With every door in the building wide open a la Safeco Field to create an outdoors-type feel, the team had what Rick Neuheisel felt was a good day of practice.
"I thought we practiced well again today," he said. "Certainly being inside gave us a chance to refine some things."
Yesterday the head coach said the team would practice inside only a portion of today's practice, but with the Husky Stadium field completely drenched he elected to keep the guys inside for the entire evening. The weather forecast is calling for clearing skies for Saturday's game, which could make practicing inside appropriate for the rest of the week, but Neuheisel said that the team would be back outside tomorrow regardless of the weather.
Practice "kicked off" with the punting unit going through drills. That's one area that would have been difficult to practice outside on a day like today, where the footballs would have been waterlogged the minute they touched the ground. Derek McLaughlin worked on getting his punts off quicker, and the results were good. A few of his punts even grazed the high beams that stretch horizontally across the ceiling of the Indoor Facility, a good sign of the improvement he's made on his hang time since arriving.
Another person who kicked the ball well was Jim Skurski, the senior kicker who has found a niche on the team this year as the kickoff specialist. He boomed kick after kick through the end zone while John Gardenhire was back to catch each one. Twice the ball sailed over Gardenhire's head.
"There are lots of guys that have played significant roles this year that maybe weren't factored in early on," said Neuheisel, referring to players like Skurski. "It's always fun to see guys rise to the occasion. When given the opportunity, they take advantage of it. Jim is certainly one of them."
Two key Huskies on the offensive side of the ball, Jerramy Stevens and Cody Pickett were back at full speed after being limited yesterday.
Pickett, who refrained from throwing at all yesterday, was back at it today and had nice zip on his passes. He threw a zinger to Todd Elstrom on a slant and rifled another to Wilbur Hooks Jr. on a post route. Kevin Ware also benefited from a perfectly thrown pass from Pickett across the middle of the field. Already the gunslinger looks like him old self after struggling mightily last Saturday in Corvallis.
Stevens, much like last week's practices, didn't show any sign of pain from the left foot that he broke back in September. The Huskies hope that "J-Steve" will play a larger role in the Apple Cup game than he did last week, where he failed to catch a single pass. If today was any indication, he appears to be more than ready.
A player who's slipped under the radar a bit since the UCLA game, quarterback Taylor Barton, turned in a fine day of passing. He and Reggie Williams connected on several occasions for receptions, much to the dismay of senior cornerback Lenny Haynes, who had the assignment of covering the 6-4 freshman receiver. The prettiest play came when Williams ran a comeback route on the sidelines and Barton delivered a pass that was right on his hands when he turned around. It was a thing of beauty. The duo teamed up again on a slant play that would be hard for anyone to stop.
One area that the Huskies spent some extra time on today was executing third down plays. That's been a problem with the team in both of their losses this season, and is something that Neuheisel would like to see improve. Is it the kind of thing that can be corrected with added emphasis in practice?
"Yeah," said Neuheisel, without any hesitation. "You have to be efficient. If you're calling a pass, hit the pass. If you're calling a run make sure you get body and body and block everybody so you can make the first down. And then on defense you've got to get them off the field. Which means if you're coming after them you have to get to them and if you're covering them you have to cover them. We just can't stay on the field for as long as we did against Oregon State. We've got to do a better job there."
And nothing helps more than a stadium full of rowdy Husky fans to help the team on dicey third down situations. A place like Husky Stadium can do wonders.
"It always helps," Neuheisel agreed. "That's why we've got a nice little streak going here. It'll be fun to be playing at home and hopefully we'll give them something to be excited about."
Several freshman players that are redshirting the season and currently running with the scout team played noticeably hard this afternoon. One that stood out was Ty Eriks, the highly-touted running back who could very well be in the mix next season when Willie Hurst graduates. Eriks ran hard through the tackles but also showed the speed necessary to break it outside. He made a fine catch on the flat and gave the first team defense all they could handle.
Manase Hopoi and Joe Toledo also seem to be playing well and learning quickly.
All this talk about redshirting is something that players like Hurst and Todd Elstrom never will be able to relate to. Neither received the benefit of a redshirt season, and will be playing their last games in Husky Stadium this weekend. They'll join others who did redshirt like Larry Tripplett and Omare Lowe, just to name a few, who will also be heading out of that tunnel for the final time.
It's a feeling that's hard to comprehend for many of the players, according to Neuheisel.
"I've done it myself as a player," he said, "and each of the last two seasons I've been able to shake each of the guys hands as they came on through for the last time. You can tell in their eyes that it's extremely important. I think sometimes they are shocked at how emotional it can be. For this group of guys, what they have contributed for the Washington program, it will be emotional for all of us because they have meant a great
deal not only for the university but also for me."
Lambo Sighting: Former Husky head coach and defensive coordinator Jim Lambright, who went 4-2 in the Apple Cup in his career as the head man, came out to watch the Huskies today for the majority of practice. Neuheisel was disappointed that he didn't get to talk to Lambright. "I was hoping to get a chance to talk to him after practice but I guess he had to take off," he said. "It's always great to see Jim, he's always welcome. He's a true Husky."
Newton Update: Nick Newton missed practice today after spraining his ankle
late in Tuesday's practice. Redshirt freshman Aaron Butler practiced in his place at guard. After practice, Neuheisel sounded optimistic about Newton making the Apple Cup game. "I think he'll make the game," he said. "It isn't a position that requires a lot of mobility, so hopefully he'll be fine."
Welcome to the club: Inside linebacker Marquis Cooper wore a cast today to protect
his injured left wrist, an injury that occurred just recently. Nevertheless, he practiced as normal and made some nice plays. One that was particularly impressive came when he blew through the line and batted down a pass from Pickett that was intended to go over the middle. He'll be available for Saturday's contest. "He can play, he's just going to look like he's carrying a club," laughed Neuheisel of the cast on Cooper's hand.
11/14 Practice Report
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