Defense takes the day

It was two head football coaches ago that I last covered a UW practice, so a lot has changed since I was last in Husky Stadium as a member of the media. Here are some of my observations from Saturday's practice, the last official practice of fall camp. The first thing that popped into my head was the fast pace. Wow do these guys ever get things done in a hurry.

And a lot of things were done in one practice.

I covered Lambo's practices, the Neuheisel years, and the first year of the Gilbertson era, and none of those practices had the crispness of the one I saw this morning.  I can't compare it with the Willingham era, where everything was conducted behind an iron curtain, but a UW insider that would know told me that the Steve Sarkisian practices are definitely more up tempo than his predecessors were.

  It was fun watching Sarkisian blow his whistle quickly, make an arm motion or a gesture and each position coach read it and switched drills with their units.  All of the non-verbal communication and movement makes for a very efficient practice.  All the while Sarkisian was watching from midfield, occasionally wandering to one side or the other to cavort or coax extra effort out of his kids, or in some cases, to wake them up if they needed it. 

A couple of periods were used for scrimmaging, and during those a full contingent of referees were brought out to watch the proceedings.  Here are my thoughts about each unit after the scrimmage.

  First of all, let me say that the defense won the day.  The offense looked out of sync and very bad at times.  Jake Locker was rushed and receivers dropped balls. A fumble and several missed blocking assignments made for a long morning for the guys looking to move the chains. 

OL – Cody Habben, Ben Ossai, Ryan Tolar, Senio Kelemete, and Drew Schaefer ran with the ones all day.  It is not the most imposing of lines, but the left side of the line seems experienced enough and may be able to do the job.  However the right side is going to get tested, and oh are they young.  The drop-off behind them is substantial.  Depth has to be a major concern here.  The twos consisted of Mark Armelin, Greg Christine, Mykenna Ikehara, Morgan Rosborough, and Nick Scott.  This unit was battered today by the defensive line. It wasn't pretty. 

TE – Chris Izbicki, Dorson Boyce, Marlion Barnett.  Chris Izbicki has really improved and his hard work has moved him up.  Kavario Middleton rested a sore ankle today but he should be ready to go on Monday.  Barnett is too small to really be a tight end, and would seem more at home in the slot.  Boyce is also on the small side.  I think Boyce would've really helped this team if he could've made it in time for spring and had a summer in the weight program.  He is just too undersized at the moment to help a great deal, but he does block well. 

WR – Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, D'Andre Goodwin.  With James Johnson resting a sore ankle today, these three were the ones.  All three looked good.  Aguilar, in particular, showed good hands and an ability to find an opening in the defense.  Kearse is the most physical of the receivers.  Both Anthony Boyles and Cody Bruns had the drops today.  Reporters mentioned that Boyles has had the drops most of camp.  Kearse and Aguilar both have better hands, and Tony Chidiac doesn't drop the ball as often. 

TB – Chris Polk looks like he may be the starter on Saturday against LSU but Sarkisian wasn't willing to say that just yet.  Behind him were Willie Griffin and Curtis Shaw.  Shaw is the quicker of the two by far but I'm not sure he goes to the right spots on the field all of the time.  Griffin is more limited in what he brings to the table but the coaches seem to trust him.  Johri Fogerson was out today, nursing a sore ankle.  Demitrius Bronson ran strictly with the scout team today. 

FB – Paul Homer will be the first team fullback, but can you really list him as a starter?  Last year he was listed as the starting fullback for every game but he only actually started in six games.  Why?  Because the UW often starts three wide-outs instead of a fullback.  Austin Sylvester is the No. 2 guy. 

QB – Jake Locker is the guy.  The drop off behind him is a chasm.  He struggled today, but so did his entire offensive unit.  The OL could not protect him and often times his receivers ran "interesting" routes.  However when given time to throw, he looks more accurate than he did last year when healthy.  Ronnie Fouch and Keith Price are a ways behind him.  Fouch has the better arm of the two back-ups but Price has that amazing athleticism that you have to account for.  That kid can flat out run, but his delivery has a strange hitch in it that will need addressing as he matures. 

DL – Kalani Aldrich, Alameda Ta'amu, De'Shon Matthews, and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim ran with the ones today.  Cameron Elisara rested a sore shoulder and Darrion Jones was sick with the flu.  Aldrich looked pretty good to me.  He still needs to gain weight but he looks like he's getting it.  Ta'amu is moving MUCH better than last year.  Matthews has added some nice weight and DTN is still a beast.  The young guys behind them may have been more of a story today, though.  Particularly Talia Crichton, an undersized defensive end, ran with the twos today and stood out.  He was beating Drew Schaefer regularly on pass rush.  Schaefer could not handle him in one-on-one drills or the scrimmage session.  I'm not sure that is such a good sign for the No. 1 OL but it bodes well for the depth on the defensive line. 

I spoke with Defensive Line Coach Johnny Nansen after practice about his defensive line group.  "We went back to the drawing board, back to square one with these guys," Nansen said.  "We want to make sure and emphasize, above all else, proper technique.  We did that today, and because we have tomorrow off, we felt today was crucial that we have a good practice.

