There have been flashes of John Ross’ flash. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian wants to see more — much more — and Ross will get those chances in the final month of the season.
With top receiving target Kasen Williams out for the season with a broken leg, the Huskies (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) will have to rely more on their young receivers, the speedy Ross among them.
“I feel like I’m a spark away,” Ross said. “I’m being patient, and I’m waiting. I’m pretty sure I’m going to break out. I’m just waiting.”
As a true freshman slot receiver, the 5-foot-11, 173-pound Ross has 13 receptions for 180 yards, and his lone touchdown came on a 57-yard catch and run in UW’s blowout of Idaho State on Sept. 21.
“I think that we have to find a way to continue to get John Ross the football,” Sarkisian said. “You just look at sheer numbers and when he has the ball in his hands he creates big plays.”
Ross, the fastest player on the UW roster, has also been the Huskies’ primary kick returner, averaging 20.6 yards on his 21 returns. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown in UW’s rout of California two weeks ago; that was called back for an illegal block, but he said that gave him confidence.
“Now I know what I’m capable of,” he said. “Now that I know what it looks like with our guys blocking like they did, I know it’s not the only one I’m going to get with these guys.”
Per UW policy, freshmen aren’t typically allowed to do interviews. Ross was available to local media for the first time after Wednesday’s practice, and he was asked how from far back in the end zone he would be comfortable returning a kickoff.
“I’ll take it 110 if they let me,” he said, smiling.
Ross had also opened the season as one of the primary punt returners, along with Williams, but Sarkisian said it’s clear that Ross isn’t completely comfortable in that role yet. Sophomore Marvin Hall will take over as the punt returner when the Huskies host Colorado (3-5, 0-5) on Saturday night.
Hall and true freshman Damore’ea Stringfellow will both see increased playing time in Williams’ absence. Stringfellow, who like Williams has an archetypical No. 1 receiver’s build at 6-3, 225 pounds, is expected to make his starting debut Saturday.
“He’s got a tremendous strength in catching the football,” Sarkisian said of Stringfellow. “His hand-eye coordination, his ability to catch the football even when people are on him I think is a unique quality that he possesses.”
Stringfellow will also take over as the No. 2 kick returner, alongside Ross. Senior receiver Kevin Smith is too valuable on offense to risk on special teams any more, Sarkisian said.
Ross, meanwhile, said he has been leaning on sophomore Jaydon Mickens, who as a true freshman last season went through many of the same ups and downs Ross is going through. Mickens leads UW with 45 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns.
“Whenever I make a mistake, he’s the first one to pull me aside and tell me what I need to do,” Ross said. “He always tells me that he’s been there, and I just listen to what he says. He’s stepped up real big, and I just watch whatever he does and learn from him.”
• Senior quarterback Keith Price, after UW’s bye last week, said he is 100 percent healthy; he no longer has his right thumb wrapped for practice.