Return of speedy Ross highlights spring for Washington
SEATTLE (AP) When Chris Petersen rattled off his expectations after Washington's spring practice on Monday, he touched on the expected areas of improving skill, finding new positions for some players and seeing if young stars like quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin could position themselves for big sophomore seasons.
Then there is the case of wide receiver John Ross III. After missing all of last season due to a serious knee injury, Ross returned to practice Monday and by the time fall rolls around could be the factor that takes Washington's offense from adequate to exceptional.
''I think anytime a guy has a significant injury like that we'll always monitor it and may pull back, but he didn't miss a rep today and we'll take it day by day,'' Petersen said. ''We don't have to win spring ball with him. We have to have him ready to play in September.''
There is so much attention on Ross because he brings an element that was missing from Washington's offense a season ago. While Gaskin set freshman records for running backs at the school and Browning developed into one of the top young quarterbacks in the country, the Huskies were rarely able to push the ball downfield in the passing game. Washington had one touchdown pass of more than 50 yards to a wide receiver last season.
Enter Ross, who in 2014 as a sophomore caught TD passes of 91, 86 and 75 yards and did that in just six games before switching over to play defense the latter half of that season.
Oh, and he also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that season.
''Expectations are great but expectations need to be kept in check. We all know the explosive player that John is, but it's not fair to him to expect him to be the answer to solve all of our issues,'' Petersen said. ''He's got to develop and he will because he's a very committed, very focused hard-working guy.''
Ross suffered a serious knee injury last April during spring practice in a non-contact drill. He had surgery following the 2014 season to repair meniscus tears in his right knee but aggravated the injury and missed all of 2015 season.
Ross said Monday he's felt fully healthy for about two months, although he plans to be cautious as the Huskies add more contact drills during spring ball. If there were concerns about the injury impacting his most important skill - his speed - those were alleviated during a team training event last month where Ross was clocked at 4.25 seconds hand-timed in the 40-yard dash.
He ran 4.29 during a similar event in 2014.
''When I hurt it of course there were voices in my head saying, `You're not going to be as fast,''' Ross said. ''And I also gained 22 pounds and people were saying, `You're not going to be as fast.' Then we go out and have our Husky Combine and I run faster. It's basically just a mental thing.''
Petersen cautioned that Ross is still very young as a wide receiver in the Huskies offensive system. But Ross said that was a benefit to missing last season, being able to watch, learn and help some of Washington's younger pass catchers.
''I got to learn a lot last year and I got to help a lot,'' Ross said. ''By me paying attention and helping the younger guys I also learned way more than I ever did.''