4/3 PM Practice notes

The skies were dark, the winds gusty and the temperatures cool Thursday as the Washington football team commenced it's 2003 spring session with a spirited 2 hour-plus workout at Husky Stadium. Some of the players were different and some of the coaches were too, but the name of the game remained the same - get better.

The team practiced in shells, the first required non-pads practice of two they must do before going with contact. They will put pads on Saturday.

There were plenty of new faces in the crowd. JC tight end Jon Lyon was wearing the purple 82, while Mesa DE Mike Mapu wore white 97. Former Husky hoopster Sterling Brown was on offense, wearing 84.

There were a ton of jersey changes, which made scoping players difficult to say the least. Matt Fountaine changed from 20 to 6. James Sims was wearing 22 instead of his customary 38.

And then there was the red, a veritable sea of crimson. At least 8 players were held back from at least some part of practice today - Rich Alexis, Todd Bachert, Brad Vanneman, Joe Toledo, Sam Cunningham, Josh Miller, Tim Galloway and Marquis Cooper.

Those who didn't play much or at all last season, including Roc Alexander, Jimmy Newell, Justin Robbins and Junior Coffin, all played today and looked 100 percent healthy. Robbins looked the best of all of them, catching everyting thrown his way and running pain-free. If he continues to play the way he did today he'll compete for a starting spot opposite Reggie Williams.

The offensive line, led by veteran Khalif Barnes and new OL coach Dan Cozzetto, led the charge out early to drills. Followed closely by Neuheisel, Cozzetto and Keith Gilbertson took turns putting the offensive line through their paces. It's clear that the two line coaches work well together.

Barnes and Nick Newton started out at the tackles, while Robin Meadow and Aaron Butler anchored the guard spots. Bachert and Vanneman took turns early, but Clay Walker took over at center when the offense eventually went up against the defense. Cody Pickett took his usual snaps from the one spot, with Zach Tuiasosopo and Chris Singleton lining up behind him.

Reggie Williams and Charles Frederick were the first two receivers used this afternoon, followed by Robbins and Matt Griffith.

Defensively, Manase Hopoi and Graham Lasee started the ends, while Terry Johnson and Jerome Stevens plugged up the middle. Greg Carothers and Cory Jones played the outside linebacker spots, while Joe Lobendahn held things together in the middle.

The secondary consisted of Roc Alexander and Derrick Johnson out wide, while Jimmy Newell and Evan Benjamin handled the safety chores. These are just how they all lined up when the 'ones' played, although there was enough liberal substitions to show that the coaches are nowhere close to making any judgements yet on who is playing well and who isn't.

After a couple of periods where the offense and defense were separated, they came back for some special teams work. Elliott Zajac is now gone as the Huskies' short snapper, so Jerome Stevens and walk-on OL Mike Thompson traded off snaps. They both did a nice job of staying low and firing the ball back at a quick pace. Tight End Andy Heater also worked out at short snapper.

For long snapping, Tim Galloway appears set to fill the vacancy left by senior Ben Mahdavi.

There's some things that immediately jumped out watching the new-look defense of Tim Hundley and Phil Snow, especially on Snow's end. During some basic 5-5 offense-defense drills, Snow really emphasized going after the ball if it ever hit the turf.

On the very first play, Charles Frederick dropped an easy stop route from Pickett, and Derrick Johnson was all over him. Johnson forgot to pick up the ball with the rest of the defensive players running full tilt toward him, but by that time Frederick had picked the ball back up.

Snow was not happy about that. From that play out, the defense was following the ball all afternoon, chasing it down if it ever hit the deck, even if it went out of bounds. That never happened last year. It's clear the new co-DC is making team pursuit a prime objective.

The defense was also active in ripping the ball away Thursday, as evidenced by James Sims stripping Reggie Williams of a completed pass. The loose ball was picked up by BJ Newberry, much to the delight of the rest of the secondary that was on the sidelines. Walk-on linebacker Mike McEvoy had the pick of the day, a lunging effort on a tipped ball that he was able to control on his fingertips as he was going to the turf.

It was easy to see that the offense and defense really wanted to go after each other, even though they were still only in shells. Right when the first 5-5's were called, Reggie Williams jumped for joy and Roc Alexander clapped his hands. They were eager to get a piece of each other, but clearly in a competitive way.

The only time the practice had a tense moment was when Terry Johnson rag-dolled Kenny James during the final 11-11 drills. Kenny hit the turf flying, which prompted a quick response from Khalif Barnes. Barnes confronted Tank and gave him a big shove for good measure, and that was that.

Matt Fountaine and Jon Lyon also had a tussle on the field turf as they went up for a pass and came down with the ball at the same time. Jon won the battle, but Fountaine won the war, coming up with the ball after roughly a 10-second tug-of-war with the new tight end.
Notes:
No Nate in sight: Earlier today, Rick Neuheisel told Dave 'Softy' Mahler of KJR 950 that cornerback Nate Robinson would not be playing football, instead concentrating on basketball. And Nate was a no-show for practice, setting that news in concrete.

Stanback stays put: Neuheisel talked earlier in the spring about the possibility of using QB Isaiah Stanback at receiver, but there was no such movement today. Stanback took a ton of reps as the number three QB, behind Pickett and Casey Paus.

Rich Alexis update: Despite being charged with one count of assault, a gross misdemeanor, on Wednesday, Alexis took snaps at running back. Rich will be held out most of the spring while he recovers from shoulder surgery.

'Cisco moving up?: Francisco Tipoti worked the whole day Thursday with the number twos at weak tackle, behind Khalif Barnes. Francisco looked sharp during one-on-ones, holding his own against some of the first-teamers. If 'Cisco keeps up the work he's done in the off-season this spring and summer, he could play valuable minutes this fall as Barnes' backup.

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