What's Not to Like About Saturday's Practice?

SEATTLE - This past Saturday, Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian took his team downtown and the experience was nothing but positive for both his players and coaches, but even more so for the hundreds of loyal Husky supporters and fans who turned out to sit in the sun and watch an afternoon of football.

My wife and I hopped on a morning ferry out of Bremerton to begin a wonderful day. The sun, the mountains (both sets), and the sky set an almost overwhelming backdrop for the Huskies to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle and the 62' Seattle World's Fair. Having played in Seattle's Memorial Stadium in high school and going to the fair at least three days (snuck in one time), it had special meaning to me. I also thought it was a really good practice - especially for the defense.

I love watching practices anyway, and I'm usually right on the sidelines or at least close enough to hear the contact. This time we just went into the north stands to sit with the fans, but especially so we could sit in the sun (unlike the real media, who had to sit in the south stands and froze in the shade). We took in the whole thing from start to finish. We had a great time and the overall experience was as much fun as a game but more so because there was no way we could lose.

Now you know I have a tendency to always look for the bright side, but it was obvious to me that the kids were really and truly having fun again. Maybe it's the changes in the coaching staff - and believe me Coach Sarkisian has added five really good technical and fundamental sound teachers to his team. But really, I think it was simply a great idea for the change in venue, invite the fans, and still get a lot of work done.

Looking at the offense it was somewhat frustrating with a number of turnovers and inability to consistently move the ball. They had trouble with their blitz pickup and the defense kept it coming, so there were a number of sacks (at least eight or so 'touch' sacks) but in reality, they were practicing without three proven starters on the offensive line and only nine total offensive linemen to work with, so having the defense have the advantage was totally expected and understandable. That is usually the tendency in spring.

From an overall standpoint though - and especially from the defensive perspective - it was a really good practice. The defensive kids were tackling better, ball hawking and getting off of blocks and hustling to the ball and everyone, including all the coaches, were engaged in having a good time. The defense was aggressive and attacking and the spirit of the whole practice was just crisp. The standard high tempo was evident and the flow of practice was continuous from start to finish.

They got a lot done and the coaches will have a good teaching tool to show the kids how each one of them can get that much better. That's what the 15 practices of spring ball are all about; make improvements in fundamentals and get better. You don't win or lose any games when always playing yourselves but you have get better. And this team is doing exactly that.

Sure a number of guys were missing, like Drew Schaefer and Colin Tanigawa on the offensive line and receivers James Johnson and Kevin Smith, who have all proven they can play. But we also happen to have an excellent returning quarterback. It appears Keith Price has made a great adjustment to his new coach, Eric Kiesau, and has picked up right where he left off last season. Based upon the six or so practices I've seen, he is easily one of the most efficient and polished quarterbacks in spring ball going back at least 30 years. He's that good. If he can stay healthy then the Huskies have a chance to win a lot of games come fall.

To go with Price, there is a quality group of receivers, including three great looking tight ends in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Michael Hartvigson, and Evan Hudson, as well as Kasen Williams (who really looks special), the veteran Cody Bruns (who I personally think is really solid), and junior DiAndre Campbell (who is really starting to fill out), as well as Johnson and Smith. Put together, you have a really solid receiver corps. Then up pops a redshirt freshman named Joshua Perkins, who at 6-3 and 215, is easily to spot, and the receivers are really looking deep. Then throw in Marvin Hall, Jamaal Jones, and William Chandler, and all off a sudden you have a really deep and very competitive receiver unit that - together with Price - could make the offense into a very lethal and explosive unit. From the throwing and catching perspective this could be a really good football team.

There is a great battle brewing at the running back position between Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey. Now redshirt freshman Dezden Petty has entered the picture. Junior college transfer Antavius Sims is obviously still adapting to the position but personally I still believe the return of Deontae Cooper next fall will make the competition even more interesting. To me he is really a special talent and if he can successfully return next fall, Washington might be really a good team from the overall "skill" perspective.

Just like the receiver position, the backs and tight ends have really improved in their overall depth and maturity. All are getting lots of reps and that's what spring can do for you, especially when the kids know the system and make more effective use of their two hours a day on the field.

Even though there are five new coaching faces, the system has not changed and the kids are getting better because they know what Sark is trying to get done. Hey! Sark is a good coach, Price is a good quarterback, the defense is improving and the offense is going to have a number of kids return. The defense will get Hauoli Jamora and Semisi Tokolahi get back and this could be a really good team.

The specialist questions will not be answered until next fall but the special teams are making steady progress from both the upgrade in talent and the drill emphasis which was obvious in this practice.

That evening, Kim and I joined the Husky Sports Council for a chef's dinner in Edmonds and had a marvelous time with some Husky supporters who give more than their all to promote Husky sports. We ended the day with a ferry ride home followed by a hot tub and a sky full of stars.

Like I said - "What's not to like about a Husky practice?"

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