Practice Report 12-7

The Huskies headed indoors today as they returned to the practice field for the first of 15 bowl practices leading up to the Holiday Bowl. It's been 13 days since the blowout loss to Miami, and today the team showed no ill effects from their final regular season game.

Instead they looked reenergized, rejuvenated, and refocused for the December 28th showdown versus the Longhorns of Texas.

Nobody showed that more than the head man himself, Rick Neuheisel, who ran into the practice facility shouting, "Are you ready for some football" as he pumped his fist in the air. To make matters even better, every player who suited up played at full speed. For the first time all season, nobody was in red jerseys. In short, everybody WAS ready for some football.

"It's time to move on, as I told the team before practice today," said Neuheisel. "Certainly, the competitive side of all of us wants to rectify the situation, but I don't want that to be our sole motivation to play a marquee team like Texas. I want us to also be very proud of what we accomplished this year because it was a great season for us. To be 6-2 in our conference and have three wins against top 10 teams is a good thing."

At this time of the year, everybody is playing with added incentive. The seniors want to go out with a win in their final game. The redshirt players finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and are anxious for spring ball to start, when they can make an impression on the coaching staff. And for everyone else, it's a mix of both - wanting to end the season on a positive note and go into 2002 with some momentum.

Today the players used their fresh legs to make up for whatever rust built up with the two-week layoff from practice. Willie Hurst was back to his old self, and looked good both running through the tackles and catching the ball out of the backfield. He made a nice play on a pass over the middle of the field from Cody Pickett, and used his incredible vision to knife his way up field for extra yardage. Rich Alexis got extra work on his blocking today when he went head to head with scout teamer Evan Benjamin. The freshman got the best of Alexis on a drill where the safety has to beat the running back to the tackling dummy, but Alexis held his own when they went head-to-head again.

Pickett looked a bit erratic with some of his passes, but still was able to deliver many nice passes on the day. He had a beauty delivered deep down the sidelines to Paul Arnold, who fought Roc Alexander and came away with the reception. The pass was right on the money, and Arnold stayed on his feet long enough to tiptoe into the end zone. Another perfect pass went to Todd Elstrom on a slant and the senior from Puyallup turned it into a big gain.

Taylor Barton was typically accurate all practice long. He and Neuheisel approached each other before practice and gave one another high fives. A two-week break from practice can do some funny things to team chemistry, not that it was ever bad.

Defensively, Kai Ellis looked to be closer to full strength from his knee injuries he sustained earlier in the year. He still wore knee braces but seemed to get around with less effort than he's had to in quite some time. Larry Tripplett used his quickness to get around Nick Newton when the ones played against each other. Tripplett will need to get help from his fellow D-lineman against Texas, and one that continues to improve is Josh Miller. Miller has come a long ways, and today was hard to stop on one-on-one situations. Look for him to be a big contributor for the next three seasons.

Watching the linebackers, the one player that stood out was Joseph Lobendahn. He made the quick work of the footwork drills and showed the best hands of the bunch when balls were thrown at him. The freshman inside linebacker from Hawaii is strong, quick, and will be making a push for the starting lineup before long. A forgotten man, Jafar Williams, also impressed today and is back to full speed with the benefit of redshirting this season. Don't count him out next year, as he'll be a senior.
Husky Notes:

Where is Ware?: Junior tight end Kevin Ware was absent from practice today, still recovering from being sprayed with pepper spray nearly a week ago in an off-the-field incident. After practice, Neuheisel said that Ware has been "suspended indefinitely" from the team and will not make the trip to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl unless the charges are dropped or a ruling is made. Even so, the head coach said that the tight end would return to the practice field and participate with the team once he's fully recovered from the pepper spray.

Neuheisel said that Ware's situation is different than Jerramy Stevens' because of two reasons: 1) that charges were filed and, 2) because it occurred while the season was in progress. It's those reasons, he said, that he decided to enforce the suspension immediately.

Dukes back on the Move: In the only position move of bowl practices so far, Neuheisel said that redshirt freshman Rayshon Dukes has been switched to safety from cornerback. The Huskies are thin at the safety position, and likely will address that in the upcoming recruiting class. In the mean time, the move should give Dukes a better shot of seeing the field in the future. Dukes, who's one of the strongest players in the secondary, previously was tried at receiver as well as corner before making the switch to safety. He has put on almost 20 pounds since arriving to Washington. The move also will make room for Eric Shyne, who's expected to compete at corner and will enroll this winter.

Neu likes New Faces: With this being one of the biggest recruiting weekends of the year, Neuheisel termed this weekend "huge." Neuheisel continued, "The kids are excited. We're going to keep building this program up and be a team to be reckoned with. It's our turn to be first again next year.

Neuheisel ready for the Holiday: "I'm anxious to get down there," he said. "It's a great place. The hotels are unbelievable. It's close to the water. It's got a lot of activities for the players. It will be a great reward for a bunch of kids that worked their tails of this year."

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