"Kalani Aldrich has done some good things.  He still has a lot of room to grow but every day he does everything we ask of him.  You saw him run with the ones today, and it shows.  He is working very hard." 

"Talia (Crichton) is really coming on.  You saw today what a talented young man he is.  We are asking him to do the little things, and we tell him every day, ‘We need you.  WE NEED YOU', and he responded today.  We now need to focus on the mental aspect of his game, getting down the proper assignments and things like that.  He is really progressing nicely." 

When asked if he would prefer to redshirt young players such as Crichton, Nansen doesn't look at it that way.  "We don't recruit with the idea of redshirting anyone in our program," he said.  "If we think you can help us on the football field, you will play.  That is why you don't really know who is going to redshirt until you put them into a game day situation, which is what we were doing today." 

Crichton sure seems to have passed that test.  "Talia has really come on the past few days," Sarkisian added.  "I think he was slowed a bit at the start because of a groin injury but he got past that.  Today he showed up again, and that is a real added bonus for us to have him going in the mix on the defensive line as well as that pass rusher he is." 

Also having a good day with the twos was Semisi Tokolahi, who is just a beast physically.  It is hard to see this guy redshirting.  He is imposing. 

LB – E.J. Savannah, Mason Foster, and Donald Butler are the ones and they are a fine linebacking unit.  Savannah and Foster both had interceptions that they returned for touchdowns today and Butler was all over the field disrupting the offense.   "Our linebackers were really flying around the ball today.  I liked what I saw," said Sarkisian.  "And another guy that keeps showing up is Cort Dennison.  He just keeps making plays practice after practice." 

Running with Dennison with the second unit were Brandon Huppert and Trenton Tuiasosopo.  There is significant drop off from unit one to these guys though.  It is noticeable in the speed of play and in physicality. 

?  DB – Nate Williams and Greg Walker were the ones at safety.  They make a nice tandem but it would be nice to have Jason Wells back there.  However Wells was on the sidelines all practice.  He has had surgery on a knee and also has been trying to nurse back an achilles problem. With the number of injuries he's had, it doesn't seem likely that he will play a great deal at this point.  I may be wrong.  Backing up the safeties were Tripper Johnson and Victor Aiyewa.  Aiyewa looks very imposing but he is injured more often than not.  He is really going to have to work hard to shake that bug. 

On the corners were Quinton Richardson and Vonzell McDowell with the ones all practice.  Richardson looks pretty good but McDowell is so small he has to be considered a liability in both the run and the passing game - especially when most of LSU's receivers are well over 6-feet tall.  Any jump-ball to a big physical receiver is going to be a no contest.  Justin Glenn did not practice today so I'm not sure that this is a permanent move.  Running with the twos were Adam Long, another very small corner, and true freshman Desmond Trufant.  The depth there is not there yet, but the talent is.  Trufant looks good already. 

PK Erik Folk connected from 41 yards out twice in a row before missing from 45 on a ball that may have been deflected.  He missed his last kick, a 38-yarder from the left hash.  He looked inconsistent but he is the best they have.  Backup Eric Guttorp made his attempt from 38.  He pops the ball up nice but doesn't have the leg strength of Folk. 

The returners were Aguilar and Bruns on punts.  Aguilar seems to have the No. 1 return spot down. 
Hit of the day: Donald Butler on Paul Homer.  Homer took a flare pass out of the backfield from Locker and Butler saw it coming. He loaded up and just as Homer was turning up field after the catch, BOOM…..Homer was stapled to the turf. 

Pass of the day: Locker to Aguilar over the middle.  On one of the few plays where Locker actually had time to throw, he dropped back and waited for Aguilar to split the safeties and linebackers and delivered a perfect touch throw for about a 25 yard gain. 

Errant throws: Locker was picked off by Mason Foster on an early throw when it looked like Aguilar ran a bizarre and unexpected route.  Two throws later he should've been picked again but Butler could not hang on (and did push ups instead).  However the very next throw Locker shook it off and delivered a perfect touch throw to Aguilar just beyond Butler's fingertips for a first down. 

Injury bug: Washington had several starters sit out today, but all were deemed minor injuries.  "Cameron has a sore shoulder, so we wanted to take care of him.  Everette (Thompson)'s ankle is a little sore, so we wanted to give these guys two days off to take care of that and let them come back fresh. Darrion Jones had the flu so they kept him away from the rest of the team so they would not catch whatever he has. Johri Fogerson and James Johnson both rested sore ankles and took today off. Justin Glenn also sat out but I never found out what was wrong with him.

If it were a game day, Sarkisian believes all would've played. 

LSU up next: Sarkisian thoughts on LSU?  "They are big and fast," he said.  "They are well coached and have some well executed schemes on both sides of the ball.  They are a good football team."  Will LSU come out with a chip on their shoulder because of an under-achieving 2008?  Sarkisian wasn't thinking about it.  "I don't really care.  I don't worry about them.  No offense to those guys but we have to worry about ourselves.   

Closing remarks: "I think we've had a really nice camp," Sarkisian said.  "I like where we are.  I feel good about our plans on both sides of the ball and a real nice special teams plan." Top Stories