SEATTLE — Five seconds. That’s all it took to answer two of the biggest questions facing Washington’s offense this spring.
No. 1 being Jake Browning’s arm strength. He’s looked like the Browning who threw 43 touchdowns, won the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and led the Huskies to the College Football Playoff. Not the Browning coming back from an offseason shoulder surgery that generated talk about a lack of arm strength.
Browning dropped back a few steps, launched another tight yet powerful spiral but did it with precision. Aaron Fuller was on the other end of Browning’s pass Monday and from there, potentially answered the second question about what UW receiver would replace Dante Pettis as the team’s No. 1 target.
“Everybody thinks about it a little bit. People like to say they don’t,” Fuller said of the expectations. “I love having that pressure on me.”
Players like Fuller are what makes spring practices interesting to the college football landscape. He’s someone on the verge who has shown enough to warrant expectations but there’s still more to be viewed before making a final assessment.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior worked his way into rotation after season-ending injuries to Chico McClatcher and Quinten Pounds left UW needing help at receiver in 2017.
He finished with 26 catches for 291 yards and touchdown. But it’s what Fuller did in those final five games that has Huskies’ fans wondering if Fuller can be the guy.
Fuller and Pettis produced similar numbers. Fuller caught 18 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. Pettis also brought in 18 balls for 277 yards and a touchdown.
“Aaron Fuller is one of my good friends on the team. I mean, he’s a great receiver and always a reliable one too,” said junior center Nick Harris, who was a member of UW’s 2016 recruiting class with Fuller. “I can’t wait to see him get loose and get the ball to him.”
Getting Fuller into open space, and watching what happens next, would be the ideal scenario for UW. That’s why Huskies coach Chris Petersen and his staff went all the way to Texas when they recruited him.
Fuller was a do-everything star back at Lovejoy High in Lucas, Texas, a suburb in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.
He ripped defensive backs to shreds as a junior with 69 catches for 1,396 yards and 22 touchdowns. A year later, he had 86 catches for 1,178 yards and 14 touchdowns. Fuller also returned three punts for touchdowns during that span.
That’s another reason why he’s taking first-team reps as the Huskies’ punt returner.
“Coming from Texas, that’s a big football thing,” he said. “I played everything. Just getting back to my roots basically. It’s fun being around the ball, being on the field at all times. Having that ability and to have the coach’s trust to let me do that kind of stuff is pretty fun.”
Producing gaudy statistics to go that versatility might be a little surprising considering Fuller was only a composite three-star recruit who was the No. 198 best receiver in America.
Fuller has a chance to become the next UW player under Petersen to prove prospect rankings might not be the most accurate metric while also playing a part in what could be a somewhat deep receiving corps.
The Huskies have an interesting setup with their receivers. McClatcher and Pounds are being held out this spring but they’re still running around during certain drills while they continue to recover.
It’s allowing others to shine. Andre Baccellia, who will be a junior, provided glimpses last season of what he can bring. Another target, sophomore-to-be Ty Jones, made his mark early in camp by using his athleticism and 6-foot-4 frame to become the big story during Day 1 of spring camp.
Monday belonged to Browning and Fuller.
Browning continually threw in Fuller’s direction. From there, something was guaranteed to happen.
One pass Fuller caught brought him near the sidelines and he was presented with a 1-on-1 battle with safety Taylor Rapp.
Rapp, after all, was a Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, and who was an All-Pac-12 First Team member last year. He’s considered one of the best defensive backs in college football and WalterFootball.com sees him as the No. 4 safety for its early 2019 NFL Draft rankings.
Yet Fuller made Rapp hesitate just enough to get past him and into end zone.
“The older you get, the more confident you get,” Fuller said. “Just having that experience in the system and learning from people above me and even people below me. Just how to run routes, how to decipher defenses and getting on the same page as the quarterback.
“Even having Jake here three years, the whole time I’ve been here, has been pretty nice.”