Seated at a table in front of media members, Jimmy Lake was pressed to identify the football player who has made the most progress so far this season. Usually the second-year University of Washington coach hems and haws over this kind of impromptu quiz.
Often he'll deflect and suggest that there hasn't been nearly enough time for one person to emphatically step forward.
On this occasion, however, Lake stared straight ahead, didn't hesitate and said flatly, "Jalen McMillan."
What made his response even more interesting was the fact that McMillan has played in just one complete game, plus a handful of plays in another. He's barely got started this season.
Progress, it seems, is the ability for the 6-foot-1, 180-pound freshman from Fresno, California, simply to get back on the field following a fall camp hand injury that required surgery and kept him sidelined for a few weeks.
Without him and three other top receivers, the Huskies fell flat offensively in their unnerving 13-7 loss to Montana. They were slightly better in a 31-10 defeat at Michigan when junior Terrell Bynum came back from an injury and caught 5 passes for 115 yards and a score.
Against Arkansas State, McMillan had no restrictions whatsoever in his first fully involved outing by grabbing 10 passes for 175 yards and a score, while Bynum chipped in 4 catches for 64 yards and another touchdown.
They put new life in a Husky offense that had been far too predictable and embarrassing ineffective with a bulk of its receiving talent watching rather than running routes.
"That's why we were so excited coming out of spring practice and coming out of fall training camp with the explosiveness we could have at the wide-receiver position," Lake said. "When we had Terrell Bynum back for game 2 you saw the added pop he gave us. And, all of a sudden, we had Jalen McMillan and you saw some added pop there. It's going to be really awesome when we get the other one back."
The "other one" is 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman Rome Odunze, who has missed every game so far with an undisclosed injury. It's unclear when he'll be able to play again.
"He's week to week," Lake said twice for emphasis.
With McMillan and Bynum joining the always healthy Taj Davis and Giles Jackson in the lineup, the Huskies at least have a much better chance of beating California on Saturday night.
As everyone heals up, it will be interesting to see who becomes the preferred target downfield for quarterback Dylan Morris.
McMillan, at good health and full speed, is a logical candidate. Being the best receiver is even better than the being the most progressive one.
"He's fast, he's got length, he's tall and he catches the ball really, really well," Lake said.
Consider that a strong endorsement for a healthy McMillan.
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