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No. 24 Washington: Huskies' Morris looks like the quarterback to run with — for now

Mike Vorel
Seattle Times
Chances are good that Dylan Morris emerges as Washington's starting quarterback. He did, after all, pass for 897 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions, while going 3-1 last year. But those four games are the only games he's played in his career.

SEATTLE — We're two months from Montana. Or, perhaps more notably, two months and one week from Michigan.

At which point, we'll know if Dylan Morris is still Washington's starting quarterback; if sophomore tailback Cameron Davis can finally climb to the top of the depth chart; if some combination of Bralen Trice, Sav'ell Smalls, Jeremiah Martin and Cooper McDonald can replace Zion Tupuola-Fetui's prolific pass rush production; if this roster is ready to contend for a Pac-12 title and a College Football Playoff (or Rose Bowl) berth.

We're two months from definitive answers. But 15 spring practices provided some helpful hints. More specifically, they highlighted the Huskies' position competitions — at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, nickelback, safety, etc.

They clarified where the depth chart stood heading into the summer.

This is a legitimate quarterback competition between Morris, a sophomore, graduate transfer Patrick O'Brien and freshman Sam Huard. And that's something that needs to be explicitly stated, considering so many returning starters participate in "competitions" when in reality, their spot is all but assured.

Washington quarterback Dylan Morris reacts after a touchdown pass he threw in last year's win over Utah at Husky Stadium. Morris stood out among the other quarterbacks during the Huskies' spring game.

Morris did impress in a difficult situation last season — completing 61% of his passes and throwing for 897 yards with six total touchdowns and three interceptions, while going 3-1 in his first four career starts. The redshirt sophomore also took the vast majority of the starting reps this spring, which certainly suggests he's separated himself from the competition.

Oh, and in the spring game, he was clearly the Huskies' most poised passer — completing 18 of 28 attempts for 125 yards and a touchdown.

But O'Brien has also put himself in position to compete for a starting job. In his first spring in Seattle, the 6-5, 245-pound graduate transfer — who previously played at both Colorado State and Nebraska — moved the ball more consistently than any other quarterback. He showcased the arm strength, touch, willingness and understanding of the system to efficiently push the ball downfield.

Simply put, O'Brien — who started 12 games and threw for 3,394 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the last two seasons at CSU — made more plays than Morris.

"I've been really happy to have him. I'm impressed with him," UW offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan said of O'Brien in April. "He's making us better, and he's pushing everybody to be better, too. It's been good."

Former Nebraska and Colorado State quarterback Patrick O'Brien offers Washington some experience as a graduate transfer. He started 12 games and threw for 3,394 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his last two seasons at Colorado State.

Still, let's consider the circumstances. Though O'Brien flashed more than Morris across 15 practices, he did so primarily against UW's second-team defense — consistently exploiting an inferior opponent. And in scrimmage drills, he operated in an environment where the quarterback also couldn't be touched.

Besides his (albeit limited) experience in the system, Morris also touts superior mobility to both O'Brien and Huard. Though he won't rack up 100-yard rushing games, Morris is adept at maneuvering the pocket and extending plays. And in today's game, one-dimensional pocket passers are increasingly endangered.

"It's huge. You guys see it," Donovan said of Morris' mobility. "I tell the guys it's an imperfect game drawn to perfection. We're supposed to be doing this and this and this and this, and all of a sudden a (defensive) guy breaks the pocket and the coverage can't hold up and it's a huge play (if you scramble for a big gain) and it's just how I drew it up. Not really!

"It helps when you can get a guy that can extend plays, make things happen. Dylan's got really good feet and he's got good quickness. I don't know about his 40 and all that. I think it's OK. But he's got good short area quickness, which I think helps him."

It also helps the Huskies — and it's part of the reason why Washington allowed just one sack in four games last fall. As for Huard — the former five-star recruit who set the state's prep passing record the day before moving into his UW dorm — the talent is there, but it may take some time to translate.

After operating in an air raid offense in high school, Huard spent the spring simultaneously absorbing a playbook, memorizing verbiage, learning to take snaps under center and adjusting to a seismic step up in competition.

As a result, his April consisted of unsurprising inconsistency — a Jackson Pollock painting of breathtaking touchdowns, erratic incompletions and head-scratching interceptions.

Unless Huard arrives to fall camp a much more comprehensively improved player, he'll redshirt his freshman season — and that's OK! The most important thing is that — two outgoing transfers, one draft departure, one transfer addition and one early enrollee later — Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake believes his quarterbacks room is better than before.

"I'm just happy that room is talented and they're further ahead than where we were last year," Lake said. "So that's going to make our whole team better."

But a different situation may still produce an identical result. Because, if the competition is remotely close, it's Morris — the returning starter, the local kid, the guy with three seasons of eligibility with which to build — who will retain his starting job.

Morris entered the spring as the favorite, and the same goes for the summer. But would Lake consider playing two quarterbacks this fall?

"We're going to do whatever's best for our football team to win football games," he said. "There's no laid out, 'We're going to do this and this and this and this.' The whole goal is to prepare our team to win football games. And whatever opponent we're playing, we're going to put the best 11 out there on offense and the best 11 out there on defense. That ensures that we're going to get the victory."

So, in other words, you'll have to wait and see.

Our preseason Top 25

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.