One of the areas mentioned by Neuheisel Saturday that needed 'cleaning up' was the readiness of players to come off the sidelines and immediately be prepared to play, both physically and mentally. While they couldn't completely simulate that type of action without pads today, Neuheisel nonetheless felt that the first step in mainaining readiness is making sure the players are focused at all times.
"When you get geared up to go in and crack the pads you have to maintain your focus while you're sitting," he said. "You don't wait a couple of plays to get into the rhythm of the action. We get another chance to do that this Saturday."
While the quarterbacks looked somewhat polished Saturday, the key word today was inconsistency. The three deeps of Cody Pickett, Taylor Barton and Casey Paus looked fantastic at times and at other times looked downright rusty.
For example, the defense looked very much in control, as Pickett had to tuck it in more than once, signifying blanket coverage by the linebackers and secondary. During a four-throw sequence during the 7-on-7 drills, Pickett was a good five yards short trying to hook up with a streaking Reggie Williams as the receiver from Lakes was going hard down the sideline. Cody then threw sharp, crisp balls to Braxton Cleman and Paul Arnold, then finished up on a sour note as Jafar Williams nearly gobbled up a flat route. It was his for the taking with nothing but field turf between him and the endzone, but he bobbled the offering from Pickett.
While the defense certainly looked better and more active than in the past, they clearly missed their share of chances. Sam Cunningham and Domynic Shaw had gifts thrown their way but couldn't convert. The only pick of the day came courtesy of walk-on safety Wendell Thompson, who found himself with a football getting in the way of a flat route.
These practices, while productive, have to test the patience of the Husky coaching staff, as 14 players were wearing red today and another two (Ben Mahdavi and Jimmy Newell) wore white but are still being held out of contact.
Limited contact didn't stop Newell from having the play of the day. Kevin Ware caught a seam route in the deep third and apparently was headed to daylight. Before you could say 'Eric Canton', the sophomore from Port Orchard, Washington had stripped the ball from Ware and headed back the other way, earning some serious howls from his defensive teammates on the sidelines.
Two players that aggravated injuries Saturday sat out today's practice. "He's fine," Neuheisel said when asked about sophomore defensive back Derrick Johnson. "His foot was sore, the one he injured a year ago and it was getting problematic. We took him out for today and probably tomorrow. Hopefully we'll have him back Thursday and for the scrimmage. The doctor looked at it and it's fine. It's just fatigued because of a year of inactivity. Tui (Alailefaleula) is probably out with that high ankle sprain but I'm hopeful we'll get Evan Benjamin back."
Willie Kava, Justin Robbins and Marquis Cooper were the three red muskateers today, running stairs and doing a number of excercises and routines as they rehabilitate their injuries.
Spring game is less than a week away, but that hasn't stopped Tim Hundley from continuing to tinker with position switches due to depth concerns. Today there were two more changes. Ty Eriks, the freshman from Seattle, has been moved from safety to the SAM outside linebacker position. With Eriks to SAM, Will Conwell, the freshman from Kent has been switched to the other side, the REB 'backer position. With Anthony Kelley taking care of classwork and Kai Ellis nursing his knees, Houdini Jackson has been handling the number one REB duties, while Jafar Williams has been the number one SAM.
There has been speculation that Charles 'ET' Frederick, the 6-0, 190-pound receiver from Lake Worth, Florida might be coming back at the end of spring practice to reconcile with coaches and teammates. Neuheisel ended that speculation quickly, but left a crack open as to Frederick's possible return in the fall.
"Charles won't be back this spring," Neuheisel said. "I'm not ruling that out (possible return), but we're moving on." With that being addressed, Neuheisel spoke a little bit about ET's void and who might handle the punt return chores for the rest of the spring and the impending fall.
"We've got a bunch of kids on the team that are capable of doing it," he said. "Derrick Johnson did it as a freshman. And a kid that's coming out that seems to be in that mold is Nate Robinson. And I know he's going to want to compete for that job. But with Derrick and Paul Arnold and Reggie (Williams) practicing it, I think we'll have enough guys to get it done."
Williams appears to be the stop-gap guy in case of an emergency. "If need be, absolutely he could do it," Neuheisel said about Reggie returning punts. "I'm not sure I want to use him there but I know he's capable of doing it."
Get your hands up - The defensive line was very active today, led by junior defensive end Terry Johnson, who had two very pretty swats of balls intended for receivers downfield. One was a roof job on Cody Pickett that had the ball going backwards quite quickly. It was a pleasant sight watching the DL get their hands up while they took on the offensive line.
In attendance - Today's practice was sparcely attended, but Ink Aleaga was there to check out the action.
Free Agent signings - Four former Huskies signed on today as free agents, with one more expected to get a contract soon. Center Kyle Benn signed with Tennessee, Marcus Roberson with Philadelphia and Portland State grad (and former Husky) Albert Tuipulotu signed with Pittsburgh. Willie Hurst has been contacted by a few teams so far, but has not signed a contract yet.
C-Dub itinerary - Curtis Williams is in town this week, the first time he's been back since suffering a spinal cord injury during the 2000 Washington-Stanford football game. He'll be taking part in some very special events. On Wednesday he'll be honored during first pitch ceremonies at Safeco Field as the Mariners take on Anaheim. On Thursday, he'll be at El Gaucho for his benefit event being sponsored by KJR. It is sold out. And of course he'll be back at his old stomping grounds to take in Saturday's Spring Game festivities.
Video killed the radio star - KOMO will not be broadcasting the spring game on the radio, and neither will KJR. KJR will be broadcasting the Sonics basketball game instead. Fox Sports Northwest will air the spring game (tape-delayed) at 3:30PM Saturday afternoon. Tod Pickett and Sonny Sixkiller will bring you the action, and similar to last year Rick Neuheisel will be miked for comments during the game.