As noted earlier, today marks essentially the halfway point of Washington’s fall camp, practices 14 and 15 of 29 the team can hold before starting the season.
So it seemed like an ideal time to ask UW coach Steve Sarkisian for something of a progress report.
And in keeping with a camp in which optimisim has been the buzzword from the start, Sarkisian waxed enthusiastic about what he’s seen so far.
“I like where we’re at,” he said. “We talked about it last night as a football team. We kind of put the calendar out, with the X’s through the days. If you think about it, two weeks from today, about this time, we’ll be getting on a plane to fly to Provo. It comes quick, it happens fast. But I’ve been impressed with our football team, the way they’ve responded — offensively and defensively, we’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time. I think that’s why, as I touched on, the special teams is so important to me as we head into this weekend and next week, that we really get that thing solidified.”
The latter comment was in relation to some earlier comments that he’d like to see the special teams show improvement in Saturday’s scrimmage, the second of the fall.
Hearing Sarkisian say that he thinks both the offense and defense are “light years” ahead of last season, however, obviously piqued our interest. Being optimistic about the offense is no surprise given all the obvious weapons returning.
But when people talk about the Huskies, they usually refer to the defense as a question mark.
Sarkisian, however, said he’s just as optimistic about the defense as the offense, saying of those who question how good the defense can be “yeah, well those people haven’t come to practice. Our defense has been getting after it pretty good. I like some of the guys that have emerged. I think the spine of our defense is really solid, with Alameda (Ta’amu) and Cameron (Elisara) inside, with Mason (Foster) and Cort (Dennison) inside (at linebacker) and Nate Williams (at safety) and (Will) Shamburger and (Nate) Fellner back there and the emergence of Sean Parker, I love our guys right down the middle. And our edge guys are performing. Tru’s being Tru (Desmond Trufant), Quinton Richardson has had a tremendous camp, Victor Aiyewa has started to kind of emerge as that (strongside) linebacker, and these young defensive end are playing. So I like where we’re at. They’re playing fast, they’re playing aggressive, and I think they’re really embodying the personality of Nick Holt and what he brings — the energy and aggression that he brings. And I think guys are playing better.”
You can watch Sarkisian’s meeting with the media below:
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Sarkisian said one reason he thinks the team is light years ahead is because of the continuity of the coaching staff staying completely intact for year one to year two of his tenure here.
“I think what it’s done for me is it’s allowed me, our coaches feel so good with the schedule and our players, it’s allowed me to sit back and evaluate a little better and not get caught up in everything that’s happening that exact moment. To be able to see things and step away and assess what’s happening and kind of the mood of the team and things of that nature and be able to address them sooner rather than later so that things don’t linger. … We’re kind of a well-oiled machine right now. We know what we’re doing.”
He said keeping the staff intact was “huge on a lot of fronts. Obviously, it adds continuity. Recruiting. We have the same recruiting basis; you have the same coach going back to recruit the same area. Position groupings: the players know their coach, who they’re dealing with. But a lot of it for me is practice and preparing for practice. The coaches understand what I want to get accomplished every day, and they go out and kind of reiterate the message and spread the message throughout the football team. So I think that’s a big deal to me. There are a lot of great coaches in America, and a lot of them could come in and learn our scheme. But for our team, and the momentum that we carried last year into this year, having people on the same page I think is really important.”
As noted, the team will scrimmage tomorrow in a practice that begins at 3 p.m. (though remember that there will be a warmup period and all of that, as well, so the actual scrimmaging may be a little later).
Asked what he wants to see out of the scrimmage, he said: “I want our special teams to be better, now that we’re touching on it. I thought we were really sloppy with our technique, sloppy with our scheme and our effort wasn’t great on special teams. That’s really the first thing I was looking for. I want to continue to see our tempo on offense increase. I want to feel a sense of urgency out of those guys, that we’re playing fast, our personnel groupings and substitutions are going up to speed and sufficient. And then the third thing I’d like to see are kind of the dumb penalties, we like to refer to them as: false starts, lining up offsides, delay of games, things of that nature that really have nothing to do with your opponent, it’s all on you. So if we can do all three of those things, I think we’ll be all right.”
While Sarkisian said there would have been plenty of work on special teams this week, anyway, Tuesday’s scrimmage put a little heightened focus on that area — Friday’s morning practice was dominated by special teams work.
“This was already scheduled,” he said. “But I just think we should be better than we were, with the athletes that we have on our football team right now. They’re young, so we’ve got to teach them really well, so there’s been an emphasis on special teams. We’ve just got to get them playing at full speed and doing things the right way.”
Most of the key special teams jobs are pretty much set, however. Sarkisian said that Devin Aguilar and Johri Fogerson will be the main punt returners adding that “I’m anxious to watch Jesse Callier because I think he could add something there, as well.” As for kickoffs, he said “when we open the season Chris Polk is going to be back there for us. But you are going to see some guys through the year, see Trufant and Callier and Kevin Smith, so we’ve got some guys.”
A common question is whether the Huskies might want to have someone other than Polk back there, since he’s already the starting tailback. Sarkisian says the fact that Polk is the team’s best tailback is reason all the more to have him returning kicks.
“The way I view it is, it’s one more opportunity for him to get the ball in his hands,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a great opportunity. The year Reggie (Bush) won the Heisman (at USC) he was our kickoff return guy as well as our starting tailback and he had a great year in both aspects of it.”
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— Sarkisian said that while the team hasn’t officially begun preparation for BYU — the players won’t receive the game plan until a week from Saturday — there is constant preparation in terms of what the team does in practice. “In an odd way we kind of have (already started preparing),” he said. “The players don’t really know it but we have. But really, really when they will get presented with the game plan is a week from Saturday.”
— Sark had this assessment of practice this morning: “We had a really good tempo, a real sense of urgency on all phases, and that’s what we were looking for today.”
— Another special teamer that continues to impress is punter Will Mahan, who had a couple booming punts today. Said Sarkisian: “He’s crushing the ball. Crushing the ball. He’s big-time. For us, we’re a directional punt team; we just don’t let him rare back and hammer the ball straight down the field. We’re angling punts, and not only is his direction on point, but he’s really hammering the football.”
— Asked about losing coaches in the off-season, he said: “If guys move on to different jobs, that probably means we had a pretty good year. We’ll fight to keep all of our guys. Part of this position — and I’m fortunate to learn from Pete (Carroll) — we’re here to allow guys to grow, not to micromanage them and not to shelter them where nobody else knows about them. If guys have opportunities to move on, either to become coordinators or become head coaches, we’re going to promote them the best we can. If that happens after this year, that’s probably a good thing.”
— On who won’t scrimmage Saturday: “Senio (Kelmete) probably won’t go; I want that ankle to heal. James Johnson, I don’t know. I would put him at doubtful right now; we’ll see what he can do this afternoon. Taz (Stevenson), more than likely, because of the shoulder thing, I don’t know if I really want full contact right now. Those are the three that really stick out at me right now.”
— On Stevenson’s shoulder: “He hurt it here. He just took an odd hit on his shoulder. It’s not separated or anything; it’s just bruised, it’s just sore.”
— Garret Gilliland had a blocked punt during the punting drills.
— Everrette Thompson got a lot of work with the No. 1 DL, which generally consisted of Thompson and Talia Crichton at ends and Cameron Elisara and Ta’amu at tackles. With Richardson out, Vonzell McDowell was the other starting corner.
— With Kelemete out, Greg Christine again worked as the No. 1 center with Drew Schaefer moving to left tackle.