Benjamin, Sims duke it out

In February 2001 the Huskies signed two safeties to letters of intent. One was a local star from Redmond High, the other, a track star from Las Vegas. Two years later, Evan Benjamin, the local star, and James Sims, the track star, are in the middle of their second spring camp with the Huskies and already feeling like veterans. It shows by the looks on their faces, the calmness in their voices. And on the field, their rapid development is starting to show.

Both Benjamin and Sims redshirted the 2001 season. They bulked up with the strength and conditioning staff and worked on getting to their physical peak. They didn't just learn the playbook, they got stronger and quicker.

Then came last season, the season opener at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As freshman, both played in that game. Both say the nerves were at an all-time high. They were young. They were freshman. And they were thrust out on the field, like it or not, to play important, meaningful downs against a powerhouse program like Michigan.

The experience that day, August 31st, was just the beginning. Both Benjamin and Sims saw the field plenty in 2002. Benjamin, a strong safety, and Sims, a free safety, were a sign of things to come in the Husky secondary.

This year, things are a little different. Sims has added some weight, enough that the coaching staff has moved him to strong safety. Now he's battling for the spot with Benjamin, making for some fierce competition. Last year's starting strong safety, Greg Carothers, has bulked up and moved to SAM linebacker, a spot vacated by Jafar Williams.

At free safety are Jimmy Newell, BJ Newberry, and Jordan Slye.

Gone is former safeties coach Bobby Hauck. He took the head coaching job at Montana. In his place is Cornell Jackson, who coached the inside linebackers in 2002, and fresh from UCLA, co-defensive coordinator Phil Snow. Snow also specialized in coordinating the secondary.

Only a week into spring, Benjamin says the change has been good.

"Coach Snow and coach Jackson both bring a lot of experience," Benjamin said. "It's a lot different than last year, which is good. I think we are going to be a lot better than last year. I think we are focusing on a lot more detail than last year."

Benjamin says more attention has been paid to the little things, details such as where to focus your eyes and how your footwork should be in each circumstance.

"Everything is new. It's an adjustment period for everybody," says Sims. "It's kind of good that all of us are so young here because now that we are changing everything we are not too used to any old ways."

Though new techniques and strategies are being implemented, both Benjamin and Sims agree that their time in the program has helped make them feel more comfortable this spring.

"I'm feeling adjusted," said Sims. "It's definitely not as big of a shock as it was freshman year coming out here hitting with the big guys."

"It's nice having that experience because it's made the transition heading into this spring much easier," said Benjamin.

As for what the biggest differences are?

"You feel more comfortable making calls and adjusting," said Sims. "When you are out there as a freshman you want to yell something but you don't really feel like it's your place because you are not really sure of yourself.

"When you have a little experience, you feel a little bit more comfortable screaming and yelling because you feel like you know what you are talking about."

Coach Jackson says the difference from a year ago to now is already apparent this spring.

"Last year I coached the linebackers so I didn't really watch (Benjamin and Sims), but now that I'm coaching them and have watched tape on them, I can tell that they are doing some things that show that their maturity level is stepping up.

"They've each had a redshirt season, and they've played. That's behind them now. They are both about 210 pounds, are big, physical, and can run. They are going to be good football players."

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