Full Speed, Full Contact, No Pads

SEATTLE - Two days of spring practice in the books and they seem like full contact even though nobody is wearing any pads, except for helmets. I'm not kidding. There seems to be more contact than we've seen in years. It's a wonder no one has been hurt. It's just like playground football that we played when we were kids. These kids are not holding back.

They are trying so hard to impress their coaches that it doesn't seem to matter what the circumstances are.

After all the intensity on Day One, I was interested to see if it would continue and it did. There is a major emphasis on hustle and one play in particular exemplified it on defense. Curtis Shaw hit a run on the backside and it looked like it would go the distance when out of nowhere came safety, Johri Fogerson, who ran him down like a bullet from the opposite side of the field. I was just starting to comment on the hustle when both coach Jeff Mills, his position coach, and Nick Holt, the Defensive Coordinator, came running up to congratulate him on his effort.

Jermaine Kearse, D'Andre Goodwin and Devin Aguilar all impressed as receivers again and are starting to separate themselves from the other wide-outs. It is hard to think they won't be the three primary pass catchers for Jake Locker. Those three and the two tight ends, Kavario Middleton and Chris Izicki, are getting most of the reps, and Locker has obviously recovered from his thumb surgery. Izbicki has been a changed man since being released from coach Willingham's dog house and appears to be one of the most improved players on the team.

Locker put a number of balls right on the money on Thursday and is looking pretty comfortable with the new offense. He is clearly the most important difference in the offense. This team could have won at least four or five games last year had Locker not gotten hurt so early in the season. He is definitely a difference-maker. Two years under this system and he should have a chance at the next level playing quarterback for money.

The Huskies' first practice was freezing and the second one was being drowned out before coach Sarkisian moved the whole operation indoors to the Dempsey Center. Once inside the kids continued to operate at a high tempo and the hundred or so fans watching practice enjoyed not getting soaked as well.

Senio Kelemete, a converted defensive lineman, continues to develop as an offensive guard and the whole offensive line looks to be moving better and coming off the ball just as hard as if they had pads on.

Defensively, it looks as though the whole group is also running better. That is primarily because they are running all the time. Angles of pursuit are obviously being emphasized, with even the defensive line sprinting after thrown balls. More running, more hustling, and more conditioning are all noticeable changes to practice behavior. It reflects a total attitude change in practice.

It will be really interesting to see the hitting continue to heat up once they finally put on full pads. That will help sort out the competition at running back, where six kids continue to compete and two - Terrance Dailey and Brandon Yakaboski - are not practicing right now.

Running back is one of the biggest questions about this team: Who will emerge as the go-to back, or will they end up with a running back by committee? Brandon Johnson, the most experienced back, has undergone a body transformation in the off-season and looks considerably thinner and more fit. David Freeman appears to have recovered fully from his ankle injuries and shows the quickness that got him on the field as a true freshman. Willie Griffin, who was the most-consistent and durable back from last year, continues to work hard and get his reps in. Curtis Shaw, back after sitting out last season, is showing his speed again. Because he played some receiver, Shaw should continue to be a factor. Demitrius Bronson, who didn't enter school until winter quarter, has shown enough already to gain consideration simply because he is a lot bigger, at 210 pounds, than any of the others.

That leaves Chris Polk, who I still feel has a special gear, to fill out the competition. He too, looks fully recovered after getting hurt early last season. This competition is probably going to last all the way into fall camp, and because of the way all the running backs are hitting the holes without pads it has to be encouraging to coach Joel Thomas, who works with that position. The fullback spot is well-manned by Paul Homer and Austin Sylvester, who will be integral parts to the run game.

The scrutiny on the tailbacks makes that position one of the most competitive on the team. There is no other position on the team that is legitimately six-deep, and even deeper when Dailey and Yakaboski return.

Of all the positions on the team the one that appears most unsettled is kicker, where Erik Folk continues to struggle. Will Mahan, the incoming junior college punter/kicker out of Bakersfield College, may be asked to do both if the situation doesn't improve, but Folk has time to make his mark.

Signed primarily as a punter, where he was considered the number one junior college prospect in the country, Mahan kicked a 57-yard field goal in high school so he obviously has a strong leg. It's still too early to count out Folk but he is obviously having problems with his accuracy. The team aspects of the kicking game are receiving heavy emphasis in the two practices so far and again the competition appears to be keen.

There may have been a slight drop in the pace of practice but that was probably because the kids now know what to expect. Moving indoors really picked up everyone and some of the passes by both Locker and Ronnie Fouch were really crisp and carried considerable velocity.


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