By Brent Stecker
The Chris Petersen era is upon Washington.
The Huskies set to begin their first spring practice Tuesday under the former Boise State mentor, who brings a 92-12 career record, numerous former Broncos assistants and a reputation for intensely-focused practices to Montlake. But for as much hoopla and hype Petersen brought to the program with his hiring, there are some pressing matters from this offseason that will be at the forefront this spring.
Here are the five biggest questions as Washington begins spring practice:
1. Who is the quarterback?
Sophomore Cyler Miles was the odds-on favorite to replace the graduated Keith Price as the starting quarterback, but his indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules threw a giant wrench into those plans. Miles was suspended Feb. 6 along with wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow, four days after two Washington players allegedly assaulted a man near campus on the night of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win. Jeff Lindquist, a 6-foot-3, 236-pound sophomore, and Troy Williams, a 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman, will battle it out to be Washington’s signal-caller come Tuesday.
2. Is the rocky transition to the Petersen era over?
The suspensions of Miles and Stringfellow weren’t the only negative headlines the Huskies made after Petersen replaced Steve Sarkisian as Washington’s head coach last December. In between Petersen’s hiring and UW’s Fight Hunger Bowl win last December, defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi and the Washington program were investigated by the NCAA over allegations that Lupoi paid for a recruit’s tutoring. Though the NCAA closed the case in February and said no penalties would be handed out, Lupoi is no longer associated with the school after a $300,000 separation settlement was reached. Even with Lupoi out of the picture, it’s yet to be seen if Petersen and his influx of new assistants have turned a completely new leaf for the program.
3. What kind of offense will Petersen be running?
The Huskies had a fair amount of success in their first season of an up-tempo, no-huddle offense in 2013, but with Sarkisian gone and Miles’ familiarity with it not part of the equation at the moment, Petersen’s options are seemingly wide open when it comes to what system he’ll look to run. For what it’s worth, Petersen also ran an up-tempo offense last season with Boise State, though he’s well-known for building an offense around the skills of his quarterback. And when it comes to that, refer back to question No. 1.
4. Will Dwayne Washington emerge as Bishop Sankey’s replacement?
With Bishop Sankey busy climbing up NFL draft boards, the Huskies are on the lookout for their new workhorse running back to follow in his record-breaking footsteps. Washington, a freshman in 2013, rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries, including a breakout 141-yard performance against Oregon State. He’ll certainly have competition, but spring practices will be his chance to establish that it’s his job to lose.
5. Will John Ross seize a golden opportunity?
Expect a lot of eyes to be on John Ross, the wide receiver/kick returner who was regarded as the fastest Husky throughout his freshman season in 2013. His receiving stats weren’t exactly notable – 16 receptions, 208 yards, one touchdown and just two games of 50 or more yards – but his electrifying 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Fight Hunger Bowl established him as a player to watch when spring rolled around. His spot as a returner won’t be in question, but with Stringfellow missing and Kasen Williams likely to take it easy coming off a broken leg and displaced ligaments in his foot, will Ross take it as a chance to prove he’s a viable starting receiver?