We’re now just 10 days until toe meets leather in Provo for the season opener, meaning some of what we see in practice begins to take on a little more meaning.
One thing we saw today was Keith Price take the snaps with the No. 2 offense during the scout team period, and work as the No. 2 QB in the rotation during the team period. This comes a day after Price got all the snaps with the No. 1 offense on Tuesday with Jake Locker sitting out for a scheduled day of rest.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian, however, said after practice not too read too much into any of that. He noted that this was the first day of scout team work — meaning, the first day of real preparation for BYU, with younger playerse simulating plays of the upcoming opponent — and that it is customary for all the new incoming players to work on the scout team, so that’s why Nick Montana worked with that grouping.
And as for last night, he said the plan all along was to let Price have those snaps with the ones to see how he would react.
So Sarkisian insisted there has been no decision made on a backup to Locker.
The decision, however, is coming soon.
“We’ll make a decision for sure internally here by Saturday and whether or not we release that remains to be seen,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian, however, acknowledged Price has played well of late, including on Tuesday when he ran the ones, especially with a drive at the end to lead the unit to a touchdown.
“One thing I learned and what I appreciated and liked about it is for as kind of as hostile an environment as we can make it in practice with the music playing and the players getting after it at the end to drive them down there and score that touchdown showed me a lot about just his mental toughness he was able to hang in there and execute the offense at a critical moment of practice,” Sarkisian said.
But he said all three QBs played well today.
“Not just to single out Keith, I thought Jake did some really nice things, Nick did some really nice things, and Keith did,” he said. “They threw the ball, and they’ve been throwing the ball for the last week at a very high level.”
What might have rivaled that on the interest-meter was the sight of true freshman Garret Gilliland running as the No. 1 middle linebacker through much of practice.
Junior Cort Dennison is the starter there, but sat out most of practice with a sprained knee. Dennison appeared to possibly re-injure the knee early on, though Sarkisian said that wasn’t really what happened, that the plan was simply to test the knee a little and then sit out.
“No,” Sarkisian said when asked if Dennison suffered a setback. “We wanted to get him moving around some just because when you kind of sprain your knee and you stand around on it, it can get tight. We wanted to move him around but not overdo it so he got moved around and then we just wanted to make sure he got iced up and felt good about it. We’ll well work him back into it just want to make sure come Monday we are a healthy football team.”
Also out right now is Brandon Huppert, who had been running as the backup to Dennison. Sarkisian said Huppert, who blew out his ACL last year against USC, has had “a little setback. It swelled up on him so we are going to have to lay off the gas on him for a little bit until he can get back. We’ve got to monitor that swelling exactly where it is coming the next week or even the following weeks.”
So with the top two guys out, Gilliland has been running as the No. 1, followed by Tim Tucker and Victor Burnett. Gilliland was a fairly below-the-radar recruit for UW out of Orange Lutheran High in Anaheim, Calif., but is impressing with his ability to quickly pick up the defense.
“He looks good,” Sarkisian said of Gilliland. “Tim Tucker has really stepped his game there at that position as well. I like both of those two guys, and that’s kind of where it’s laying right now.”
The obvious question is what’s going on with Burnett, a true freshman from Los Angeles who enrolled in time for spring ball to get more acclimated to the defense.
Said Sarkisian: “Victor is in there, the other two guys are just playing a little faster. Their knowledge of the defense I think is somewhat a little ahead of his.”
The thought of going into the BYU game with a true freshman at middle linebacker — a spot manned last year by Donald Butler — might seem a little disconcerting.
Sarkisian, though, said he’s confident Dennison will return. Speaking of Dennison and a few other injured players, Sarkisian said none appears overly serious.
“The beauty of it, knock on wood, we are not dealing with pulled hamstrings or quads or things of that nature that could potentially take months of time,” he said. “We are dealing with twists and sprains that I think can be healed here by the beginning of next week.”
Still, Sarkisian termed WR James Johnson “a real concern of mine” since he hasn’t practiced in two weeks now due to an ankle injury.
In fact, here’s how he assessed the team’s injury situation at the moment:
“Senio (Kelemete) still with his ankle is a health issue because he can’t go every snap of practice. Obviously, Cort because he can’t go every snap of practice. James Johnson is a real concern of mine right now. He hasn’t practiced in nearly two weeks, it’s concerning to me. Everrette (Thompson) is going to be a concern until we really play, but he is doing everything we really asked him to do up to this point. He’s performing for us. Kalani (Aldrich) is still kind of day on day off mentality so he is still somewhat of a concern still. But outside of that I think we are pretty healthy. The beauty of it, knock on wood, we are not dealing with pulled hamstrings or quads or things of that nature that could potentially take months of time. We are dealing with twists and sprains that I think can be healed here by the beginning of next week.”
Kelemete got some work during the individual drills but didn’t seem 100 percent, and then sat out the team drills. Thompson got a lot of work with the No. 1 unit during team drills and does seem on the way back. Aldrich, as Sarkisian noted, took the day off as part of his every-other-day pattern during camp.
Sarkisian, though, said he’s not that concerned about the receiving corps as a whole, with everybody else healthy.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got an extremely deep receiving corps,” he said. “When you look at Jermaine (Kearse) and Devin (Aguilar) and D’Andre (Goodwin), Cody Bruns, Jordan Polk, Kevin Smith — we are six deep without even thinking he could do it or he couldn’t do it. So we feel really good about it. The beauty of all those guys too is they are all very smart and can play at numerous positions so not just locked into one position.”
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— With Kelemete out, Erik Kohler continued to get most of the reps at left tackle. The predominant No. 1 line appeared to be, left to right, Kohler, Ryan Tolar, Drew Schaefer, Greg Christine and Cody Habben.
— Chris Polk got a ton of work with the No. 1 offense, and as the coaches hoped, appears to be rounding into shape at the right time.
— As noted, Thompson got a lot of work with the ones, with Talia Crichton at the other end and the DT tackle trio of Cameron Elisara, Alameda Ta’amu and Semisi Tokolahi.
— Here are unofficial passing numbers during the 11-on-11 team period: Locker 4-7, 94; Price 2-5, 15; Montana 2-5, 60. Montana had two passes to Kevin Smith of 20 and 25 yards. Locker’s big pass was about a 40-yarder to Johri Fogerson, who had two catches for 55.
— Michael Hartvigson continues to rotate in with the ones at tight end and had one catch for 17 yards. Devin Aguilar also had a nice catch in that drill for about 20.
— Taz Stevenson, who had been out for a while last week with a shoulder issue, practiced.
— Joe Montana attended practice, the second I recall of camp.
UW returns for its final two-a-day tomorrow at 8:45 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. The morning practice is the last that is open to the public.