Coming out of spring practice what were your impressions of the team's offense?
The strength of the team lies along the offensive line. Even with Erik Kohler retiring and the left side of the line - LT Micah Hatchie and LG Dexter Charles - out rehabbing, there were still five OL that participated with previous starting experience. That's depth the Huskies haven't seen in well over a decade. Obviously they have to replace a quarterback (Keith Price), a running back (Bishop Sankey) and a tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins), but there seem to be ready-made replacements at all those spots. The biggest problem was having Cyler Miles out the entire spring, so even though he was reinstated after being suspended stemming from an incident on Super Bowl Sunday, Miles has a long way to go to show new head coach Chris Petersen and new OC Jonathan Smith that he's fully capable of running the show.
Losing Damore'ea Stringfellow to transfer is a big blow, and not having Kasen Williams for spring was certainly another - but Jaydon Mickens, John Ross, and Marvin Hall reeled in the slack. They'll be counted on heavily in the fall. And Deontae Cooper is looking more and more like he could start against Hawaii in late August, nothing short of a minor miracle since the junior running back has had three knee injuries in his UW career. With Jesse Callier, Dwayne Washington, and Lavon Coleman also getting plenty of spring reps, the running back position won't be dominated by one personality this fall like it was last year with the indomitable Sankey. And Joshua Perkins, Michael Hartvigson, Darrell Daniels, and David Ajamu will do the same to replicate the production lost by Seferian-Jenkins, the former Mackey Award winner and holder of nearly every UW career tight end record that exists.
Coming out of spring practice what were your impressions of the team's defense?
Again, the strength of Washington here should be their front seven, and specifically the defensive line. The bring back Hauoli Kikaha, who had 13 sacks last year, just 1.5 short of the UW all-time single-season record. Danny Shelton anchors the middle, and if he has another big year the 6-foot-3, 332-pound Shelton could be looking at a first-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. He has that kind of potential. The Hudsons - Andrew and Evan (not brothers) - as well as Josh Shirley, Joe Mathis, Marcus Farria, and Tani Tupou, make up a solid rotation for new DC Pete Kwiatkowski.
The linebackers should also be a strength, although one starter, Cory Littleton, missed all of spring rehabbing an injury but is expected back. John Timu was suspended for half of spring, but came back the second half like he never left - something you always like to see in a senior middle linebacker. Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney were usually the ones around him, and they are athletic and tough. This was Feeney's first full spring without injury, and he took advantage of it. UW has a wealth of redshirt frosh at linebacker, so don't be surprised to see players like Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor this fall; they performed well when they got their opportunities in Timu's absence.
The secondary, something that has been a strength of Washington the past few years, was woefully thin this spring. Patrick Enewally walked, and sophomore Kevin King was hurt, so that left only three scholarship cornerbacks - Marcus Peters, Jermaine Kelly, and Travell Dixon. At safety it was sophomores Brandon Beaver and Trevor Walker that held down the fort. Hawaii transfer Brian Clay showed versatility and he's expected to add depth early in the season while upwards of six true frosh DB's get ready for the season, including Budda Baker, Naijiel Hale, Sidney Jones, Jojo McIntosh, and Darren Gardenhire.
Who are the players on each side of the ball that were the biggest surprises of spring practice?
On offense it was probably Siosifa Tufunga, the left guard that took the place of Dexter Charles. Colin Tanigawa was the player Charles pushed out when Tanigawa got hurt, but now it looks like the right guard spot is going to be up for grabs between him and James Atoe. That left Tufunga as the main option at left guard, and he responded. Every time we talked to OL Coach Chris Strausser and asked who impressed him, it was Tufunga, for his blend of athleticism and toughness, as well as leadership.
Defensively, while it was good to see Andrew Hudson back in the mix (he had walked with the seniors at the end of 2013 despite having a year of eligibility left), I'd say the biggest surprise of spring to me was Psalm Wooching. The sophomore, who actually committed to UCLA before signing with Washington, was brought in under Steve Sarkisian as an offensive player, a hybrid guy. There isn't that type of player in Smith's offense, so he was moved to defensive end. He's a guy that's going to stand out anyway in practices just because he's that one player that always moving at 110 mph in every drill, every aspect of practice. He's the guy that gets under others' skin because he knows how to push buttons, is tough, and doesn't back down. It's going to be really interesting to see if they can incorporate him into the defensive line rotation, because it is so deep. But I always felt like Wooching brought a defensive mindset to the football field, and now we're starting to see it in action. His best football is still well ahead.
This was Chris Petersen's first spring practice in Montlake. What are your observations of his coaching style, etc. during those practices?
Lot of moving around between drills, a lot of just general being in the mix of everything, looking at every detail. There's only one position he actually 'coaches', which is the return teams, but other than that it's a lot of going from drill to drill - mostly on offense, but not exclusive like it was with Sark - and taking notes. Practice moves at a high tempo, like Sark's, but the periods under Pete are much faster. They spend five minutes on one technique, and then are quickly onto something else.
Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim Socha has added a 'competition' period in the middle of practice to help break up the monotony and also to get them geared up for the second half. It can be anything from a tug of war contest, to a relay race, to an obstacle course, to something as generic as linemen catching punts. It's been a fun way to play on the competitive atmosphere, as well as give the team a little bit of a mental break before finishing off practice the right way.
And you do want to finish off practice the right way, because there are gassers at the end depending on turnovers - or lack thereof. That's something we never saw with Sark.
Going into fall camp, what do you think is the team's biggest strength and what is its biggest concern?
Again, going back to what was stated above, I think the strength of the Huskies this year lies in its lines. Both the offensive and defensive lines, when completely healthy, have as much depth and breadth of position as I've seen going back to the Rose Bowl year of Rick Neuheisel and even before that. I counted up the career starts of the first six OL and it was over 120, so that should give you some idea of that group's experience. The defensive line, although probably not as deep along the interior as they'd like, have a lot of bodies that have seen game action, and players like Danny Shelton, Hauoli Jamora and Evan Hudson are going to give that group a strong veteran presence.
The biggest concern will be in the secondary. Sure, UW has to replace bona fide impact players in Price, Sankey, and Seferian-Jenkins, but they have plenty of options at both running back and tight end. At safety the Huskies lost four to graduation - Sean Parker, Will Shamburger, Tre Watson and Taz Stevenson - as well as corner Greg Ducre, so that's a lot of bodies to account for. There's a reason UW signed seven defensive backs for 2014; there was a real, genuine need to shore up talent at both the safety and cornerback positions. Budda Baker is as talented an in-state player Washington has had on the defensive side of the ball since Lawyer Milloy. He has that kind of potential. But until guys like Baker get up to speed - which won't be right away - UW will have to rely on some inexperienced players to shore up their secondary depth. It will be a bit sketchy to start, but by mid-season should be somewhat rectified.