Practice report - 4/24 PM

Spring practices officially ended for the Husky football team on Thursday as the team ran through a spirited two-and-a-half workout. Saturday's Spring Game, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium, will conclude spring ball all together.

Sophomore safety Evan Benjamin busted out with a standout day, making one play after another. He was especially impressive in the one-on-one goal line drill that matched him up against the receivers. His first big stop came against Reggie Williams, in what is always one of No. 1's favorite drills to run. Soon thereafter, he stopped Charles Frederick in his tracks short of the goal line. No. 27 looks to be blossoming just the way the Husky coaches envisioned when they recruited him out of Redmond High in 2001.

Also putting forth a nice day was that of Jimmy Newell, the free safety who has played opposite Benjamin with the first-team defense virtually all spring. His fine play came in the 11 on 11 drills as he played the role of a centerfielder and broke to a Cody Pickett pass just in time to swat it away. The play drew the attention of coach Rick Neuheisel, who immediately yelled in No. 26's direction, "Hey Jimmy Newell, nice play!"

Owen Biddle appears to have worked his way up the depth chart ahead of James Sims. Sims, the third-year player who had impressed coach Phil Snow early in spring, ran mostly with the third-team aside B.J. Newberry today. Whether that will be the case in the Spring Game is still up in the air.

At cornerback the Huskies were short-handed, having to practice without the services of Derrick Johnson. Johnson, who has been bothered by an ankle injury since the first scrimmage of the spring, appeared to reaggravate it on Tuesday, was suited up in red and held out of practice.

That gave Chris Massey, Matt Fountaine, and Kim Taylor the opportunity to get all the snaps in the contact drills. Roc Alexander, as he had all spring, only practiced in the non-contact drills.

Massey most often was given the all-but-impossible task of matching up opposite Williams, while Fountaine got the chance to defend some of the lesser known receivers.

Fountaine added another interception to his growing list of spring I-N-Ts when he stepped in front of a Isaiah Stanback pass thrown towards the sidelines intended for Matt Griffith. The defense mobbed him afterwards, and his parents applauded from the bleachers.

Scott White continued to get a look with the first-team offense at WIL linebacker ahead of Cory Jones, while Joe Lobendahn manned the MIK as he has all spring. Both had solid, yet unspectacular days.

On the defensive front, Tui Alailefaleula moved up to run with the first team today at the nose tackle. He took over in place of Junior Coffin, who worked his way up to the first-team for most of the spring with Josh Miller out with a back injury.

Offensively, several players had a difficult day catching the ball. Most striking were the drops from both players in contention for the starting fullback spot - Ty Eriks and Zach Tuiasosopo. Eriks, who had only dropped one or two passes all spring, doubled that total today. He did all he could to make up for it, however, with several nice catches throughout the practice.

Tuiasosopo was in the same boat, surprising the media present with a couple tough grabs, but then he dropped one right in his hands on a quick throw from Pickett in the endzone. The starting fullback job isn't going to be decided until the fall, barring any unforeseen happenings in the Spring Game.

Chris Singleton and Shelton Sampson also continued to struggle catching the ball. Singleton's drop came on a quick pass to the flat that looked a lot like the last play from the classic 2003 Apple Cup. And yes, it was ruled a fumble the second time around (just like the first). Singleton pounced on it for the recovery before any defenders were able to, annoying co-defensive coordinator, Phil Snow, who has tried to instill a more relentless, opportunistic approach this spring.

Dash Crutchley, who was moved from outside linebacker to tight end last week, had the toughest drop of the day. It came on a play where Stanback ran around to create time, and lobbed a ball right into the tight ends hands as he darted across the endzone five-yards deep. Big No. 85 let it bounce right off his paw, possibly a sign of nervousness from getting his a pass at his new position.

Strangely enough, some of those who had hit hard time catching the ball this spring had great days holding on to the pigskin today. Jason Benn, the big second-year tight end from O'Dea High in Seattle, had had a miserable time all spring until today. One of Stanback's favorite targets, he reeled in several passes downfield from No. 4 while being swarmed by defenders.

At quarterback, the distance still remaining between Pickett and the two options behind him is increasingly evident to even the most casual eye. His throws Thursday, as they had been all spring, were more accurate, harder thrown, and - maybe most importantly - more spiral-esque than those thrown by either Paus or Stanback.

Pickett's best pass, or at least prettiest, didn't blow anyone away due to it's degree of difficulty. In fact, it came without any defenders in the drill. What made it special was it's beauty, a perfectly thrown 50-yard spiral that splashed down in the hands of a sprinting Charles Frederick.

Paus and Stanback, each of which were back in their normal yellow jerseys, had decent days throwing the ball, probably Stanback moreso than Paus. Inconsistency was still the bugaboo, however. Stanback found Doug Clarke open on a long pass to the left corner of the endzone after Clarke had beaten Fountaine for one of the better connections of the day.

Clarke and Clayton Ramsey, another walk-on, each had a great practice as far as catching the ball goes.

Two of the young tight ends, Benn and Jon Lyon, each got a lesson from the defense in the blocking department when going through one-on-one drills. Benn was manhandled by Mike Mapu. Lyon was simply not quick enough to keep up with Brandon Ala, who went went right around him in one motion.

On the offensive line, Clay Walker wore a red jersey to rest a sore shoulder. Dan Dicks ran with the first-team offense at center. Guard Tusi Sa'au, who injured himself last week, returned to the field today without a red jersey on and was at full speed. He and Aaron Butler remain in a dogfight for that starting weak guard spot, which will more than likely be determined in the fall.


Notes:
Going Live: Neuheisel announced after practice that both of the team's backup quarterbacks, Casey Paus and Isaiah Stanback, would be open to full-contact during Saturday's Spring Game. Neuheisel first tried out the idea on Tuesday and seemed to like the way it simulated what a real game would be like for his two young reserve signal-callers.

In Da House: Four 2003 Husky football commitments - Chad Macklin, Bobby Whithorne, Sonny Shackelford and Carl Bonnell - were all at practice.

Under the Knife: Justin Robbins will have his knee scoped on Tuesday, according to Neuheisel.

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