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UW’s Chris Petersen says QB Jake Browning making ‘subtle’ but important strides

The Huskies, led by then-freshman Jake Browning, were tied for 55th in the nation in scoring in 2015. (AP)
LISTEN: UW football coach Chris Petersen on his team's progress, expectations

Jake Browning’s performance as the Huskies’ starting quarterback in his true freshman year was encouraging, but it’s the progress he’s been making this spring that has his coach looking forward to his sophomore campaign.

“I think that Jake has done a nice job of taking the next step,” Washington football coach Chris Petersen said on 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Salk” Tuesday. “I think he has improved. … It’s all subtle stuff – it’s his pocket presence, it’s his stride-point accuracy, the ball coming out a little bit quicker.”

Browning had a strong debut season for UW, completing 63.3 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as the Huskies finished 7-6, including a 44-31 win over Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas bowl. It was not without its ups and downs, though, as is to be expected with a 19 year old taking snaps for a Pac-12 team. Petersen is seeing that the growing pains are beginning to disappear, however, making room for Browning to get more detail-oriented with his play.

“You put the tape on and it’s, ‘That was really a good decision to get rid of that ball, the protection wasn’t good,’ or it was like, ‘That ball’s exactly where it needed to be, the receiver’s not there yet.’ And that’s what we see a little bit in spring ball,” he said.

After the interview, Brock Huard – a former Huskies quarterback himself – explained just how big Browning’s progress could be for the upcoming season.

“That is just the minute detail that you’re getting to for a quarterback going into year two in a program that’s comfortable,” Huard said on the “Blue 42” segment Wednesday. “You would have never heard ‘stride-point accuracy’ last fall. … Now you’re getting down to the minutae. That’s a pretty good sign of where he is in his development. He’s going to have a really good year. … Jake Browning’s gonna be really good.”

Here’s a few other notes from Petersen’s interview:

• The ultra-quick John Ross might be the key to really opening up the Washington offense as he returns from missing the entire 2015 season due to knee surgery. Ross, who had 371 yards and four touchdowns on 17 receptions in 2014, has shown chemistry with Browning as a deep threat. “John’s had a nice spring, he really has, and when he’s on it changes our offense, without question,” Petesen said. “He and Jake, it’s been a few practices where it’s, ‘OK, this can really change our offense with the deep ball.'” The hope is that Ross will be able to devote more time to playing wideout, as he was used there sparingly as a freshman and spent a lot of time as a sophomore playing cornerback to help out a secondary that had depth issues. “He’s a super explosive player but he really hasn’t played all that much receiver. … He’s still developing his game as a receiver, and you can just see such flashes. Knock on wood, if he’s able to stay healthy and keep working to develop that skill and truly learn how to be a receiver – the technical part of things as opposed to just being a really explosive guy – I mean the sky’s the limit for him,” said Petersen.

• Looking back at the 2015 campaign, Petersen was clearly proud of what the Huskies accomplished in a year many picked them to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12. “We were encouraged. I will tell you, it was a struggle. I mean, in a hard way, in a good way,” he said. “I will say looking back on it how proud we were of the guys because these guys, they really worked and we improved.  I think as a coach there’s always two things – it’s like, are you improving, and are you playing as close to your potential as we have? And I don’t know if we played in all phases as close to our potential, but I know we really improved.” Five of UW’s six losses came during a seven-game stretch in Pac-12 play, and it was how the team responded to the adversity that impressed Petersen. “We went through a rough patch in the middle of the season … but they never pointed fingers. They were frustrated as all get-out, but they just kept working. We kept talking to them, they kept listening, and towards the end we started to get better. We really did. We started to improve, we started to hit a better stride.”

• The Huskies are working on some new things in the defensive line that Petersen is feeling good about, but it’s also causing some problems for an offensive line group that isn’t the deepest. “We’ve developed a few new techniques and a few new schemes that fits what we’ve done anyway that’s made it really difficult on our O-line,” he said. “I think on our O-line, we’re a little bit thin depth-wise, so a lot of guys are taking a lot of reps. … I wish we were a little further along in our O-line development, because for our offense to take that next step it’s gonna start on our O-line. I think we’ve made some improvement, I can see individual flashes, but playing as a group with all five, we’re not where we need to be yet.”

• Petersen shared an entertaining story about one of strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha’s particularly intense Friday workouts for the Huskies that involved bussing the entire team to Seattle Center to run the stairs of the Space Needle. The story begins at the 3:50 mark of the podcast.