Defense takes their turn

SEATTLE - After Jake Locker completed a pass to Kavario Middleton in the end zone, it looked like the whole offense went crazy in unison, jumping up and down. It appeared a football may have been the victim of some excessive celebration, and a few flags come out to spoil the mood.

"The one thing that bothered me a bit was that there was quite a few flags, holding on both sides of the ball and different things," UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said after practice No. 9 was in the books Saturday afternoon. "We wish we were playing a little more smooth football and line up properly and play and eliminate the penalty flags.

"Our guys were just having fun. I wasn't worried about that one. I was concerned about some of the other penalties earlier."

The defense might have had a little to do with that. They forced a couple of offensive pass interference calls ("We didn't have one all year and we got two called on James Johnson today. We'll have to see why that occurred," Sarkisian said), and they were able to contain Jake Locker for much of the day when it came to the big play. They also forced two straight three-and-outs during the team scrimmage at the end of practice.

"Early in the first team period, I thought the offense had one deep ball to (Jermaine) Kearse and just missed another one to James Johnson," Sarkisian said. "And then after that, the defense really settled in and did a nice job of eliminating the big play and getting after the quarterback and creating some second and third-and-long situations, which enabled them to get off the field. I thought they did a nice job."

A patch-work defensive line, led by senior Cameron Elisara, also had arguably their best day of work. "I think they are playing hard and playing well they are moving around so at the end of the day its better for all of them they are learning more positions and understanding the things that interchange and how things work together," Sarkisian said. "At the end of it all we will be better for it.

"I think Talia Crichton keeps getting better and better and better. Cameron obviously. I think Alameda (Ta'amu) is getting better his weight keeps going down (to 330 pounds) so he's playing quicker."

In talking with Washington Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt, familiarity and comfort level with the defense is allowing the players to play with speed and smarts. "We're not screwing things up as much as we used to," he said, matter-of-factly.

"They are getting better. They are getting better at just being football players, understanding down and distance, understanding the calls and playing to the call strengths and then knowing the call weaknesses and understanding the stress points - they are just becoming better football players. They've been around us and we've been around them and it's just the normal process when you keep building a program. There's a lot of trust and they are getting better at their stuff."
Coaches Clinic: There were roughly 300 coaches that attended the two-day coaches clinic at UW, in what has become a yearly event during spring football. ESPN's Mark Schlereth was one of the featured speakers on Saturday, as well as Bob Johnson, Skyline Head Coach Mat Taylor, and others. Jim Mora was one of the featured speakers on Friday. Some of the other head coaches I saw were Tom Bainter (Bothell), Todd Burnette (Vancouver (B.C.) College Prep), Charlie Kinnune (Mt. Si) and James Cordova (Salt Lake City (Utah) Judge Memorial).

"He had an opportunity to come to our team meeting and speak to the team about what it means to be a great teammate, and why championship teams are able to accomplish what they've accomplished," Sarkisian said of Schlereth and his presence this weekend. UW Offensive Line Coach Dan Cozzetto was Schlereth's position coach at Idaho in the mid to late-80's, and Linebackers Coach Mike Cox played and coached at Idaho during that same time. "With Mark having three Super Bowl championship rings, he has a vast array and knowledge of what it means to win championships. And he's been able to share it with our guys."

Injury update: There was one player that looked to have suffered an injury Saturday. Sophomore safety Greg Walker hyperextended his elbow early in practice, but should be fine, according to Sarkisian.

Holt's challenge to Adam Long: In talking about the play of Quinton Richardson and Vonzell McDowell and their increased roles as spring has progressed, Holt minced no words when talking about sophomore Adam Long, who started the last six games of 2009 opposite Desmond Trufant, who is out for the spring rehabbing a groin injury. "Desmond is our best corner; at least he was last year, so I'm sure he will be this year," Holt said. "But the older kids (Quinton Richardson and Vonzell McDowell) have gotten better. Adam (Long)…he needs to keep coming along. He hasn't made the progress the other two have. I just think the other two guys are more mature and taking it seriously and have had better practices thus far compared to some of the other guys. Adam has to get it going."

The hope, in Holt's mind, is that better play at the corners will help the defense as a whole tighten up their coverages so they can play more man. "I'd like to play a little tighter coverage than last year, and I think we can do that," he added. "I'm not saying they are all fast or great, great, great players, but we have a bunch of them. So they are getting better at that stuff and I'd like to get a little more aggressive in the coverages. Does that mean blitzing more? Not really. But I'd like to do more man-to-man and less soft zone stuff. And hopefully we can do that. We're working on it in spring ball and you give up a big play and you don't care, but in the fall you care about that stuff so you're less aggressive in fall camp and the season than you are in spring ball. You take shots, but you also want to build up the kids' confidence in those situations."

Versatility in the linebacking corps: It appears that Matt Houston and Alvin Logan are neck-and-neck in competition for the final linebacking spot next to Mason Foster and Cort Dennison. "I think it's somewhat of a stalemate," Sarkisian said. "They each have their moments of doing things and then struggle in other areas. I noticed Alvin doing some nice things today so we'll see. We even looked at Alvin today at some of the defensive end spot, did some 3-4 stuff today, so could see them both out there."

"I think it's a great battle," added Holt. "It's a healthy battle. They keep getting better. And Alvin is one of those other guys that keeps getting better every day. He's going to help us. Is he going to be a great, great starter for us? Who knows. Hopefully. But he's getting to the point where he'll be one of our better 15 to 20 players on defense. And that's good. He's getting to the point where he's going to help out this football team. And I'm proud for Alvin."

Sarkisian feels that, whoever is in that third spot, the experience and versatility of Foster and Dennison is something the Huskies can lean on. "Mason and Cort are so bright and understand what we do so well, they can bounce around and play other positions," he said. "They can slide around; they are so bright, they can play anywhere."

On what to expect next week: Sarkisian gave the media some thoughts on what next week will bring for UW spring ball. "Obviously our installation is minimal to none now as we enter the last two weeks," he said. "It's about refining and fine tuning more attention to detail and understanding nuances and calls and schemes and taking that to the next step, so it's not just about learning but being able to play fast and understand what has to be done." Top Stories