Coach Steve Sarkisian says Cyler Miles has separated himself from other would-be backups in this first week of the preseason. And Friday offered more reasons to believe UW has a bright future forming at quarterback.
By Gregg Bell – UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Cyler Miles hasn’t gotten his hair cut since before he was officially in college. That was 12 months ago.
The result: A billowing shag of dark hair was partially blocking out the sun as Miles stood on the edge of the team tunnel at Husky Stadium following practice Friday.
“It’s been growing for about a year now,” the redshirt freshman quarterback said, smiling. “I actually missed a hair cut a year ago – and just ever since it starting growing.”
His growth doesn’t stop with his hair.
The most conclusive development through five days of the Huskies’ preseason practices is that Miles is clearly rising above classmate Jeff Lindquist, freshman Troy Williams and all others to seize the No. 2 quarterback job behind Keith Price, who is set as the fifth-year senior starter.
The opportunity for Miles got bigger last week when coaches moved UW’s No. 2 passer from last season, Derrick Brown, to H-back.
Since then, Miles has taken that chance and run with it. And passed with it. And deftly escaped pass rushers with it. And …
“It’s pretty clear right now it’s Cyler,” Lindquist, the record-setter at Mercer Island High School across Lake Washington, said following Miles’ latest work Friday.
Two days after coach Steve Sarkisian remarked it’s as if “the light’s turned on” for Miles this week, the strong-armed, 6-foot-4, 213-pound understudy to Price provided the top play of Friday’s first full-pads practice of the preseason. Miles calmly stepped up into the pocket to avoid a flanking rush and lofted a perfect ball that soared 55 yards in the air before finding freshman John Ross in stride at about the 10. Ross, another first-week standout, had beaten his defender by at least three yards. He caught the pass in stride to finish his long post route and the 65-yard touchdown.
Asked about the play later, Miles just shrugged. It was so routine to the co-Most Valuable Player of the U.S. Army national high-school All-America Bowl two years ago, the Class 5A Colorado player of the year for Denver’s Mullen High said he couldn’t really remember that play to Ross.
Earlier in the practice, Miles -- who turned down reported scholarship offers from Florida, Notre Dame, USC, LSU, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Arizona State and Clemson -- looked to Jaydon Mickens, who was running a quick slant route. But two defensive linemen leaped into his face as Miles cocked his arm to throw. Instead of forcing a pass that would have likely been knocked down, Miles coolly held onto the ball throughout his throwing motion for an impromptu but especially real pump fake, Ben Roethlisberger style. His throwing lane clear, Miles quickly flicked the ball to Mickens, who by then was almost 10 yards further down field, for a longer completion.
“He has a great feel for the offense,” said Sarkisian, a record-setting quarterback himself at Brigham Young. “He’s anticipating throws. He’s throwing the ball accurately. He appears to be in really good command and control when he’s in there.
“I’ve been impressed.”
His teammates have been, too.
Mickens had 20 catches playing in all 13 games as a freshman last season. He sees how much Miles benefitted from redshirting in 2012.
“As freshmen, we all came in here all having big, googly eyes. And Cyler came in at the quarterback position, which is hard to do anyway,” Mickens said.
“Over this spring and summer, his confidence has been incredible. He’s just throwing it up there giving us a chance to go get it.”
This isn’t to say Miles hasn’t messed up at all this week. Mickens has proof he has. Friday evening Mickens was treating a deep, nasty turf burn that was shining bright pink through a rash guard taped to his left forearm.
“Actually, he overthrew me today,” Mickens said, jokingly pointing to his wound. “I’ve got this right here to prove it.”
To be clear, Miles is not pushing Price for the top job. No way. Fifth-year senior quarterback are a premium commodity in the pass-happy Pac-12 -- especially ones that own two school career passing records with prime chances for at least two more in his final year. That’s what Price has at UW.
Yet each practice day is adding to the belief that Price’s eventual heir is emerging.
“Keith’s helped me a lot,” Miles said. “He helps us in the film room, every aspect: your feet; reads; growing up just as a player and as a college student-athlete.
“Keith’s been great for me, as well as for the rest of the guys.”
As Miles was saying that, Price passed in the tunnel. The starter laughed bashfully over being called a great mentor.
Miles, who played under center in a pro-style offense that always huddled while winning 34 consecutive games as Colorado’s top high-school quarterback through 2011, said his redshirt year allowed him to get comfortable in the program and in the university.
Besides, he was used to waiting his turn. He didn’t play varsity ball in high school until he was a junior, because he had to wait behind Jonny Miller, who signed out of Mullen High with Syracuse, and then behind a quarterback who went on to play at Division II.
“So I could see the value in waiting,” Miles said Friday. “And I think that’s how it should be, honestly. Just the value of being able to sit back and learn your first year, it really helped me. I tried not to look at it as, ‘Oh, I want to get on the field’ or to downgrade it. I tried to look at the positive side of it.”
His confidence soared this spring when Sarkisian installed a faster, no-huddle offense as the team’s primary system for 2013.
“I do like the new system and I feel like I am very comfortable in the new system,” he said. “It’s the ability to play at the fast tempo, and have the athletic ability on top of just throwing. I think that’s vital in this system.”
It was Sarkisian’s schemes – plus the closely bonded, music-playing, driven vibe the first-time coach has created over his initial four seasons revamping Washington’s program – that convinced Miles to become a Husky. He strongly considered accepting a scholarship from Illinois. Colorado wanted him, but he wanted to branch out from home. He had 13 offers from Bowl Championship Series-conference schools. He visited USC very late in the recruiting process and he said the Trojans gave him an 11th-hour scholarship offer. But by then he was way sold on Sark and the Dawgs.
“I loved their overall attitude. I felt like the program was on the rise, and I still think it is,” he said. “I love Coach Sark. I love the offense. And I love the overall attitude of the players.
“I found that this place is the best for me.”
As for that hair, turns out it was uncommonly splayed following his latest practice. He says he’s been corralling it with braids.
Then again, with the way he’s practicing, he may not get that haircut until graduation.
DAWG BONES: Saturday is the first two-practice day of camp — and the first opportunity for practicing under the lights of new Huskies stadium. The evening practice will likely end after 8:30 p.m. … We have started a new daily blog here on GoHuskies.com, “Bell on the Beat.” You can catch up on all the week’s inside stories on the Dawgs here: http://greggbellblog.tumblr.com/.