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College Hotline: Spring practice previews of Washington, Washington State

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Here’s the final piece of the Hotline series, posting a full two weeks after the fifth installment because the Washington schools were, by far, the latest-starting tandem.

The first big Saturday of spring scrimmages is April 15, with USC, Utah, Stanford and Arizona State all scheduled that afternoon.

Links to previous installments:

Arizona schools
Oregon schools
Mountain schools
Bay Area schools
L.A. schools

(Scrimmages are scheduled for Saturdays through the end of April.)

Now, to the Washington schools …

*** Washington

Start: March 27
Scrimmage: April 22 (TV: Pac-12 Network, noon)
Coach: Chris Petersen
Win totals by year at Washington: 8-7-12
Hot Seat rating: Dead of night, middle of January, Vladivostok.
What to watch: Simply, the Huskies lost one of the top collection of defensive backs in conference history in Kevin King, Sidney Jones and Budda Baker. Despite the talent drain, they should be solid at safety with Taylor Rapp (Pac-12 defensive frosh/year) and JoJo McIntosh. But there are plenty of questions at cornerback … Also worth monitoring: The development of a stretch-the-field receiver to offset, at least partially, the departure of John Ross. Dante Pettis is back, but the Huskies need a second threat in the passing game … The lines of scrimmage suffered attrition, but neither sides requires an overhaul — the primary reason UW is expected to challenge USC for the conference title..
QB status: Jake Browning is practicing in limited fashion as he recovers from shoulder surgery, giving the Huskies a good excuse to let the competition for the No. 2 spot play out. KJ Carta-Samuels, Daniel Bridge-Gadd and Tony Rodriguez will all have plenty of opportunity to work with the first team over the next few weeks. Carta-Samuels is the most experienced of the three but not a lock to win the job. Given Browning’s injury history — throwing-shoulder problems in each of the past two seasons — the Huskies could very well need to lean on their backup next fall. In theory, Browning’s surgery will prevent a recurrence. But the best predictor of injuries is an actual injury.
Big picture: The Huskies are coming off a breakthrough, title-winning, playoff-participating season and have made it through the winter without any major off-the-field problems that could derail their momentum. If that holds true through the spring and summer, they will be the clear favorite to repeat in the North. The issue, it seems, is focus: Will they enter the season with the same sense of urgency that fueled their title drive in ’16? Chris Petersen was a spelunker in a past life: Few coaches are better at keeping players in the cave, deaf and blind to the outside world — and the accompanying adoration and expectations.

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*** Washington State

Start: March 23
Scrimmage: April 22 (TV: Pac-12 Network, 2 p.m.)
Coach: Mike Leach
Win totals by year at Washington State: 3-6-3-9-8
Hot Seat rating: Cold as black ice on Rte 195 to Colfax
What to watch: With Luke Falk’s return, all eye turn to the receivers as the Cougars attempt to replace Gabe Marks and River Cracraft and their 140+ combined receptions. Tavares Martin is back, but WSU is in need of a clear No. 2 (and No. 3): Robert Lewis and Isaiah Johnson-Mack are the leading candidates … Hercules Mata’afa is back to anchor the defensive line, but the Cougars could use more production off the edge — they were last in the conference in sacks per game in ’16 — and a replacement for all-conference safety Shalom Luani …. Also curious about the impact (in player development and recruiting) of defensive line coach Joe Salave’a’s departure to Oregon. He was instrumental in WSU’s improvement up front. His replacement, Jeff Phelps, arrives from Minnesota.
QB status: Washington State attempted 664 passes last season, more than any team in the country. All but 31 came off Falk’s fingertips. Redshirt freshman Tyler Hilinski completed 24 of his 30 attempts and looked promising in limited action … The Cougars have three other quarterbacks on the spring roster (freshman Casey Brink and sophomore transfers Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon) … The competition will be good for Hilinski, and WSU needs to be settled at second string. Falk is as tough as any QB in the conference, but he takes a pounding.
Big picture: Offseason workouts, spring practice, summer drills, training camp — it’s all as critical to the Cougars as to any team in the conference. (That includes teams with far more holes on the depth chart, by the way.) The reasons: WSU’s schedule and its recent history. The Cougars started slowly in each of the past two seasons. A repeat in ’17 would be highly problematic because the first five games are at home, which means — lemme do the math; OK, got it — five of the last seven are on the road. Stumble in Pullman, and they’re playing from behind in the standings with a road-heavy second half. They must be close to mid-season form for the season opener. That foundation is put in place now.

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** The Hotline podcast is available on iTunes.

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