SEATTLE – There’s finally football.
As another wave of conference realignment threatens to pulverize the Pac-12’s remaining parts, Washington completed its first preseason practice Wednesday at Husky Stadium.
Which felt … refreshingly familiar.
Michael Penix Jr. unfurled arcing deep balls to his cadre of tantalizing targets. Wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard joked to UW’s defensive backs that “I’m gonna make you better today, I guarantee that!” The sun shined over Lake Washington, and the highly regarded Huskies ran and threw and caught.
It was two-plus hours of escapism, and here’s what stood out.
Penix bounces back
Penix’s first pass of practice was nearly intercepted, as sixth-year edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui read a slant pattern, dropped into coverage and swatted the ball away.
(“ZTF,” by the way, looks both mobile and motivated at 6-foot-4 and 254 pounds.)
But Penix, it appears, was undeterred.
The Heisman Trophy candidate essentially closed practice with the play of the day, dropping a rainbow to sophomore wide receiver Germie Bernard – who got behind safety Asa Turner and cornerback Elijah Jackson – for an untouched 41-yard touchdown. He also hit redshirt freshman wideout Denzel Boston for a diving, bobbling 50-yard strike, despite tight coverage from cornerback Thaddeus Dixon.
Penix, too, demonstrated continued chemistry with playmaking junior Jalen McMillan – connecting for a 30-yard flare as well as a tight-window, first-down conversion between safety Dominique Hampton and linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio that prompted Ulofoshio to clap his hands in visible frustration.
Pac-12 defenses can sympathize.
UW’s starting lineups were absent of surprises. The first-team offense consisted of Penix, running back Cameron Davis (with Dillon Johnson working in), wide receivers Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk, tight end Devin Culp (with Jack Westover working in), left tackle Troy Fautanu, left guard Julius Buelow, center Matteo Mele, right guard Nate Kalepo and right tackle Roger Rosengarten.
The starting defense comprised defensive linemen Tuli Letuligasenoa and Ulumoo Ale (with Faatui Tuitele the first one off the bench), edges ZTF and Bralen Trice, linebackers Ulofoshio and Alphonzo Tuputala, cornerbacks Jabbar Muhammad and Elijah Jackson (with Thaddeus Dixon working in), “husky” nickel Mishael Powell, and safeties Dominique Hampton and Asa Turner.
With three new starters on the interior of the offensive line, that group requires particular attention. The second-team line largely featured left tackle Robert Wyrsch, left guard Gaard Memmelaar, center Parker Brailsford, right guard Geirean Hatchett and right tackle Samuel Peacock. Kansas State transfer Jalen Klemm also rotated in for spare reps at left tackle, with freshman Zachary Henning at left guard, freshman Landen Hatchett (typically a center) at right guard and Geirean Hatchett at right tackle.
Though Tuputala initially lined up with the starting defense, the junior linebacker took limited reps while wearing a protective yellow jersey. USC transfer Ralen Goforth took reps with the first and second units, and Drew Fowler and Carson Bruener worked with the second team.
The RB rotation
At running back, junior Davis – who coach Kalen DeBoer later said “looked really good out there” – displayed an improved boost with the starters, at one point taking a flare pass from Penix down the sideline for a 20-yard gain.
Don’t be surprised if some combination of Davis and Johnson earns the majority of UW’s reps. Still, sophomore Will Nixon also looked explosive Wednesday and DeBoer has repeatedly credited the Nebraska transfer for developing a sturdier frame.
With so many tailback options, it’ll be interesting to see how remaining reps are distributed among Tybo Rogers, Richard Newton, Daniyel Ngata and Sam Adams II – all of whom are healthy. UW’s backfield-depth issues appear to be a thing of the past.
• Wide receiver Taeshaun Lyons made the play of the day among UW’s freshmen, hauling in a long touchdown pass from Dylan Morris despite tight coverage from freshman cornerback Curley Reed in a 1-on-1 drill.