Less than Two Weeks to Go!

Half-way through fall camp saw the Huskies scrimmage without some of their best players, and quite expectedly the results were a little sloppy. Already the injury bug has jumped up and grabbed arguably the two best players on the team - running back Chris Polk and defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu.

There is the question of their readiness for the first game against Eastern Washington. Throw in Quinton Richardson, along with Adam Long, and the Huskies took a noticeable hit in the secondary.

Ta'amu is sporting a protective cast on his broken hand, and considering that so much of interior line play is based on the use of your hands, that is not a good thing for the Huskies. Even if he plays with a soft cast he will not be nearly as effective as he otherwise would be. Better to rest that hand as much as they can and let his body heal itself without further jarring. He is still a load, but it's so important to be grabbing and throwing that resting that hand might be one of the keys to this whole season.

Polk's situation is a little more complicated considering he has already gone through surgery. They simply scoped out some junk or chips so that it wouldn't flare up later in the season. I talked with him, and he was upbeat and positive about being back. When that will be for sure no one knows - and I doubt they will rush his rehab - but I wouldn't be surprised if he plays in the first game. Polk is a proven warrior and he will always answer the bell. That will barely be a two week turnaround from surgery to kickoff. Nowadays they have you on your feet almost immediately after surgery, and Chris is already working on recovery with full intentions of playing. But the most important thing this program can do is get Chris Polk to the dance and have him ready to go full speed.

You can't take your two best players off the field at any level of football and expect any kind of consistency. However, even with them missing the Saturday scrimmage it still gave the coaches a chance to look at almost every player on their roster in all sorts of situations.

The Huskies have made a noticeable effort to upgrade their kicking game, and that has been obvious all spring and fall by the amount of work they've put in. They started Saturday with a big dose of kicking, and it was evident they will be probably be using sophomore Kevin Smith as one of their primary kick returners. Smith, who also looks to be one of their top receivers, is emerging as a definite threat on kickoffs. He regularly takes one to the house in practice and he looks like he is going to have a big impact this season.

The punting competition is still good, and placekicker Erik Folk is starting to zero in more from the 35 to 45-yard range on his field goals. I timed the snap to kick in both kicking areas and it looks like everyone has sped up their mechanics. There are still a number of players working on punt return, including Kasen Williams, who might be the biggest returner I've ever seen at Washington. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a shot back there in their early games, although expect a veteran like Devin Aguilar to get the first shot.

The Huskies have bigger bodied playmakers on their roster now, with Williams and senior Jermaine Kearse leading the way. Those two, along with Smith and DiAndre Cambell - who came back bigger and stronger - gives the Huskies an entirely different physical look at receiver. Throw in two heady senior receivers in Devin Aguilar and Cody Bruns, as well as three giant tight ends (Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Michael Hartvigson, and Evan Hudson) and receiver should remain a team strength.

No drops has to be the most important goal for all the receivers. That alone will have a major impact on this whole season.

Having so many big playmakers at receiver and kick returner is certainly a plus, and with an all-around player like Jesse Callier, the Huskies are still potent at running back even with the loss of Polk. I also think that both Keith Price and Nick Montana are really good runners, and they will add to the skill equation. Both can pull it down and take off and that can be part of a read progression on certain throws.

Regardless of Chris Polk's injury situation, the offense should progressively get smoother once they settle into a game plan and what plays they will be using early in the season. Then begins the constant process of repetition against all the anticipated defenses they expect to face in the first two games.

The offensive line has settled into the same starters as last spring, and that unit appears to be much improved. There has been some obvious emphasis on the run game, and Callier should get plenty of back up from Johri Fogerson and freshman Bishop Sankey. The rookie continues to impress and Fogerson looks the best he's been since becoming a Husky. Still, the return of Chris Polk is a critical piece in the Husky offense.

I think the quarterback position is a lot closer than many think, with Nick Montana making steady progress. He has been effective in moving the football whenever he is given a chance, but Keith Price continues to be the starter. The competition is close and that makes for a better situation in case of injury. Price continues to show really good feet and looks good on the intermediate and short passes underneath the zone. He has a definite quickness about him and wiggles his way free when under pressure. There is no doubt he will be better when he has Polk to hand off to.

Defensively, the Huskies look a whole lot better up front, particularly in terms of depth. Talia Crichton seems to be working a lot with the first unit at defensive end along with Hauoli Jamora, and both are considerably bigger and stronger than a year ago. They are currently backed up by Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson who both redshirted last year. Shirley, in particular, really has picked up where he left off last spring and is really quick off the edge as a rusher. What I've also noticed is that he is a much better defender on his drops now, and looks poised to be a big time contributor. He is really good coming around the corner and presents speed the Huskies haven't had in a pass rusher for years. He should be a force, and the defensive ends as a group should help change the Husky defense for the better.

Alameda Ta'amu will be the rock in the middle, and he will have some help. Although returning starter Semisi Tokolahi is still fighting his way back from injury, I think Sione Potoa'e has made great strides in both his strength and technique. He is considerably better than he was last season, and along with Lawrence Lagafuaina gives the Huskies two more guys for the rotation. Both have improved since last year and that means the Huskies have four inside and four outside players ready to go along the defensive front.

That group doesn't even include Everrette Thompson, who looks better than all of them. Too bad he had to play as a true freshman, because he has finally grown into his body. Thompson is their most complete player up front and can play any of the four positions. He has become a leader and certainly is the biggest and strongest he has been since he came to UW.

Both lines reflect the greatest change made in Husky football, and that has been in the weight room. Strength coach Ivan Lewis and his staff have literally changed the face of the team. The work these kids have done in the off-season is so obvious that it just jumps out at you. This team looks entirely different from five years ago, and that goes right back to the weight room. It's that simple.

The linebacker position is starting to settle in. Cort Dennison patrols the middle, flanked by two kids from the same high school. Princeton Fuimaono and John Timu both played at Long Beach Jordan. Neither came to Washington as a linebacker, although they both picking things up very quickly. Junior college transfer Thomas Tutogi looks like he is finally picking things up too, and should be a great backup for Dennison. There are at least four others contending with Fuimaono and Timu for playing time. I watch that group closely, and Cooper Pelleur and Jamaal Kease are improving, along with Tim Tucker and Garrett Gilliland, and most of them will see time at least on special teams.

Overall, this team is steadily getting more game ready and is a much better team at this point in camp than they have been in years. Sure it would be great to have a proven quarterback like Jake Locker back, but that is what college football is all about. I can remember lots of great first-year quarterbacks at Washington who have had good years and taken their teams to bowl games. Hopefully this is another one of those years.


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