“Some days it can be frustrating because they’re such a great defense and they have a lot of all-stars on the defense, but it’s going pretty well,” sophomore Chico McClatcher said Thursday. “We’re still getting into the flow on offense, we’re being very patient, so it’s going pretty well.”
McClatcher is one of three receivers Bush Hamdan is relying on early to get open - the other two being John Ross III and Dante Pettis. Ross is coming back from a redshirt season in 2015, leaving Pettis as really the only true returning outside guy with significant playing experience.
Phil Steele, the most accurate college football prognosticator for nearly the past two decades, ranks position groups in his hefty pre-season breakdowns. Steele has Washington secondary ranked as the third-best in the country behind LSU and Alabama.
Where does Steele have the Husky receivers ranked? Forty-one, behind teams like Middle Tennessee State, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, USF, and Akron. For comparison, Steele has Oregon’s receiving group ranked fifth in the country and Washington State 15th.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a chip on our shoulder, but it’s definitely motivation,” said Pettis, fully cognizant of the fact that most on the outside think Washington’s receivers are the weak link to UW’s offense. “They don’t think we can do it, so it’s okay - let’s prove it to them that we can. That’s all it really is. We’re not mad about it or anything. Alright, if they don’t think we can, let’s show ‘em that we can.”
Through four days, the receivers have putting putting a pick axe to that wall, trying to break it down brick by brick. But without a touchdown to their credit so far this fall, Andy Dufresne might get out of Shawshank Prison in less time than it could take the offense to score.
“We put them in some tough spots,” UW Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith said Thursday. “That team period that was earlier in practice was all third down. Third and nines, those are going to be tough. We’ll put them in more of the situations. We had a play period where we had some chances at the end, got ourselves in the red zone and weren’t able to finish the deal. That’s actually back-to-back days we had chances in the red zone, so we’ll continue to work.”
Ross, Pettis and McClatcher have been getting the majority of first team snaps, and Hamdan likes their athleticism and versatility as a group.
“I think they are each a little bit different, different skill set,” he said. “I think all of them are explosive enough that if they keep developing this technique I think they be big-time playmakers for us.”
McClatcher showed it Thursday, catching a pretty pass from sophomore Jake Browning down the seam between Budda Baker and walk-on corner Devin Bush. Browning appeared to make a quick check, and that confused the secondary just enough to give Chico the seam. He took it fifty-plus yards, but couldn’t punch it in.
“Obviously, Coach Smith trusts me and has been moving me around the field a little bit,” McClatcher said. “I’ve been watching Jaydon Mickens while he was playing. He was able to stay patient in zone. My problem last year was speeding through everything thinking it was man (coverage) so just me be patient, that’s something I wanted to work on.”
Every receiver has commented on the need for improvement, and the lack of total satisfaction even with small steps made.
“I’m still working on (route running),” said Ross. “I still don’t feel good enough or where I should be. Every day that’s what I work on. I know I’m fast, but it seems like that’s the only attribute I have right now. And that’s not going to cut it: not here, not anywhere. So I want to work on becoming a route runner and a better receiver."
Those three won’t be able to do it alone. Part of the reason why it’s been so difficult, from an offensive standpoint, to put a dent in the defensive wall is because the receivers don’t have their full arsenal available to them.
Quinten Pounds has done a very nice job stepping up after redshirting and then missing nearly all of spring with injury. He looks like he’s back to 100 percent and that’s allowed him to push through these last couple of practices with some impact plays. There's no doubt Pounds' time to shine needs to be right now.
But when it comes to the final pieces to make the group complete, the receivers are missing three key components to their depth - Brayden Lenius, Andre Baccellia, and newcomer K.J. Young. All three are participating in the majority of fall camp, but when it comes to the team periods they are being held out to make sure they are 100 percent healthy for Rutgers on September 3rd.
Young is clearly the most intriguing of the receivers, simply because so little is known about him. He had three starts at Oklahoma as a true freshman in 2014, eventually playing in 12 of 13 games, catching 19 passes for 215 yards and one score. He was then dismissed from Oklahoma, where he spent 2015 at Riverside Community College in southern California getting his credits to the point where he could make a 4-2-4 bounce-back transfer to another Division-1 school.
That school happened to be Washington, but he wasn’t cleared to enroll with his Associate’s degree until August 1st, which meant he came to Montlake without any knowledge of the playbook, his teammates, or anything else, for that matter.
“We understand that this is a long process, a long camp, long season, and we’ve got to be very aware of - again, he was not with us in the summer, slowly getting this guy adjusted to big-time college football,” Hamdan said when asked about his newest addition.
“He’s probably better than I expected, but still a long ways to go. Sometimes we take for granted how great a job Tim Socha and his coaches do over the summer. A guy probably working out on his own still isn’t anywhere close to the stuff our guys have been doing over the summer.”
Getting Pounds, Lenius, Baccellia and Young in to help fill out the receiver depth is going to be critical for Hamdan, who continues to hammer away at the fundamentals during the dawg days of fall camp. Washington had six receivers catch passes in 2015, so they will need at least that many this fall.
“I feel like we’re taking some good steps from our individual drills and one-on-ones,” he said. “It needs to transfer over to those team reps. A lot of young guys getting some live bullets, so taking steps.
“Obviously for us it’s always going to be on us. We’ve got to continue to find ways to get separation. That’s a critical thing with as much man coverage and things we see. We’ve got to find ways to get open.”