Pads on and Back to Fundamentals

SEATTLE - One week and four practices are in the books, and the Steve Sarkisian era is off and running. 'Running everywhere' is a great way to put it: They run on and off the field, they run from field to field, from station to station, as well as at the start and end of practice. This program is on the run and staying on the run even though the kids are starting to hit the wall.

The newness of the program is beginning to wear off, but they still continue to run. The running also includes the coaches, who are often challenging their troops by racing them to the next phase of practice. At this pace there is no doubt this team is going to be in better shape. Conditioning was something that had to be questioned in the past simply because the Huskies regularly folded their tents in the second half of most games. In many games they did little or nothing in the third quarter and almost never came back in the fourth to win.

The running and up-tempo nature of these practices promises two potential changes and both could be huge for a team already picked by many to finish last in the Pac-10. Practicing up-tempo actually helps slow down the games once they start and the benefits of practicing at such a pace helps the players to finish.

Finish, finish, finish.

Much credit has to go to the new weight and strength staff, led by Ivan Lewis, who has already created a remarkable physical change in this team. Their bodies look different and their body fats all appear to be down. Weight gain is OK as long as you're also losing body fat. Loss of body fat is noticeable, especially on the linemen, but everyone appears in better shape. Once spring ball ends you will see Lewis back in charge, continuing the arduous task of remolding this team.

After only one week it's hard to say they are already a better team, but in a lot a ways how they are doing things is making a difference. They appear to be having fun, and practices have a much more of a college feel to them. I think the practices were stale or dull in the past because we were trying to run a pro-style system and assumed that the kids were mature enough to handle it.

Bigger is not necessarily better. This system is based more on energy and enthusiasm and you can hear it as well as see it. There is an obvious excitement in everything they do. They are also developing a healthy practice rivalry between the offense and defense, and that makes for better team competition.

Monday was the first day of full pads, and I was anxious to see if they would maintain the same level of intensity as they did in sweats and shells. To the necessary teaching that goes with hitting drills, practice did involve more learning periods, but otherwise the hitting just continued.

Big hits received a lot of attention, and when running back Curtis Shaw turned a corner and tried to run over a safety the offense totally exploded. Later, Victor Aiyewa blew up Cody Bruns and the defense likewise exploded. Of course, when Bruns ended up holding on to the ball, both sides joined in the celebration.

The hitting was good enough to keep the many fans in attendance excited as well, and that is another really noticeable change. The fans are engaged and are watching the team up close and in person. It's like the Huskies are their team again and they have every right to be there and enjoy the action.

On the developmental front, I would have to say that the offense is behind the defense at this point in the spring, but that is always the case this early in the drills. There is no question that Jake Locker is just getting started again. Having missed so much of last season he is just stating to get it all back. Locker is the key to this whole team. His improvement will be as critical as any to this team's chances of flipping the win-loss column from last season.

I think it's obvious that Jake is learning every day and the fact that he now has two former quarterbacks to learn from doubles his chances of improving. Offensive Coordinator and QB coach, Doug Nussmeier, seems to be working constantly with the quarterbacks as they continue to add phases to the offense. Obviously, they already know about Jake's running ability and are slowly adding quarterback runs to their package.

Backup quarterback, Ronnie Fouch, has likewise made some nice runs or scrambles to try to keep the defense honest. His game experience has only made him better and even though he hasn't won a game yet, he has been to the well and knows there's water in it.

But like I said before, Locker holds the keys, and I truly believe this team had four or five wins in it last season had Locker been healthy and played the whole season. He will have a much better chance of winning next year simply because his team will be in better shape both physically and mentally. Certainly, they already appear better just in the way they go about their business.

The Huskies appear to be buying into the new systems brought in by this first-year staff. They are re-developing their belief system to go along with the theme of 'running everywhere'. This spring they are learning the drills and fundamentals that are necessary building blocks to become a better team. They are blocking and tackling and running more than they ever have since they have been on campus.

It is a new beginning, and the kids are responding to the change with hope and energy. They want to get better, they want to listen, they want to learn, and they want to win. You can tell that by their attitude toward practice.

Now I know they still haven't won a game, but they are improving on a daily basis and the energy is electric. If you don't believe me, then come to a practice and see for yourself. There is a completely different atmosphere to practice, but then how would anyone know when the general fan hasn't been allowed to go?

There is no question they have a long way to go in order to line up and beat an LSU team with more talent. Still, they are on the right track and having fun while putting in their work.

That much is obvious. Top Stories