SEATTLE — Quarterback.
It’s not Washington’s only position battle, but it’s the one everyone is waiting to hear about.
The Huskies will have a new starter this season, but who that will be remains a mystery. UW head coach Jimmy Lake said last week it would be an open, four-man competition between graduate transfer Kevin Thomson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman Ethan Garbers.
When first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan spoke with the media over Zoom this week, he did little to update the situation. Through the first few days of camp, practice reps have been balanced between the four quarterbacks. The Huskies held their first practice in pads on Wednesday.
“We try to get each of them with different groups and see how they handle it,” Donovan said. “There’s no one that’s really getting more than the next guy or more with another group than the other. Right now, it’s just mix-and-match and see who can handle it, see who reacts well and makes good decisions and can lead the team, can take charge, know what they’re doing and be able to process information quickly … and make good decisions.”
Thomson is new to UW’s roster, but he’s easily the most experienced quarterback. The 2019 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, Thomson spent three seasons at Sacramento State. In those 27 games, he threw for 6,424 yards with 52 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,247 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns.
In contrast, the three others have combined for three career college passes — and all of them came from Sirmon. Sirmon has the advantage of spending the most time in the UW program, but none of the quarterbacks have worked with Donovan before.
Morris and Garbers are the least experienced of the group. They both came to UW as four-star recruits, and 247Sports ranked them among the top-five pro-style quarterbacks in the 2019 and 2020 classes, respectively.
Lake and Donovan have both said that each player will have the opportunity to win the job. So, what will separate one quarterback from the rest?
Let Donovan explain.
“Who knows what they’re doing, who can take charge of the unit,” he said. “You don’t have to be rah-rah and all that stuff — you got to be you — but they have to know that you’re the man, you’re in charge. Mentally, you got to be strong. It’s easy to be strong when it’s going good. When it’s going bad, everyone’s looking at you. Do you have the mental fortitude to fight through that and lead the way? That’s a big one. Get us in and out of good plays is another one that kind of ties to that.
“And then throwing the ball. We need to make good decisions. We need to be able to get the ball out, on time, where we’re going. The biggest thing is we’re hunting completions. We’re hunting completions. … If the guys want to hang on stuff and can’t move on and can’t process or can’t see, the line’s not going to block there forever.
“We teach the timing in their feet. … You’re standing back there surveying the scene and checking out what’s going on. The ability to process the information, obviously, and make quick decisions. Once you do make that quick decisions, are you accurate on getting that ball where it needs to get?”
Donovan said each quarterback has his strengths and weaknesses, but he didn’t get into specifics. What he kept coming back to, though, was the importance of making decisions quickly.
“I’m all over them about that,” he said. “I’m not going to handle it with kid gloves. I’m going to call them out. If they’re not making it, if they’re hanging on stuff, that’s got to be the deal.”
Last week, Lake was asked about a timeline for announcing a starting quarterback. His answer: “When it feels right that that person has earned the job.” Asked a similar question, Donovan said he’s taking the competition “day-by-day”
“I’m not going to look that far ahead,” Donovan said. “I would love to be able to say as soon as possible, this is the guy. At this point, we’re not at that point. But I’d love to be able to do that.”
Lake didn’t rule out playing multiple quarterbacks in the season opener, but Donovan said he’d like to have one starting quarterback that he “feels good about” by the time UW travels to Cal on Nov. 7.
“Usually one kind of takes the reins a little bit and everybody sees it,” Donovan said. “Hopefully, that’s the situation here. I do feel good about all of then. I think they’ll all be able to function. … At this point in time, no one’s the clear-cut leader. Hopefully, that happens faster.
“I told them, the guy that we can trust that will put the ball where it needs to be put when a guy’s open, that can make a decision fast without putting us in a bad position offensively, will be the guy that will get the shot.”