11/7 Practice Report

Beautiful fall days mean chilly fall nights in the state of Washington. That was the case today at Husky Stadium, where the temperatures dipped down into the low 40's, and it took the Husky football team a while to warm up to play at the level that their head coach expects.

"I thought at the outset of practice we weren't quite as sharp as we were at the conclusion of yesterday," Head Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I thought we gathered momentum and we finished with the kind of tempo I had hoped for all day."

"My hope is that we'll have a great practice tomorrow and continue to improve as a football team. That's the most important thing at this point in the season where so much is riding on the conference race."

From the looks of it, the Huskies realize what their coach is saying and are aware of the significance of Saturday's match up at Oregon State. Midway through practice, a fight broke out when the offensive line matched up against the defensive line. Though it was impossible to see who was involved in the melee since two-dozen players huddled around trying to break it up, the skirmish was a tell-tell sign that the team is itching to get back on the field and go at it.

That intensity is especially important in the Pacific-10 Conference, where every team is capable of winning on any given Saturday. There aren't any teams like Rutgers in the Pac-10, and that's why Neuheisel is always adamant about staying sharp both mentally and physically during the week of practice leading up to each game. Despite OSU's lousy 3-5 record he knows the Beavers are very capable, especially due to the fact they are playing at home this week.

"You cannot take records or statistics into account," Neuheisel said. "You know that they are talented. They have big-time players. This is a team that we beat 33-30 last year and they missed a field goal on almost the game's final play. So this is a very capable team, a team that is playing at home, a team that needs to win to stay in the bowl hunt. Nothing else, I think, needs to be mentioned."

One game that serves as a reminder for the Huskies is the 1999 game at UCLA, where Washington was smelling roses a bit prematurely and eventually lost in an overtime heartbreaker.

"I think all the kids that were on that trip are still plagued with that nightmare, as am I," said Neuheisel. "But that's behind us and this is a new year and a new season. Hopefully they've learned from the experience."

If today's team effort is any indication, the Huskies aren't overlooking anybody. They turned in several fine plays that would have made highlight reels had they occurred on a Saturday and not in practice. The best one came on a phenomenal catch by tight end Kevin Ware, who's really started to come into his own over the past couple weeks. He ran a wheel route and beat a scout team defensive back to the corner of the open end zone, where he dove and caught a slightly overthrown pass with one hand. The entire team roared when Ware showed that he'd come up with the ball.

Another great catch came via Wilbur Hooks, who practiced without a red jersey on and should be available on Saturday. Hooks ran a comeback route and when he turned around for the ball from Taylor Barton, the pass was very high. The redshirt junior from Alaska used his athleticism to jump high into the air and bring it down for an amazing catch.

Reggie Williams also ditched the red jersey today and was back in his familiar #1 jersey. He appeared to be back to his old self, and made several fine catches as proof of that.

Another receiver, this one being Pat Reddick, made a memorable grab late in practice along the north sidelines on a rollout pass from Barton. Even the defenders on the sidelines were impressed with the senior's ability to hold on to the football during the play.

Speaking of receivers, the team is still getting used to having Jerramy Stevens back with the club, possibly the finest pass-catching tight end in team history. He practiced without a red jersey on today and was involved in nearly as many plays as Ware. It's still up in the air as to how much he'll be able to play come Saturday, but merely his presence alone on the offensive side of the ball helps the Huskies immensely.

"Jerramy is certainly a proven pass receiver," Neuheisel said. "There's no question that he gives a lot of credibility from the tight end position from a pass receiver standpoint. Defenses are maybe less likely to go and double other places because of the threat of having him in there."

Defensively, Larry Tripplett looked like a man possessed all afternoon. On one pass play he blasted through the line and got to Cody Pickett before the quarterback could even think to pass the ball. Chalk that one up as a two-hand-touch sack. The play drew praise from Neuheisel, who singled Tripp out with some kind words after the play.

Chris Massey also had a fine day, and was always near the ball when it was thrown at his man. On a deep play thrown from Pickett to Paul Arnold in the end zone, Massey used his track-star speed to catch up to the receiver and knock the ball away at the last second.
Husky Notes:

DJ update: Derrick Johnson, the second-year player who showed promise at cornerback in 2000 and has been sidelined all season with a foot injury, is still not practicing with the team. "He's still rehabbing and getting better," said Neuheisel of Johnson, who's redshirting the season. "I'm still very optimistic for his future." Johnson will be a sophomore next season and figures to play a prominent role in the secondary along with Roc Alexander, Chris Massey, and Sam Cunningham.

More on Krambrink: Neuheisel was more specific about how much sophomore linebacker Tyler Krambrink will play this week in his first game back from injury. "He's going to make the trip," he said. "I'm hopeful that he'll get in on some special teams repetitions and possibly even get into the game a little bit."

What's up with that?: Washington got a bit of a scare today when Kai Ellis had to leave practice, but it turned out to just be a problem with one of the custom-fit braces on his knees. The problem was fixed, and Ellis returned to the field as normal.

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