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Spring Position Preview - Quarterback

With less than three weeks before Washington starts their spring football campaign, it's time to roll out the position previews. Up first, the quarterbacks.

We noted heading into last fall that the hype train was rolling along for UW Football. Now it's become a full-on runaway express. The Huskies just finished off a 12-2 season, capped off with a playoff appearance versus Alabama in the Peach Bowl. 

The Huskies found themselves in the kind of rarefied air reserved for the best programs in the country, and despite having seven players invited to this March's NFL Combine, the depth Chris Petersen and his assistants have been able to develop means UW is in full reload mode. 

That is no more apparent than at quarterback, where everyone returns - led by 2016 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jake Browning.

Quarterbacks (by year)

Tony Rodriguez (6-3, 185, Sr.)

Jake Browning (6-2, 209, Jr.)

K.J. Carta-Samuels (6-2, 219, Jr.)

Daniel Bridge-Gadd (6-2, 199, RFr.)

Blake Gregory (6-2, 171, RFr.)*

Projected Depth Chart

Jake Browning (6-2, 209, Jr.) 

K.J. Carta-Samuels (6-2, 219, Jr.) OR

Tony Rodriguez (6-3, 185, Sr.) 

Daniel Bridge-Gadd (6-2, 199, RFr.)

Blake Gregory (6-2, 171, RFr.)*

Jake Browning 

What can be said about Browning that hasn't already been analyzed to death? The junior-to-be was sixth in the final Heisman Trophy balloting, the second-highest ever for a Washington player (Steve Emtman was fourth in 1991), and racked up a number of finalist honors (Walter Camp, Manning, Maxwell, O'Brien), tying the Pac-12 single-season mark for touchdowns thrown. And he did all of that with a semi-functioning right arm for much of the final stretch of the season. 

Since the unknowns in Browning's game are basically none at this point, expect the Washington coaches to put Jake in bubble wrap for the spring. Nothing comes of making him go through a full spring except seeing if his arm falls off. Besides, the other quarterbacks need lots of work. 

K.J. Carta-Samuels

The only other quarterback on the roster that can claim a start, Carta-Samuels has seen time in 17 games so far in his time on Montlake. He's thrown 37 passes, completing just over half of them for 228 yards and three touchdowns. 

There's no debate that the backup battle last fall was Carta-Samuels's to lose, and he almost lost it. But until Tony Rodriguez can show a better overall handle on the offense expect K.J. to be the first off the bench this fall. 

Tony Rodriguez

UW fans were wondering if getting Rodriguez from City College of San Francisco very late in the process was a panic move, much like signing another JC product, Nik Little. And even though he participated in four games last year, he wasn't allowed to throw a pass, so who knows what might happen if he's asked to run the offense. 

The silver lining for the group is that Rodriguez showed positive signs of development near the end of fall camp last season, so if that learning curve has continued a genuine backup battle might emerge.

Daniel Bridge-Gadd

The former Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year spent 2016 redshirting, which should have allowed him the customary acclimation period afforded players in his position. It should have also given him ample time to get acquainted with the weight room. Getting bigger, faster and stronger would have been a strong second behind memorizing the playbook. 

We will see just how far DBG has progressed in his early development this spring. With Browning expected to take part in a minimal number of turns, that should mean more opportunities for Bridge-Gadd to show out and give the coaches a good idea how far he's come in the purple and gold. 

Blake Gregory

Gregory, like Bridge-Gadd, had time during his redshirt season to mastermind the offense and learn all the nuances of Jonathan Smith's playbook. Presumably Gregory will be expected to signal in the calls along with DBG, so his understanding of what's going on out there should be right in sync with Browning. 

Where does the QB group stand heading into spring?

Ideally Browning would have had plenty of time to rest up after a grueling season and then have gotten after it in the weight room in anticipation of another monster year. He's well on pace to beat out Cody Pickett as Washington's all-time leading passer, and he would do it in three years. He'd need roughly 500 more yards than he threw for in 2016, something that's very doable since he jumped that much from 2015 to 2016. 

But all of that has been thrown into a bit of doubt because of his shoulder surgery that took place in January. With an expected recovery time of six weeks, it means Browning should be easily cleared to practice - but why put him at risk?

So it makes sense to think Browning will be available for spring, but will concentrate on the playbook's new wrinkles for the upcoming season and get in as much cardio and conditioning as the trainers feel is necessary. Other than that, his right arm will most likely stay in cotton wool until needed for heavy throwing activities in the fall. 

That means the battle will be joined by Carta-Samuels and Rodriguez to see who has progressed the most in case another quarterback will have to be used after Browning. 

And Bridge-Gadd is the wild card, the one that brings the most interest of the three in terms of the unknowns and whether or not he can be considered a legitimate backup option this early into his Washington career. 

One thing is for sure - as gutty as Browning's 2016 was in hindsight considering what happened to him, the offensive coaches are on high alert. As always, they know their fortunes can change in a moment's notice if their start quarterback goes down. Luckily Browning was able to gut out his injury and not do it any lasting harm. That means he should be 100 percent full-go by the time the Huskies head to Rutgers at the end of August. 

But the need for competent backup play is at a premium now that Washington has positioned themselves as legitimate contenders to repeat as Pac-12 Conference Champions. As good as the play was around Browning last year, he was the one pulling the strings. 

The Huskies need to find a player that can pull off a pretty decent Jake Browning impersonation in that regard when it becomes necessary. And a head coach's job description includes planning for the worst-case scenarios. Will it be Carta-Samuels who can step in at a minute's notice to lead UW? Maybe Rodriguez? Will DBG come in and seize an opportunity and run with it like a John Ross reverse? 

That's the key question heading into spring for the Washington quarterbacks. And as deep and as talented as UW's QB group is right now - and it is as good as it has been in some time - that's the question that will keep Petersen and Smith up nights all the way through spring.


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