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Analysis: With Jacob Eason leaving for the NFL, let Washington’s 2020 quarterback competition begin

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 28, 2019

Washington quarterbacks Jacob Eason (10), Jake Haener (13), Jacob Sirmon and Jake Browning run through a drill during a team football practice Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Washington quarterbacks Jacob Eason (10), Jake Haener (13), Jacob Sirmon and Jake Browning run through a drill during a team football practice Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Jacob Sirmon had a plan.

It was Dec. 13, 2015, and Sirmon – who had just wrapped up his sophomore season at Bothell (Washington) High School – was ready to make a commitment. It didn’t matter that his signing day was still more than two years out. It didn’t matter that Washington’s next oral commit in the 2018 class – his cousin, linebacker Jackson Sirmon – wouldn’t make that pledge until more than a year later. It didn’t matter that, as a strong-armed four-star quarterback, more scholarship offers were inevitable.

Jacob knew where he wanted to go. So why wait to commit to Washington?

“I know some people might look at this and think it’s a little early (to make a commitment), but to me it’s 100 percent – I’m certain that the University of Washington is the place for me,” Sirmon told The Times in a phone interview when he committed. “There’s no doubt in my mind. Honestly, why wouldn’t I commit when I know this is the place I want to be? I love coach (Chris) Petersen and this staff; the program is going in the right direction; I’ll be close to my family and I’ll stay in contact with them, watching my brothers grow throughout their high school careers.

“Everything I want was right here.”

Including an opportunity to play early. When Sirmon orally committed, Jake Browning had just wrapped up his freshman season as Washington’s starting quarterback. Assuming that Browning would stay in Seattle through his senior season in 2018, that would mean …

“His senior year will be my true freshman year,” Sirmon said when he committed, “and I’ll probably redshirt my first year and then have a chance to compete for the job my redshirt freshman year.”

Of course, we know now that Sirmon’s plan was not written in permanent marker. Washington signed a second quarterback, four-star recruit Colson Yankoff (Coeur d’Alene), in the 2018 class. Former five-star Lake Stevens (Washington) signal caller Jacob Eason transferred from Georgia to UW prior to the 2018 season, and he promptly won the job this summer. The offensive coordinator Sirmon committed to, Jonathan Smith, is currently the head coach at Oregon State. Likewise, Petersen stepped down following UW’s win in the Las Vegas Bowl last weekend.

And on the same day last spring, Sirmon and Yankoff entered their names in the transfer portal. Yankoff ultimately landed at UCLA, while Sirmon opted instead to stay in Seattle.

When he cryptically confirmed that decision on May 1, Sirmon did so by tweeting a Bible verse: Jeremiah 29:11.

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “ ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”

All these unforeseen developments weren’t part of the original plan. But, come Sept. 5, 2020, Sirmon could still be UW’s starter.

That became increasingly more likely on Thursday, when Eason announced that he’ll enter the 2020 NFL draft. It appears Washington will open spring practice with three scholarship quarterbacks: Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman Ethan Garbers. Of those three, the 6-foot-5, 234-pound Sirmon is the only one who has thrown a pass at the collegiate level; he was 2 for 3 for 19 yards in five games last season.

When he announced Eason as UW’s starting quarterback last summer, Petersen also said, “Jacob Sirmon did a tremendous job (in the competition). He’s right there. And for Dylan Morris to be a freshman, he can go out there and operate, which most freshmen can’t do with the reps that he got.”

Still, handicapping UW’s impending quarterback competition is a futile exercise until new head coach Jimmy Lake names an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. It’s safe to assume that Sirmon will take the first starting reps of the spring. But Morris – another in-state four-star quarterback – earned rave reviews during his redshirt season as well. The offseason transfers of Yankoff and redshirt sophomore Jake Haener vaulted Morris immediately into the third-string role, and the extra reps on scout team may pay dividends this spring and fall.

In four seasons as Graham-Kapowsin’s starter, Morris threw for 9,815 yards and 99 touchdowns while completing 62.3% of his passes. When he signed with Washington in December 2018, 247Sports national editor Brandon Huffman said that “Dylan was never really this big guy. He was 6-1 as a freshman and 6-1 as a senior. Didn’t have the physical tools Eason did, but really from a quarterback makeup standpoint had what you want. He was able to process things. He was able to read defenses.

“When you talk to kids that played 7-on-7 with Dylan, they loved him … Guys that didn’t play with him on that circuit but played against him loved him.”

Like Sirmon, Morris – who his teammates voted Offensive Scout Squad MVP this season – was the first commit in his class. And, like Sirmon, he never saw the need to wait.

“Once I committed, I knew that was the best decision I was going to make and I never wavered from it,” Morris, who’s officially listed at 6-0 and 196 pounds, told The Times before he signed. “I’ve wanted to be a Dawg my whole life, and I’m going to be a Dawg my whole life.”

But will he be the starter? Besides Sirmon, Morris will have to fend off four-star freshman and early enrollee Ethan Garbers this offseason. The 6-3, 193-pound Garbers led Corona Del Mar High School to a perfect 16-0 record and a California state title in his senior season, completing 69.6% of his passes while throwing for 5,035 yards with a whopping 71 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ran for 573 yards and 12 touchdowns as well.

In fact, his high school statistics and playing style could draw some comparisons to Browning, who threw for 91 touchdowns with seven picks in his senior season at Folsom (California) High School in 2014.

But, like Browning, does Garbers have what it takes to make an immediate impact?

“He didn’t flinch when Chris (Petersen) resigned. He didn’t flinch when Sam Huard committed,” Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth said of Garbers before he signed with Washington this month. “I’m a big fan, and I think he’ll have a chance if Jacob leaves to play as a true freshman there. He’s going to be the best passer in the meeting room.”

That’s assuming Washington doesn’t also add a graduate transfer like Stanford’s K.J. Costello, who has thrown for 6,151 yards and 49 touchdowns with 18 interceptions in 29 career games. In the past, it has been nearly impossible for graduate transfers to qualify academically at UW. But, considering Stanford’s academic standards, perhaps Costello would be fortuitous exception.

UW’s starter – whoever he is – will be tasked with adjusting to a new head coach, a new coordinator, a new quarterbacks coach and a new offensive system. He’ll also have to operate behind an offensive line replacing three starters, including All-Pac-12 first-team performers Trey Adams and Nick Harris. He’ll have a young, talented receiving corps at his disposal that includes seniors Ty Jones and Jordan Chin, junior Terrell Bynum, redshirt sophomores Marquis Spiker and Austin Osborne, sophomore Puka Nacua and true freshmen Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Sawyer Racanelli (not to mention junior tight end Cade Otton).

Washington’s roster remains stocked with formidable offensive weapons. Now all the Huskies need is a quarterback. And, perhaps, a new plan.

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