12-17 Practice Report

The Huskies returned to the field today for a full-padded practice after having a day off on Sunday. Practice started at 7:30 p.m. so the players could spend the day taking their finals for their classes.

Head Coach Rick Neuheisel said after practice that the team had to adjust to the finals since school started a week later this year, pushing the finals back into the week of bowl practices.

Terry Johnson had to miss practice, even with the late start, because of a final. He was the only player in that predicament.

Only one player wore a red jersey on the night, that being safety Wondame Davis (bruised thigh). He was kept away from contact and that let freshmen James Sims Jr. and Evan Benjamin get more time working behind the first-teamers, Owen Biddle and Greg Carothers. Benjamin really has put some bulk on his frame since the start of the season, and has the ideal body type to play safety. He's strong, agile, and quick - all in one package - and looked great today given the added PT.

Another freshman, inside linebacker Joseph Lobendahn, was outstanding in many drills tonight. On the ladder drill where they work on their footwork moving laterally, he was far and away the best on the team. Then the linebackers lined up against scout team runningbacks Ty Eriks and John Gardenhire, and again the first- year player from Hawaii excelled. While many of the linebackers gave up ground, Lobendahn punished the ball carrier each time, using his superior lateral quickness and low center of gravity to prevent any positive yardage.

On the same drill, Gardenhire made a great move to get by starting inside-backer Ben Mahdavi. First he stutter-stepped, then he spun, causing Mahdavi to whiff completely. The freshman tailback run upfield unscathed as linebacker Jamaun Willis dogged Mahdavi for the missed tackle. Mahdavi made up for it later with a huge stick on Gardenhire to even things up. Ty Eriks was tough to stop as well, making a cut-back move on Tyler Krambrink that made the linebacker miss.

Cody Pickett continued to be right on target, making several perfect passes. One of his best came on a post pattern to Reggie Williams, who beat tight coverage from Chris Massey for the catch. The ball was placed so well that it was basically impossible to defend. Later in practice, on one of the rare instances where Pickett misfired, Williams made up for it with an amazing one-handed catch. The ball was thrown behind him and instinctively reached back to bring the ball in. It was the best catch of practice.

Of Pickett, Neuheisel said, "He's anxious to play, we're anxious to watch him. He's had a great year, and will benefit from the offseason to get back to 100 percent."

Backup quarterback Taylor Barton's best throw was thrown to Paul Arnold on a post route. The junior from Kennedy High School bobbled the ball for a second, but pulled it in for the catch. Barton and Wilbur Hooks also hooked up for a reception near the sidelines in which Hooks jumped high into the air to come down with the catch.

Barton, though, still has some legal hurdles to clear before he can have a chance to travel with the team to the Holiday Bowl. He and Kevin Ware were each arrested in the weeks after the season finale at Miami.

Unless there is a resolution in either case this week, Neuheisel says that the likelihood is that the players will remain home and not go on the bowl trip.

"That's where I stand today," the head coach quickly added, "I'm not willing to say definitively that that's where we're going to be because I'm still waiting for more information - not so much on the facts but on the legal process. In my mind if a young man gets arrested and has a chance to clear his name, that's where his attention and his focus should be, rather than on the football field."

When the first team units from both sides of the ball squared off against one another in rushing situations, the offense came away the big winners. The offensive line had their way with the defensive front, often causing big holes for the tailbacks to run through. Willie Hurst benefited from the solid blocking to wiggle through arm-tackles, heading upfield for a 10-yard gain on one play. Then Rich Alexis used a huge block from Elliot Zajac a play later to work his way upfield for another big gain.

The team will continue practice tomorrow at 5 p.m., which, as usual, will be closed to the public.

Notes:

Tharps in The House: Former Washington receiver Terry Tharps, who played four years (utilizing a redshirt season) at the UW before the 2001 season, returned to his old stomping grounds tonight to watch practice. Tharps was swarmed by his former teammates, notably Larry Tripplett, Wilbur Hooks, and Roc Alexander, as everyone was glad to see him back.

Neuheisel said he got a chance to talk the speedster from Tacoma. "It's great to see him," the head coach said. "He had a great senior season, had over 20 receptions, and is back at the UW to finish his degree."

DJ Update: We talked to Derrick Johnson after practice, and he updated us on the status of his foot injury, which occurred nine-months ago. He said it's feeling better but sometimes gets sore after he works out. Johnson said that it's been rough, but added that he's ahead of schedule and will most definitely be back for spring practices.

J-Steve Announcement Soon?: Neuheisel hinted that tight end Jerramy Stevens may be close to making a decision as to whether he'll return to Washington for his senior season. "I think he's getting close to a decision," said Neuheisel before practice, "but I think it's his decision to announce."

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