Questions remain as Huskies conclude spring practice

Huskies' quarterback Jake Browning is back after a medical procedure was performed on his shoulder. (Photo: Bill Swartz)

SEATTLE -- How do you replace 81 receptions and 17 touchdowns? Are young understudies ready to succeed NFL-caliber defensive backs? Who will be the next ferocious pass rusher? Those are the important questions the defending Pac-12 champion Washington Huskies have been starting to address in four weeks worth of spring football practices.

Players will pose for pictures and sign autographs during Fanfest starting at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Dempsey Indoor Center. At noon, it’s the 2017 Husky Football Spring Preview on Alaska Airlines Field. The event is free and open to the public. You can hear reports throughout the scrimmage on KOMO newsradio am 1000/ fm 97.7

One important UW question was answered this week when Pac-12 offensive player of 2016 Jake Browning told the media he is throwing footballs “pain free.” Following Washington’s loss to Alabama in the Peach Bowl, Browning had a medical procedure performed on his right shoulder. Doctors and the coaching staff purposely limited the number and type of throws during his recovery.

The highly competitive junior quarterback wasn’t a fan of the limitations. “It’s going the way it’s supposed to. I’m happy to be back out there because it sucks watching,” admitted Browning.

Browning plans on more time in the weight room and a better diet to prepare for the rigors of a long football season ahead.

With Browning on a pitch count, back-up quarterbacks K.J. Carta-Samuels, Daniel Bridge-Gadd and Tony Rodriguez have gained more valuable time running plays for the No. 1 offense.

Losing dynamic receiver/ kick return star John Ross III to the NFL draft is certainly a major blow for Washington’s offense, but not insurmountable. Several returning players flashed brilliant moments of their own in 2016. Dante Pettis could become Browning’s go-to target this fall, Chico McClatcher is an electric performer capable of turning a 5-yard pass into a 70-yard touchdown.

Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia turned out to be sure-handed receivers in their freshmen season and have been working on speed and strength to gain more separation from defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. Quinten Pounds, and true freshman Ty Jones have flashed at times during spring drills. And 6-foot-5-inch Brayden Lenius is back in good graces after being suspended for violating team rules last season. His catching radius would be an added bonus for the Dawgs’ passing game.

Major hits came for the Husky secondary with safety Budda Baker, and both starting corners Sidney Jones and Kevin King leaving for pro football. Fortunately Washington had a number of blow-out victories last season allowing them to insert young players in crucial game situations.

Right now it appears Jordan Miller and red-shirt freshman Byron Murphy are the starting corners. Murphy has led all of Washington’s dbs with a half-dozen interceptions in spring drills. Austin Joyner, Kentrell Love and converted running back Jomon Dotson give UW some depth at those critical spots.

Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year Taylor Rapp could take on more of Budda Baker’s role covering slot receivers. Washington has plenty of experience at the safety position with big-hitting Jojo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner. Bellevue High alum Isaiah Gilchrist has also looked solid covering receivers and reinforcing the run defense.

Another area of concern on defense has to be filling the shoes of graduating pass rushers Psalm Wooching and Joe Mathis. Throw in the loss of junior lineman Elijah Qualls, and Washington needs to replace 14 quarterback sacks and plenty of pressure on opposing passers.

UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski tells me he’s liked the improvement this spring from former Wyoming high school wrestler Tevis Bartlett. Coach “K” is also hopeful Lakes High School alum Benning Potoa’e builds on the performances he delivered in the Pac-12 Championship game against Colorado and the Peach Bowl. Same could be said for senior lineman Jaylen Jone, whose quickness makes him a versatile piece of the pass-rushing puzzle.

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