SEATTLE – Love thy locker neighbor.
As commandments go, this one’s easier said than done – especially for Washington sophomore wide receiver Ty Jones and senior cornerback Jordan Miller.
“It’s intense at all times,” Jones said of his relationship with Miller, who he sits next to in the locker room and stands across from on the line of scrimmage. “He’s a friendly dude in the locker room, but right when you get on the field he’s juiced out of his mind, as you guys probably know. He’s super strong, and he always pushes me to be my best. That’s why I’m glad I get to sit next to him.
“It’s always kind of awkward after practice, because we’re cooling down. But it’s definitely a competitive battle every day.”
The fact that it’s even competitive is a positive sign for the Huskies. Miller, after all, is an established entity in the UW secondary – a 6-foot-1, 181-pound senior who has had an “awesome” camp in his return from a broken ankle last October, according to co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.
As for Jones? He certainly looks the part, bringing excess length (6-4, 209) to a wide receiver corps short on both size and game experience. But the Provo, Utah, native produced just seven catches for 71 yards in his freshman season.
So what evidence is there that Jones is primed for a sophomore push?
“There’s been a lot of growth, definitely,” fellow wide receiver Chico McClatcher said of Jones. “Last year, when he first came into spring ball (as an early enrollee) he was a little jittery, just probably not playing with that much confidence, knowing he’s a new guy here.
“But right now, in this fall camp he’s been ballin’ out, just making great plays, one-handed catches and taking his one-on-one matchups seriously. He’s definitely showed out before and I can’t wait to watch him play.”
Of course, Miller has already seen plenty. He’s seen Jones make all manner of acrobatic catches – leaping catches, twisting catches, one-handed catches galore. He’s seen the 6-4 sophomore solidify his starting position in a wide receiver corps seeking to replace Dante Pettis’ gaudy production.
He’s seen glimpses of something special – sometimes at his own expense.
“It’s a fun battle. It’s a fun battle,” Miller repeated. “It gets a little chippy sometimes, but it’s always fun and it helps him get better. It helps me get better.
“It’s good to go against a guy like that. He’s going to be special.”
Physically, Jones is already special. The 5-8, 181-pound McClatcher noted that Jones “shows off in the weight room. That’s what really happened. He worked hard in the weight room and was committed to being a greater player this year than last year. He’s just growing from here on out.”
But his most dramatic growth, Jones says, isn’t measurable.
“Physically, at this point of the game you can only get so much stronger and bigger and faster,” Jones said. “So it’s all mental at this point – staying calm, focusing on my job and whatever I’m doing on that play and nothing outside of football.”
That, too, will be easier said than done on Saturday, when No. 6 Washington enters Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for its season opener against No. 9 Auburn. The Huskies will be tasked with effectively replacing Pettis, who finished with 37 more catches, 430 more receiving yards and four more receiving touchdowns than any other UW player in 2017.
They’ll also have to contend with a crowd (with a capacity of 71,000) leaning heavily toward the Tigers.
“That definitely prepped me,” Jones said of his experience playing against Penn State in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl. “That’s what I was exactly thinking.
“It’s going to feel like a bowl game the first game, and I know what to expect when it comes to the big stadium and the dome and stuff like that. It definitely should help me mentally.”
The hope, for UW fans, is that Jones, McClatcher and juniors Aaron Fuller, Quinten Pounds and Andre Baccellia all help senior quarterback Jake Browning on Saturday. They’ll be confronted with an Auburn secondary that finished 19th nationally in passing efficiency defense in 2017, but lost much of that seniority this offseason.
Like Washington’s wide receivers, Auburn’s defensive backs are relatively unproven.
But unless they can be as consistently competitive as Miller, Jones likes his unit’s chances.
“I expect a lot,” Jones said of Washington’s wide receivers. “A lot of the country doesn’t know about us, but we’ve really been working hard all year. I’m really impressed. We’ve got a bunch of different skill sets and I think we complement each other really well.
“A lot of people are going to be surprised.”