4/4 Practice Report

You couldn't have asked for a nicer day in Seattle as the University of Washington Huskies began spring football 2002. The sun was out, the fans were out and even the newly hired men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar stopped by to say hello. There were plenty of positives to take from today's practice, but it wasn't without it's share of bad news too.

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What was equally as nice was watching some of the faces from old make it out to the field turf at Husky Stadium healthy and rejuvenated for this year's campaign. Among those that redshirted last year, Derrick Johnson and Jafar Williams were noticeably present, working with the ones today. Jafar has scrapped his old number 13 for a new one - the number 1. Not since Jermain Smith as that number been seen on defense.

Defensively, the ones got off to a hot start, with Ben Mahdavi making a nice read of a seam route intended for tight end Kevin Ware and picked it off in full stride. As he took it to the house, the defense was already in fine hooping and hollering mode. This defense knows it has something to prove this year, and producing more takeaways will help them a lot.

On the defensive line, there was a new name to the mix - redshirt frosh Graham Lasee. The former Sehome product worked alongside Josh Miller, Jerome Stevens and Kai Ellis. The starting linebacking corps consisted of Marquis Cooper, Ben Mahdavi and Jafar Williams. Jimmy Newell was not wearing red and worked along side Evan Benjamin while Sam Cunningham and Derrick Johnson started out as the number one defensive backs.

Offensively, Joe Toledo, the big man from Encinitas, California, stood out among the tall trees as he looked great blocking and catching the rock downfield. On one 7-7 play, he took the ILB's to task as he caught a sweet crossing route from Taylor Barton one-handed and still managed to keep his 6-6, 290-pound frame in-bounds for a big gain. No question, Kevin Ware will have his hands full with Toledo this spring. Snohomish's Andy Heater was also used a bit in Keith Gilbertson's two-tight end sets.

While it was great to see Cody Pickett back and throwing with velocity, his tosses often missed the mark. His ball is as tight as ever, but he seemed a bit out of sync. In fact, all the QB's looked downright rusty.

It's going to take some time getting used to seeing Chuck Heater coaching the backfield, but the former tailback from Michigan looked completely at ease putting the fullbacks and running backs through their paces. A new wrinkle for the backs was the use of a suspended ladder that got them high-stepping at a nice rate of speed. They would take a handoff and immediately go through the ladder, which was approximately two feet off the ground. Nobody went through it unscathed.

The other new coaches, Cornell Jackson and Bobby Kennedy, also fell right into place, not looking like the new staffers they are. Kennedy is definitely the more vocal of the two and also looked to have a lot of fun out there. On one drill, he was pushing his receivers to finish their routes. He demonstrated the point with emphasis on Charles 'ET' Frederick, who had stopped momentarily on an out route. Kennedy came charging at ET, which caused the 6-0, 190-pound freshman from Lake Worth, Florida to put on the jets so his coach couldn't catch him.

Both Rich Alexis and Braxton Cleman looked lean and quick going through their paces. Since there isn't much for them do to in a padless practice, they worked a lot on swing passes out of the backfield and the occasional off-tackle blast. They looked like a nice 1-2 combination.

Perhaps the biggest position switch so far has been Zach Tuiasosopo to fullback. The redshirt sophomore looked toned up and lean at 235 pounds. He caught the ball well out of the backfield and looks to be a load leading ballcarriers into the hole. If today was any indication of Zach's future, it looks good so far.

The receivers look to have three legitimate big-time threats in Reggie Williams, Paul Arnold and Charles Frederick. A player that could make his mark this spring is senior walk-on Matt DeBord from Olympia. The 6-4, 205-pound DeBord is already in the two-deeps because of the various injuries already sustained to Wil Hooks and Justin Robbins. Pat Reddick probably will not know of his status for a few weeks, so even if Pat does earn a sixth year from the NCAA he most likely will see very limited action, if at all.

