The Positives from a Productive Spring

Regardless of the outcome of the annual Spring Game there was much to be taken from the overall body of work that occurred during the fifteen Husky spring practices. This team completed the transition of five new coaches and got progressively better. Certainly the defense improved and responded positively to the changes in coaching, schemes, and general overall attitude.

There is no question this team still needs to get its numbers up but there are a few factors that support the belief that the Sarkisian system is progressively getting better regardless of wins and losses. Coaching football at the college level is all about recruiting and developing your depth. The very fact that Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff redshirted 15 freshmen - as well as added a couple of greyshirts in Antavius Sims and Marvin Hall - is the most positive thing to happen in the area of personnel development in over a decade of Husky football. I believe that 17 is the highest number of kids redshirted at Washington going all the way back to the Lambright era. Whatever, a number of those kids are going to go right into the starting lineup and almost all of them will end up in the two-deep.

I can't overstate the value of redshirting because it gets the kids settled into a college routine and also prepares their bodies in the weight room for the physical demands and requirements of the college game. Sure speed kills and size is essential but every kid can get bigger and faster, and most do so during their first year if they are not forced to play. Washington has been playing way too many freshmen for the past ten years or so and you only end up robbing Peter to pay Paul by doing so. Sark bit the bullet and redshirted as many kids as he could this past year and many of those kids are going to have a big impact on this year's team.

This just completed spring is already Sark's fourth and he might be facing the toughest early schedule (at least four of the first six opponents will be ranked) since he's been the Husky coach. He went outside the box again and practiced every other day throughout the spring at 8 am, and did so over a four week period. I loved it from the coaching perspective and believe they may continue it in the fall if scheduling permits. He continues to try whatever it takes to turn this thing around.

Once a season ends the off-season begins and spring ball is simply one of the phases of your off-season. You could tell looking at the kids coming out of their winter conditioning program that many had worked hard in the weight room and had made changes in their bodies. Then you could see how their conditioning held up for them during their every other day schedule. You could also see how well the kids responded to the new coaches in drills and really throughout the spring. It is obvious that the kids understand the Sark system and know the expectations of their coach. Above all, you could see that the kids were having fun again, and when everyone returns this team may be able to compete with their murderous schedule.

It may not have shown in the spring game but this team can really throw and catch the football. Keith Price is an excellent quarterback and if he stays healthy this could be a really good football team. That may be a big "if" and certainly it is difficult to assess the back-up QB situation because Derrick Brown is still in his first year of college. Price benefitted from an excellent group of receivers to work with, including three really good tight ends. Michael Hartvigson, who has redshirted, might be one of the most improved players on the team. He had a great off-season and spring and is poised to play a huge role come fall not only as a blocker but also as a pass catcher. Austin Seferian-Jenkins made some great strides as a blocker and is a proven all-conference commodity as a receiver, and Evan Hudson can do a little of both. They are the best 3-deep tight-end Combo at Washington since Mark Bruener, Ernie Conwell, and Cam Cleland.

Over the whole spring I thought Price was as good as any Husky quarterback I've watched over the past 30 years of spring ball. His ball placement, anticipation and understanding of the offense were simply spectacular during some practices. Having two healthy legs really helped his escapability and allowed him to throw on the run as well step up in the pocket. His mobility might be one of his strongest assets and it was obvious last year he fought through a season of injuries. If he plays all 13 games next year Washington could contend.

Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie also redshirted and I felt solidified themselves as the two offensive tackles for the next three years. The two of them have been brought along at the perfect speed and have progressively improved and matured since they entered Washington in Sark's second recruiting class. Drew Schaefer will return as a fifth-year senior, and you would have to expect it will be his best season ever. He too redshirted early in his career and is one of the last remaining players recruited under the Willingham era. He and safety Justin Glenn, receiver Cody Bruns, corner Adam Long, corner Anthony Gobern, and fullback Jonathan Amosa are the only remaining holdovers from the previous system. Every one of them will help next fall. That's only six redshirt seniors though when there should be at least twice to three times that many every year.

The defense responded to the massive coaching changes with a completely different approach and attitude. I knew the cupboard wasn't bare when the Holt crew left, and once Hauoli Jamora, Semisi Tokolahi, James Sample, and Travis Feeney all return in the fall, the defense will become that much better. Add Shaq Thompson and maybe one of two other incoming freshmen to that depth and all of a sudden the Huskies look completely different on defensive side not only from a schematic standpoint but also from an athletic standpoint.

Redshirted freshmen like Marcus Peters, Connor Cree, Jarett Finau, Scott Lawyer, Corey Waller, and Evan Zeger all showed flashes in spring that indicate they will contribute next fall. Add those players to Sample and Feeney and the value of redshirting becomes more than obvious. Remember, you win more games with 22-year olds than you do with 18-year olds, and when Sark gets to the point when he can redshirt 15 players every year then the Huskies will be winning championships again. Granted they have been forced to play youngsters because of a lack of depth in the past and no doubt there will be at least 5-6 first-year players on the field next year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Sark redshirt 15 this next year as well.

Obviously the three kicking specialist they signed; kicker Travis Coons, punter Korey Durkee and snapper Taylor Hindy will be asked to compete right away, and there are some mature kids like Shane Brostek on the offensive line and Pio Vatuvei and JC transfer Josh Banks on the defensive line who could contribute to the depth right away. Don't expect to see more than about a half dozen first-year players reach the field this coming fall. That's because the system is maturing, and that is a good thing.

Defensively, the linebackers made noticeable strides. The moving of three safeties up really bolstered the 'backer depth. John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono are the most experienced linebackers and both really improved over the month of practices. Nate Fellner's move up allows the coaches to get his experience on the field as well and that should pay dividends for the team. Whatever - the safety additions to the 'backer corps gives the coaches more competition and more options. It didn't appear to even dent the safety depth as it still looks sound going into fall. With Sean Parker, Justin Glenn, Will Shamburger, James Sample and Travis Feeney all at safety - and the arrival of Shaq this summer - that might be the most impressive group of players on the team. Expect to see Shaq Thompson getting time early this fall so he is ready for league play.

The return of Jamora and Tokolahi should not be underestimated. Both of those players are proven commodities and if they return at full speed then the front will be improved. Right now the overall front is a bit undersized with the exception of Danny Shelton. Jarett Finau is getting progressively better and Andrew Hudson is a battler and a warrior although he is really only about 240 pounds and it will be a long season for a defensive lineman that size to hold up in this league. Lawrence Lagafuaina finished strong and is really stout in the hole and against double teams. Tani Tupou, and Sione Potoae add depth inside. Connor Cree and especially Corey Waller showed they will be able to help eventually on the outside.

Defensive depth also will show up in the special teams where most of the spring they worked on the fundamentals of the kicking game from the team standpoint. The specialist questions will not be answered until fall camp and maybe into the season. Whatever, the Huskies will probably be using a rookie at every kicking spot except for holder and some returners like Kasen Williams on punts and Jesse Callier and Kevin Smith on kickoffs. Cody Bruns has also returned punts and Marvin Hall shows some unbelievable quickness…lots of areas of concern, but that's what the off-season is all about - to work toward fixing those areas.

For right now, it's on to the next phase of testing and summer development before fall camp starts in August. This program might still be a year away from being at the championship level, but each year Sark's team has gotten better and better and when you remember the 0-12 team he inherited it's amazing this team is as deep as it is.


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