May 25, 2024

Washington QB battle in focus as Demond Williams Jr. pushes Will Rogers in race to succeed Michael Penix Jr.

As Washington prepares for its spring game on Friday, Mississippi State transfer Will Rogers still looks like the favorite to succeed Michael Penix Jr. at quarterback; however, a rapid charge from freshman Demond Williams Jr. has added some unexpected intrigue to the Huskies’ quarterback battle. 

Williams raised eyebrows after following first-year coach Jedd Fisch to Washington from Arizona. He first put a stranglehold on the QB2 spot upon his arrival in Seattle, which may have triggered the departure of fellow freshman Dermaricus Davis. 

“From the outside looking in, it feels like Davis saw the writing on the wall due to Williams playing so well this spring,” Chris Fetters of Dawgman247 said. “He (Williams) really hit the ground running, and it’s easy to see why Jedd Fisch and Jimmie Dougherty recruited him hard originally. He’s a more athletic and dynamic version of Jayden de Laura and Noah Fifita. His arm strength is as good as any true freshman I’ve ever seen, and he did not attack the QB battle like a true freshman.” 

But the climb to No. 1 will not be so easy. Even with all of Williams’ upside and promise, Rogers’ credentials are not to be ignored. He left the SEC as the league’s all-time leader in completions (1,301), second in career passing yards (12,315) and fourth in passing touchdowns (94). One of Fisch’s first orders of business at Washington was to convince Rogers to withdraw his name from the transfer portal back in January. 

“It makes sense Rogers will start the season as Washington’s No. 1 quarterback, but the fact that the competition has been a lot closer than expected is a testament to the work Williams has put in,” Fetters said,

The proven veteran vs. talented freshman quarterback battle isn’t anything new; the archetype plays out across college campuses every spring. If they go on too long, however, competitions like this can create a void in leadership and hurt team chemistry entering all-important summer workouts. But, they can also add valuable depth at the most consequential position on the field. That’s especially important for Washington, which exits spring practice with only two scholarship signal callers on the roster. 

“We’d like to come out of it and have one quarterback, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have to get everybody ready,” UW passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty said. “You gotta prepare everyone, especially now, but that doesn’t change really. (Noah) Fifita wasn’t our starter last year at the beginning of the year, got called upon and went in and did a great job, so you always gotta have your whole room and make sure they’re all getting better because you never know what can happen.”

A new era 

With 10 players taken in this year’s NFL Draft, the Huskies were set up for at least a modest rebuild in 2024. The job turned into a complete overhaul in January when coach Kalen DeBoer departed the program to succeed Nick Saban at Alabama

The Huskies lost all three of their quarterbacks, including the Heisman runner-up Penix. They also said goodbye to their top seven leading receivers (Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk, Jalen McMillan, Jack Westover, Germie Bernard, Devin Culp, and Dillon Johnson) and all five members of their Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line (Troy Fautanu, Nate Kalepo, Parker Brailsford, Julius Buelow, and Roser Rosengarten).

The defense enjoys a little more continuity with starters Elijah Jackson (cornerback), Alphonzo Tuputala (linebacker) and Voi Tunuufi (EDGE) to build around, but there are more new faces than old on that side of the ball as well. 

Friday night will be fans’ first look at Fisch’s extensive roster rebuild, but the version of Washington that takes the field at 9:30 p.m. ET will be far from a finished product. The new Huskies coach is expected to be an active player in the transfer portal over the next few weeks, too. 

“We’re just trying to work through what type of football team we’re going to be,” Fisch told the Seattle Times. “I tell these guys, in about four to six weeks, we’ll know who our team is for 2024. And then when we know who that team is, then that team is going to take us all the way through hopefully (next) January.”