As far as the offensive line goes, the number one tackles were Khalif Barnes and Andre Reeves. The number one guards were Nick Newton and Elliott Zajac. Dan Dicks took over for Todd Bachert, who will be out for spring nursing a shoulder surgery. Both Aaron Butler and Robin Meadow are sure to get lots of time switching with the ones. Meadow looked particularly sharp from the get-go, holding off DE Manase Hopoi on a couple of pass plays and looking solid doing it.

Rick Neuheisel quotes:

On the first day of practice - "As is normally the case with the first day, it was a fun day. The kids were running around, eager to please. We need to keep that attitude, despite sometimes the tedious nature of practice. We need to make sure we keep improving so we don't get into survival mode and slow down progress. We're excited about the guys that are out here for practice. As I look around and see the red jerseys, the players that are unable to participate. Knowing that they will be ready when we get ready to kick it off in August, it's exciting. I'm looking forward to the next 14 practices."

On Cody Pickett - "Offensively, we are ahead of where we were a year ago, but Cody is really rusty. He's only thrown a couple of times since the Texas game so it's great for him to get out there. We counted it at 50 throws right on the nose. We'll do that again the next couple of days. He'll miss Monday's practice. A friend of his father passed away back in Idaho so he has to return to attend a funeral on Monday. I'm excited where he is mentally and hopefully we'll get that shoulder back to where he's on all cylinders by the end of spring practice and his confidence is restored."

On Cody's arm - "In terms of how the arm felt, it didn't feel sore, just weird which is normally the case when you haven't thrown in a long time. He'll be fine."

On Rich Alexis - "This was Rich's first spring practice. He got to participate in mat drills this winter and working out in the weight room and his is in way better shape now than he was at the beginning of last year's season. Hopefully that will translate into a great spring, increased productivity and increased confidence."

On Wilbur Hooks - "He's practicing but we're not going to allow any contact. He was another one of the shoulder surgeries that took place. He dislocated it in fall camp and played with a harness all year. Wilbur's a tough kid and pretty reliable guy and still had a pretty successful season. We fixed him and we're not going to ruin what's been repaired."

On the shoulder injuries - "Mahdavi, Newell, Hooks, Carothers and Roc (Alexander) are all players that are not going to have any contact. Marquis Cooper has a shoulder that we've determined that needs to be fixed. We'll get that done tomorrow and hopefully have him back by August 1. He'll be in a rehab mode for the next 14 days. It's the right thing to do now, to get the rehab done. He was concerned about telling us, so that's why we didn't know. He didn't tell anyone that he was having a problem. He had an episode when he was doing his vertical jump. He felt a twinge so he had it checked."

On fixing the shoulder problems - "We have just ordered four hammer-strength machines to be pro-active with the shoulder problems and we'll begin a program as soon as they arrive to keep this from happening. It's kind of an epidemic with freshman that play without a redshirt year. Their bodies just aren't ready."


New numbers: Besides Jafar Williams switching from 13 to 1, there were some other new numbers to remember. Number 19 is still out there, but it's not Wondame Davis. It's actually freshman Eric Shyne. Francisco Tipoti will be wearing number 71. He was out there working hard with Brent Myers. Expect Tipoti to be in the mix all spring for a starting spot.

New positions: Besides Zach Tuiasosopo, there were some other position switches, most of them to offense. Doug Clarke moved from safety to receiver. Adam Seery is now at fullback, as well as John Gardenhire. Defensively, Ty Eriks moved from TB to safety. Tyler Krambrink moved to an outside linebacker position. Mike Savicky moved to the defensive line.

Isaiah in the house: Garfield's Isaiah Stanback made an appearance today at Husky Stadium, donning a Keyshawn Johnson jersey and hanging out by the field. It will be interesting to see where the coaches want to try Stanback this fall. His future is at quarterback, but with safety a question mark there's no reason why Isaiah couldn't give it a shot for a year. We'll see.

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