Practice Report: 4/15

In just about every weather element possible, the Huskies practiced in Husky Stadium this afternoon. When Guns & Roses' "Paradise City" came blaring out of the loud speaker system to signal that practice had begun, the rain was nearly sideways. By the time period four had started, the sun was out and the wind had died. Ah, it must be April.

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It was the first practice since the initial spring scrimmage was held last Friday. "I thought it was really a well-conducted scrimmage from a standpoint of kids getting to play. It was a great training film from the standpoint of getting guys opportunities to see what they are doing well, to see what they need to improve upon and, hopefully, we are going to do just that," said Neuheisel of the scrimmage.

Today they tried to build on that. When the first team offensive squad hit the field, there was a change in the backfield. Senior Braxton Cleman was given a lot of reps with the ones behind Cody Pickett today. Zach Tuiasosopo continues to hold down the starting fullback job, while Reggie Williams and Paul Arnold ran the routes from the wide receiver positions. Kevin Ware is still the first team tight end and the offensive line was Khalif Barnes and Andre Reeves at the tackles, Nick Newton and Elliott Zajac at the guards, and Dan Dicks at center. Todd Bachert does the non-contact work with the ones but Dicks takes over when the hitting begins.

The wet conditions caused some tough throws by Cody Pickett, and Kevin Ware, Paul Arnold, and Chris Singleton all saw balls slip through their grasp in the rain. Still, the offense looks very sharp compared to last spring.

"Based on our experience, our offense is going to be a little bit ahead of our defense, but that is to be expected. We have just played more football on that side of the ball," commented Neuheisel after practice today.

The tailback rotation is going to be short on experience, but very long on talent and speed. Along with Cleman, Rich Alexis (4.49 40), Chris Singleton (4.40 40), and Jelani Harrison (4.39 40) all continue to trade off with frequency, giving running backs coach Chuck Heater a nice well-rounded look. All of them bring different weapons to the table. Singleton looks the fastest, Cleman has the best hands by far, and Alexis blends power and speed. Harrison has remained healthy and although he isn't as quick to the hole as the others, his straight-ahead speed is the best.

Washington continues to run their base 4-3 defense but they've simplified the number of packages.

"Defensively we have, by design, been very simple. We are just trying to learn the fundamentals of our position, get off blocks, make tackles, learn coverages, be in the right places and not try to do anything that is deceiving the offense. I think from a scheme standpoint, we are making the right decisions because we are teaching ourselves how to play, and then we will add more schemes once the fundamentals are on schedule," said Neuheisel.

They did an outstanding job of shutting down the running game on Friday, and continued to look good today against the run.

The line remains the same with Josh Miller at DT, or "Three Technique", Jerome Stevens on the nose, and Terry "Tank" Johnson and Houdini Jackson at the defensive end positions. The inside linebackers are Tim Galloway and Joseph Lobendahn, although once he's cleared for contact, Ben Mahdavi will likely be the starter next to Lobendahn. He lines up there when there are no-contact drills. The outside linebacker is Jafar Williams, and the defensive backfield is James Sims and Evan Benjamin at the safeties and Derrick Johnson and Sam Cunningham on the corners.

Cunningham had a nice day today, knocking away several balls and putting two crunching hits on ball carriers during the two-on-one drills. The defense was woofing it up after Sam Bam's pad poppers.

On offense, Taylor Barton had two beautiful throws. On one he hit Reggie Williams on a skinny post that was good for a long touchdown and on the second he hit Kevin Ware in stride on a quick in across the middle that Ware took for a long gain.

Pickett's best connection came on a crossing route to Paul Arnold on a third-down situational drill. Arnold made a sliding grab of a ball that was rifled through tight coverage. Cody still looks rusty but the velocity on his throws is returning. The two days of rest appear to have made his arm stronger.

Casey Paus had a long touchdown pass when Williams got behind cornerback Eric Shyne and hauled in a bomb from the freshman. Paus followed that up with a long gainer to walk-on receiver Matt DeBord, who used his 6-2 frame to go up and take the ball away from defensive back Eric Roy.

Near the end of practice, Joseph Lobendahn again did what he does best – crush a ball carrier. This time it was Jelani Harrison, who was met four yards behind the line of scrimmage and brought down in a hurry by the stocky Hawaiian.

Also notable was second team DE Graham Lasee, who continues to use his quickness to get around the corner and pressure the quarterback. He had a sack of Casey Paus today right at the end of the 7 on 7 drills.

On special teams, John Anderson made every field goal attempt, connecting from 20, 33, and 44 yards. His backup, Evan Knutson, also converted from 20 and 33 and after missing from 44, later made one from that distance.

On the punt cover drill, Paul Arnold and Sam Cunningham were lining up in the "flier" positions on the outside of the formation. Both look very quick in racing downfield to cover the punt return. Punter Derek McLaughlin was booming the ball well despite the inclement weather.

During kickoff return drills, Chris Singleton, Paul Arnold, and Rich Alexis all took turns carrying the rock. Charles Frederick hurt his right shoulder and sat out that drill while he iced it. It is not considered serious. Derrick Johnson also sat out some reps with a sore foot. Johnson claims that it's just the normal soreness in regards to the injury that he's recovering from, and that it's not serious. He may sit out tomorrow, however, to rest it.

NOTES:

Injury update: Derrick Johnson (sore ankle) made it through practice but he may take tomorrow off. Kai Ellis (knees) didn't do any drills and worked strictly on the sideline doing rehab. Jim Newell (shoulder) wore red but went through all of the drills except the contact ones. He is challenging for the starting free safety job with James Sims. Charles Frederick (shoulder) sat out the last part of practice but is expected back tomorrow.

Secondary getting after it: Washington's defensive backs are making it a point to be more aggressive this spring. Part of that is because they are keeping it simple and playing more cover-two zones. "The more zone you play, the more you are going to see the ball. Then it is just a case of breaking on it and doing a good job of pattern reading, seeing where people are going and predicting where others are going," said Neuheisel.

Jerramy Stevens sighting: Jerramy Stevens was at practice today, along with Larry Tripplett. Both were in the Don James Center. When Neuheisel was asked about what he'd tell the NFL scouts about Stevens, he replied, "I tell them I wish he was coming back. I have a great deal of respect for Jerramy's ability and I think he has got a tremendous future. I also think he has probably learned more lessons that most people his age in terms of how to conduct himself and make good decisions. I think he is going to be a tremendous acquisition for whoever gets him."

Asked if he were a betting man, would he bet that Stevens would stay on the right path, Neuheisel quipped, "If I were a betting man, I'd say yes." He then commented that he, of course, could not bet because it would be an NCAA violation. He had a wry grin on his face when he said that.

New coaches at home: New WR Coach Bobby Kennedy and new LB Coach Cornell Jackson are both fitting in well with Rick Neuheisel's staff. "I am pleased with both of them. You always have a little trepidation when you hire somebody new when you actually haven't worked with them. But, knowing what I know now, I would hire them in a New York second. They are just excellent coaches, excellent teachers and both have great enthusiasm for it. I am looking forward to them hopefully being around for a long time."

Ware, Lingley return: TE Kevin Ware and LB Matt Lingley returned to practice today after missing Friday's scrimmage to attend a funeral in Puyallup. One of Ware's Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers was killed in an automobile accident. Ware and Lingley served as pall bearers at the memorial service.

Washington resumes practice tomorrow afternoon.

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