Rain doesn't dampen enthusiasm

SEATTLE - Joel Thomas isn't that far removed from his days at Idaho as a star running back, but he's not a kid either. Yet Thomas isn't afraid to jump right into the pile and tell one of his backs about a poor cut. Thomas, the first-year RB coach at Washington, believes it's a style that will help the Huskies quickly identify a player capable of emerging from a traffic jam of running backs.

"That's the style I coach," Thomas said after Thursday's practice, one that saw the Huskies move inside to take advantage of the drier conditions. "I want to get in the mix. If I see someone, I can get out of the way.

Eight tailbacks - Chris Polk, Brandon Johnson, David Freeman, Willie Griffin, Demitrius Bronson, Curtis Shaw, Terrance Dailey and Brandon Yakaboski - are eyeing a chance to become the one back that is featured in Washington's new offensive attack under new Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

"Until we get through some days with pads, they are all equal with us," Sarkisian said Thursday night at the Dempsey Indoor Facility. "Because of so many injuries and so many guys coming back, they all just need to play."

"We're in a situation where we want to have a clean slate as we're evaluating guys," added Thomas. "We can look at some things from last season, but we're looking for someone to rise above the group. I have no problem letting a guy take 25 carries a game if he proves he deserves it. Right now we're in an observation standpoint, seeing who can do things correctly and violently. That's basically what I'm looking at; guys that can play fast and do things right. Based off of that as we get into next week, that's when I look to form a depth chart and get locked in on who should be running with the ones and twos. They all know that, which is great.

Washington had five backs run for over 100 yards in 2008, with one of those being quarterback Jake Locker. Their leading rusher, Dailey, is out right now, as is Yakaboski. That leaves six remaining backs, all with the task of impressing their new coaches.

"Right now we're just getting a feel for who can do certain things the best," Polk said. "Right now we all have equal reps. Toward next week we'll start making a depth chart. It's like they said, we all have a clean slate and we all get a chance to prove ourselves. We're just going to compete to get that starting spot."

Polk, the red-shirt freshman tailback who initially committed to USC before eventually signing with the Huskies, added that the increased tempo of UW's spring drills is much like what he did at his high school - Redlands East Valley - who, ironically enough, tailored their drills to what the Trojans did.

"It's really high-tempo, everyone's really into it," Polk said. "It's real nice."

For others, like true freshman Demitrius Bronson, it's a matter of just getting from point A to point B.

"I just came in so my head is on a swivel with everything," Bronson said. "It's up and down right now. I'll have a good play or practice one day, and someone else will have a good play or good practice another day. Right now it's just competing. That's what they want."

Bronson added that, while he's actually a little heavier than his high school playing weight, the 210 pounds he is carrying is the right kind of weight, do to a better diet and smarter eating habits.
Not Singing in the Rain: Sarkisian moved the team into the Dempsey indoor halfway through practice Thursday, as rain continued to pour. "If this was a fall camp practice or during the regular season we would have stayed outside," he said. "But with only 15 practices and we're in Day Two of implimenting schemes for offense and defense, we can't risk losing these valuable snaps and getting the execution and getting things taught. We did a lot of our individual work outside and when we went to our team settings we wanted to be in here, so we got a lot of good looks at it and good film of it."

Offense wins the second team period of camp: The defense came up smelling like roses Tuesday, but it was the offense that came up clutch when they had to Thursday. The score was tied, and quarterback Jake Locker found Jermaine Kearse open, and as the redshirt freshman from Lakes ran down the right sidelines, the offense went nuts.

"It was a nice job by Jake and a nice job by Kearse," Sarkisian said of the play. "Coach Nuss (Doug Nussmeier) went into an empty set and coach Holt had a pressure on. It was good execution."

One of the more interesting parts of that last play was the buildup. As soon as both sides knew the score was tied, everyone got very excited. Even Jeff Mills, the safeties coach, looked to the sidelines and motioned to the fans to make some noise. "Over in Idaho we'd do that," Mills said with a smile. "We would have people at a scrimmage or something. C'Mon, let's go! Have fun!"

"I want to make it as game-like as possible," Sarkisian added when asked about the atmosphere surrounding that final play. "I want as much pressure as possible to put on our guys. I thought that was a pretty good setting for the last play, with the crowd and the team getting into it. It puts our kids in the position of what pressure is like and feeling comfortable in it. We want them to feel the energy and feel the intensity, and it starts with our coaches. If we bring it, our kids will bring it."

Singled out: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Jermaine Kearse were singled out by Sarkisian after Thursday's practice. "I felt like our front on defense was much better today than on Tuesday," he said. "I thought we really did a nice job stopping the run. There were a couple that got out on us, but for the most part our guys were in the backfield, making plays and being physical and getting after the football a lot better today. And that's how we need to play."

More walk-ons expected: Sarkisian said that five walk-on players should be on hand to join the team Saturday, which will be with shoulder pads. This was the result of a try-out Sarkisian had for some current students after practice on Tuesday.

Love for E.J.: Sarkisian had nothing but praise when asked about senior linebacker E.J. Savannah. "He really busted his tail with coach (Ivan) Lewis in the off-season," he said, adding that E.J. dropped up to 15 pounds during the winter. "He's playing with a chip on his shoulder. He's taking tough coaching from coach (Mike) Cox and coach (Nick) Holt. He's playing really, really well right now, so hopefully we'll keep him at that high, high level."

OL athletic enough?: Sarkisian said Tuesday that the movement with the offensive line was due, in part, to the athleticism the group of Cody Habben, Ben Ossai, Ryan Tolar, Senio Kelemete and Drew Schaefer could bring. Has he seen it yet through the first two practices? "The beauty of our defense is that they give you a lot of stuff," Sarkisian said. "(The OL) had a tough time with some of the run plays today. We'll evaluate it again tonight and see where we are at. I think we've gotten to the edge better than I was anticipating. We've gotten outside a few times, and I think that's part of being able to cover guys up and giving our backs a chance to run. The challenge is to make sure that we're physical enough. We'll find that out as we work more with pads."

One of those linemen, Schaefer, is just a redshirt freshman. But he is relishing the chance to show what he can do at a young age. "It all started with the off-season conditioning program," Schaefer said after practice. "I put in as much effort as I could into it. As time progressed I got the chance to step into that role, and it's a great opportunity."

At 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, Schaefer agrees with his head coach that it's going to be the group athleticism that will ultimately tell the tale. "The difference from last year to this year has definitely been the athletic ability of our linemen," he said. "We're able to get to the second level and run outside to run screens better. I think it's going to make our offense a lot more dynamic."

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