to try a few other guys out there.
Receiver Chico McClatcher made a notable impact as a freshman last season, but it was primarily carrying the football. Only eight of his 27 offensive touches were receptions, but he did end up cashing in for four total touchdowns. McClatcher, like Ross, is a player that is hard to limit to just one role. While he should spend a lot of time lining up in the slot this spring, I expect Hamdan to experiment with different ways to get the ball in McClatcher’s hands
Andre Baccellia is a guy who could see quite a few reps in the spring. After redshirting last season, he now has a year of experience in Washington’s offense under his belt. Baccellia was a track and football standout in high school; he posted 954 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior, and ran a 10.77 in the 100-meter his senior year. Listed at only 160 pounds on the official roster, it will be interesting to see how redshirting and a college offseason impacted his body.
Quinten Pounds could also get a few reps in the slot. He played in three games last year without recording a catch before getting sidelined for the remainder of the season due to injury. Because of the timing of the injury, Pounds was able to exercise his redshirt and will enter 2016 with four years of eligibility. As a senior in high school, Pounds accounted for 22 touchdowns, scoring the majority of those on the ground. Regardless, the skill set he brings to the table was enough to convince coach Pease to play him as a true freshman. That could be due in part to the lack of positional depth last year, but either way, Pounds showed enough to encourage coaches to give him a shot. If he’s fully recovered from his injury, he’s a player to look out for this fall.
Many Husky fans were disappointed at Washington’s inability to haul in a prototypical big receiver in last year’s recruiting class. This requires the Huskies to find an answer in-house. Fortunately, they have a couple options.
Brayden Lenius, after catching only seven passes as a true freshman, saw his production nearly quadruple last year. Lenius seemed to find his stride toward the end of the season, catching 13 passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns over a four-game stretch between the Arizona and Oregon State games. He’s got the size you want from a big receiver. And with high school basketball experience he also has the bounce needed to go up and win jump balls. Here’s proof:
With another year of football under his belt and another offseason to work with Jake Browning, Lenius has the potential to continue along the development track he’s on.
Another option is Isaiah Renfro. He doesn’t have the height Lenius has, standing only 6-foot-1, but his 207-pound frame has plenty of muscle behind it. His path, right now, appears to be similar to that of Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius in the sense that he got his feet wet as a true freshman and now is on track to make more of an impact in his second season.The graduation of Mickens will obviously give more receivers more chances to get targets. Renfro naturally had size and strength; with a year of experience under his belt, he could emerge as one of Browning’s bigger targets.
Aside from Renfro and Lenius, even a guy like 6-foot-4 Nik Little could emerge as a threat to eat up some targets this spring.
What does this spring mean for the receivers?
Spring camp marks the beginning of the process of players readjusting to different roles, as coach Hamdan also adjusts to his new role as Washington's receivers coach. The goal of spring won’t be to set a depth chart in stone, but to get as many players as many reps as possible in pursuit of the most productive receiver combination possible.
Spring will be a chance for younger players to emerge. Guys like Andre Baccellia and Quinten Pounds will be competing for a spot in the target pecking order, while others like Isaiah Renfro will be making a case for an increase in usage for the upcoming season. Hamdan will look at Chico McClatcher and try to find the most effective way to use him. John Ross will get his feet wet again, while Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius will prepare for increased roles.
In all, spring should be an eventful time of year for this position group.