Practice Spotlight - Day Nine

SEATTLE - Day Nine of Spring Football at Washington was a little like the weather - a mixed bag. There was an emphasis on turnovers, but also an emphasis on passing too. It definitely gave the chance for the defense to shine and they did, forcing turnovers, getting stops and just causing problems for the offense in general.

The List:
Play of the Day - For the offense, it was a great play-action fake by Keith Price that found James Johnson all alone in the end zone for roughly a 50-yard touchdown play. It was a thing of beauty.

For the defense, it was the two picks that walk-on cornerback Tre Watson came up with. The first one was the very first team session on the very first play. The senior from Kennedy followed Price's eyes, played off his main receiver - Kasen Williams - and anticipated Price's throw to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Because he got such a great jump, Watson was easily able to move right in front of ASJ for the clean pick. The second pick came near the end of practice when a Derrick Brown pass was tipped initially by linebacker Garret Gilliland. Watson was johnny on the spot, snagging the loose ball on the dead run and eventually ending up with a mob of defensive teammates escorting him to the end zone.

For honorable mention, however, I can't let one play made by Danny Shelton go without comment. During the final team period, the sophomore defensive tackle ripped through the line, jumped up to bat a Keith Price pass down, and then seemingly in one motion hit the ground and then sprung out to get the ball, which he smothered about three yards downfield. The move to get the ball on the ground once he identified it was nothing short of impressive. Shelton attacked the entire play, from start to finish, with animal diligence.

Player of the Day - On offense, it would have to be Erik Kohler, who started snapping the ball a little bit. He may be better suited to guard when it's all said and done, but in Dan Cozzetto's system all his interior linemen have to know how to snap, so Kohler better get used to hiking. He looked a natural, which only gives that position more depth behind an ailing Drew Schaefer (knee). Michael Criste, Siosifa Tufunga, and now Kohler would be the ones in line if Schaefer couldn't go during the season. Colin Porter was one of those guards that probably would have seen time backing up Schaefer until his untimely retirement.

On defense, it's hard to argue against Watson, but in terms of long-term impact - the move of Nathan Fellner from safety down to linebacker caught our eye. At 220 pounds, the senior from Fresno has always had the size and hitting ability to play closer to the line of scrimmage, and now with Justin Wilcox employing more 34 and 52 looks to UW's front seven, Fellner's move to the linebacker group could end up being a permanent one. The game has become one of speed, and so it's not surprising Fellner is being moved into a position where he can have more of an effect on the edges and also through shooting gaps.

1) Despite injury concerns, the team continues to emphasize hitting and tackling: It's a fine line between genius and idiot when it comes to knowing how much live tackling and hitting you want from your team in spring, and so far Sarkisian has straddled that line like a seasoned pro. In talking to others during practice that would know, this spring sure feels like one where Sark has placed more of an emphasis on hitting and drilling what I like to call 'man-beaters'. Because at the end of the day, it's all about defeating the man in front of you and making the play.

Sark understands that one of the biggest problems last year, especially for his young linebackers, was their inability to tackle in space. That shouldn't be a problem this fall, if spring is any indication. They are making a concerted effort at putting the defense through drills designed to try and shed blockers and rely on their technique and fundamentals to break down ball-carriers and bring them down to the ground. In one particular drill, a defensive lineman or outside linebacker is lined up against an offensive lineman; another offensive lineman is lined up 4-5 yards downfield against either a linebacker or safety, to simulate an OL making it to the 'second level' of the defense. A running back is then asked to 'follow blocks' to get past the two defenders. It's a great drill to watch when trying to gauge a defensive player's ability to shed blockers, use their strength and explosion to not only put their hands on the ball-carrier, but also to put them down without the running back wiggling free.

2) Tosh Lupoi apparently does more than just recruit - Sarkisian has been saying it ever since the Cal DL coach moved to Seattle; there's more to Lupoi than the accolades he's received for his recruiting prowess. He can coach a defensive lineman or three, and it's starting to show up already. One DL that has made a move into the ones is Jarett Finau. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound redshirt frosh has been recently paired up with Danny Shelton to form a very athletic interior tandem, one that is allowing Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson to attack and beat tackles in space. On the outside, it's hard not to notice the strides Connor Cree has made since the beginning of spring. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound defensive end from the Plateau doesn't compare favorably to the chiseled physiques of guys like Shirley and Hudson, but at the end of the day - he's not being stopped. Cree might be one of those guys that, come fall, fans will come back to us and say - Why weren't you pimping him more? He's played better than all of them!

And it also looks like the body of Lawrence Lagafuaina is going through the same transformation that happened to Alameda Ta'amu. From the outside, it appears as if Lawrence is Lupoi's pet project, egging the Aiea, Hawai'i sophomore every chance he gets. And it's showing up in his play; Lagafuaina has batted a number of passes down at the line of scrimmage, and has also come up with a few touch sacks. If they can get Talia Crichton, Hauoli Jamora, and Semisi Tokolahi back to 100 percent health, the UW defensive line group looks like they could be a special unit under the guidance of Lupoi and Johnny Nansen.

3) Jeff Lindquist is maximizing his chances already - The senior from Mercer Island won't officially become a Husky until June, but just like Dexter Charles did the spring of his senior season, Lindquist is trying to make as many practices and soaking in all the mental reps he can to get a leg up when it comes time for fall camp. It sure looks like it worked for Charles, who stands a great chance of earning a starting spot along the Huskies' offensive line this fall. Lindquist is one of two quarterbacks - the other being Cyler Miles - that have a chance to be in the Huskies' three-deeps this fall. It's expected one of the true freshmen will be Washington's third quarterback behind Price and Brown, but if seeing Lindquist this spring is any indication, he doesn't have that No. 3 spot in mind; he's looking to compete for playing time right now.

"I think he's really taken to coach Lupoi and learning some new moves, the array of pass rushes that he has, so that when he is getting those different looks he has some different alternatives to what he wants to do. But also, he's using his power. Josh is a strong guy, and sometimes you don't know it because he's not the biggest guy, but he's one of the strongest guys on our football team right now and he's using that strength in his pass rushing as well." - Steve Sarkisian on Josh Shirley.

Here's quotes from a couple of other players (thanks to Scott Eklund for the transcriptions):
John Timu
Josh Shirley

Recruits/Guests in the House - Outside of Lindquist, who only appeared to stay for a few minutes, no one else was at practice other than the media - the second practice in a row where UW has handled their business to basically no audience at all.

Redshirts/Injuries - Gregory Ducre (concussion) and Cooper Pelluer (shoulder) were not in red today. Ducre was in red Monday, while this was the first practice of spring sans rouge for Pelluer. Players that were still out included Drew Schaefer (knee), Scott Lawyer (groin), and Talia Crichton (knee).
 Top Stories