Technically, UW’s training camp lasts through Saturday.
But in reality, it ended today, as the team now steps away from the type of traditional practices you expect in camp to get into some mock-game weekend work, before resuming a normal game-week practice schedule on Saturday in preparation for BYU.
So with camp basically at its end, it seemed a good time to get a progress report from UW coach Steve Sarkisian after Thursday morning’s practice (he’s shown at right in a Joey Anchondo picture from two weeks ago).
And as he has been throughout camp, the second-year head coach was full of optimisim.
“I love where we’re at,” he said. “I love our kicking game. We are so much further along than we were last year at this time. I think the comfort level with Will (Mahan) punting and Erik (Folk) kicking, the comfort level of our schemes on special teams with what we are doing and contingency planning for injuries and depth, I just think we are such a better football team on special teams that I’m excited about it.
“Defensively, to watch our guys fly around and play, we are playing faster football and I think part of it is that we are almost appearing faster than we really are because our knowledge of the defense is so much better in year two than in year one, and that’s a credit to nick and his staff to get that done, so I love where they are at.
“Offensively, it’s just continuity. It’s (Jake Locker’s) comfort level with the system, his continuity with the receivers, Chris Polk’s comfort level within the scheme and understanding all of it, the depth on the offensive line. And so all in all, I like our football team and where we are at. I think we have accomplished a lot in three weeks of time and now it’s time to start gameplanning.”
Sarkisian is also pretty happy with where the team is physically. UW has so far lost only one player for a significant amount of time — true freshman RB Deontae Cooper, who tore his ACL in a practice two weeks ago and is out for the season.
Of front-line players, the only one who is a real concern to miss the opener at BYU is WR James Johnson, who has been out roughly two weeks now with a sprained ankle.
“This has kind of gone on much longer than we anticipated,” Sarkisian said. “He still is unable to practice, and my concern is him trying to come back next week and the timing and the rhythm and just being off. So Im concerned about it, no doubt.” Sarkisian said it’s a “regular ankle sprain” and not a high ankle sprain, so that at least minimizes the long-term worry a little bit.
As is an everyday story in football, however, an injury to one player opens the door for another, and when asked if there was a player who had really emerged in this camp, Sarkisian said it was junior WR Cody Bruns.
” I would say the biggest guy that kind of came on and part of that is due to injury to James Johnson, I think Cody Bruns has had a great training camp,” Sarkisian said. “He’s proved he belongs and he is going to play.”
Bruns, in fact, worked with the starting unit Thursday in four-receiver sets.
Sarkisian said a knee injury that has limited MLB Cort Dennison of late is not one that would hold him out of the BYU game.
“It’s not a concern for the game,” Sarkisian said. “I want to get him healthy. The last thing I want is we get to the game and we have injuries lingering. We should be 100 percent and not lingering like we have played five games already.”
The other injury concern of late has been Senio Kelemete. But he got some significant work in practice today and Sarkisian said he appears on the way back.
“I thought for a guy coming off a high ankle sprain, today we did some things intentionally to get him out in space and see what he would look like on some screens, and he looked fantastic,” Sarkisian said.
Health questions out of the way, Sarkisian was asked what goals he thought the team achieved during game.
“I wanted to make sure our screen game improved offensively,” he said. “I thought we were very poor to average last year on offense (in the screen game) and I think we got that done. I wanted to see us defensively play more man-to-man coverage and challenge more routes, and I think we have proved we can do that in this training camp. And I wanted to make sure we are a physical football team. We’ve got a nice array of skilled athletes on our team. but at the end of the day this game is about blocking and tackling and to do that you’ve got to be physical and I think we got all of those things accomplished.”
Asked how he went about making the team more physical, Sarkisian said: “You have to put them in situations to allow them to be physical. You can talk about it all you want, but you have to do short-yardage and goal line live scrimmages. Have to scrimmage and tackle and block, and have to talk pad level and stress it and do board drills and things of that nature that let the players know that one, it’s okay to do that, and two, they are capable of doing that.”
He thought all that got done during camp.
Now, as he says, comes preparing for BYU, when the question of whether this is all just August optimism, or a good feeling grounded in reality, starts to get answered for good.
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— Sarkisian said his game-day role will remain the same as a year ago — he will call the plays on offense and do what he can to oversee the rest of it. “It will remain the same,” he said. “I will be in touch with the defense and special teams. I will know the game plans and all the phases. But I’m going to call the plays offensively and make the tough decisions on fourth down to go for it or not and things of that nature.”
— Asked if he had any concerns after calling the plays a year ago, Sarkisian said: “I think it’s the same. As we touched on early in the year last year, something I recognized right away was those decisions to go for it on fourth down or not, as an offensive coordinator you always want to go for it, and the head coach tells you you are punting it or going for it. When you are wearing two hats in that capacity as the play caller and the head coach, you just think wisely. That was something that kind of dawned on me the first game kind of getting twisted and pulled. But after that the thought process was a little clearer and I prepared for it better, I think.”
— DT Cameron Elisara sat out some drills, but Sarkisian said it was “just a llittle ankle sprain” and nothing serious.
— Quinton Richardson appears to have won the other cornerback job opposite Desmond Trufant, and Sarkisian said that “he is playing much more consistent football. I think he flashed last year where he would make a great play then bust something here, bust something there and get beat. What he’s showing in this training camp is he can be consistent, whether it’s in man-to-man coverage or zone coverage, and he has shown he can be physical in the run game. But the biggest thing to me for Quinton is being consistent. Part of being a DB and a corner in our system is being accountable. One of their mottos is ‘Count on us’ and that’s staying on top of the deep ball and playing man-to-man coverage and fitting in the run game and he’s been doing all of that consistently.”
— He said he thinks Richardson’s confidence has increased over last season: “I think your confidence can be fragile if you are getting beat. It’s a lot easier to be confident when you are making plays and in the right spots and I think those two go hand in hand.”
Today was our last access to coaches and players until after Saturday’s practice. But I’ve got a few things saved up to pass along later, and tomorrow also looms as a big news day with Kasen Williams’ announcement.
All for now.