A couple days after UW coach Steve Sarkisian raved about the difference in the tight end position this spring it again came into vivid display.
Practice concluded Saturday with a lengthy Red Zone session, and on the final play, Keith Price lofted a pass over the middle into a crowd into the end zone snared by true freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a touchdown. The three blares of the born, signifying the official end of practice, soon sounded, sending the team (or at least the offense) off the field happily.
Sarkisian said the play showed how UW could be a more varied offensive team this year “especially in the red zone. You have those big body tight ends that can make plays for you in the red zone, even when he is really covered, they are such big targets that the quarterback can trust them and they have the ability go up and make plays even when the ball is contested.”
Such diversity will be needed as the Huskies try to restructure their offense to accomodate for the loss of QB Jake Locker.
This was just the third of 15 spring practices, and UW won’t get into full pads until Tuesday — the Huskies were in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts today.
But already, some of those new pieces appear to be coming into place. Seferian-Jenkins and Michael Hartvigson are adding a different look at tight end. And Zach Fogerson (pictured above) is stepping in at fullback, sometimes splitting out wide where he’s more than just a token threat to catch the ball. He had a nice catch for a TD from Nick Montana in the Red Zone session today, as well.
Sarkisian said getting consistent playmaking ability out of those spots will help make the offense closer to his ideal.
“I think we are close, but we are still young is the problem,” he said. “You are talking about two freshmen at tight end and a true sophomore at fullback. But we are young but the idea is that we are evolving to what we want to become.”
Still, Fogerson is showing that he could be the guy to take over at fullback for the next three years, with an ability to fulfill a lot of different tasks
“Well, I hope so,” Sarkisian said. “A lot of what we do now, we are trying to figure out what guys do well and what they don’t do well and then we continually try to put them in position to do the things they do well and then work on the things they don’t do well and then keep trying to get them better so their game overall can be really good. So we are trying to compile as much information as we can on all of our guys, including Zach, but that fullback position traditionally for me has been one of versatility — a guy that can do a lot of things really, really well. And he has that ability and everything we have asked him to do so far he has answered the call.”
Sarkisian admits his ideal player for that spot is someone like Stanley Havili, who Sarkisian coached for a few years at USC, and that it’s not unrealistic to think Fogerson could have the same sort of impact.
“I’m hopeful of that, but again we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “And there are things he does better than Stanley and things he doesn’t do as well as Stanley, but that’s the idea to be that versatile at that position because it taxes the defense because you don’t know just because there are two backs on the field, you don’t know where that guy is going to line up.”
The front of the offense also has taken an early shape as line coach Dan Cozzetto said that if the season started today, he would go with a unit that would consist of Senio Kelemete at left tackle, Erik Kohler at left guard, Drew Schaefer at center, Colin Porter at right guard and Ben Riva at right tackle.
That’s three of the five linemen who signed in 2010 alongside two returning starters from last year.
The mild surprise there is Riva, an O’Dea High grad who redshirted last year but had a nice off-season and is off to a good start in the spring.
“He’s doing a nice job,” Sarkisian said. “He’s earned it. He has kind of a nasty mean streak to his game. He works at it, not only on the field but in the weight room and in the film room, he’s got a real passion about him and it’s paying off, he’s playing well.”
The other option for the starting OL right now has Colin Tanigawa (another member of the Class of 2010) at left guard with Kohler moving to right tackle, meaning that four spots are pretty set at the moment, the question being if they go with Tanigawa at LG or Riva at RT, then moving Kohler to the other open spot.
Ideally, the Huskies hope to settle on a rotation up front more quickly this year.
“We’re going to try to,” Sarkisian said. “Not that once we make that decision (it’s set). I like the ongoing competition and guys fighting for spots and continually working at it. But ideally to find that continuity of the same five guys being able to play, realistically not many teams can go 13 games with the same five guys — things occur, injuries occur. But if we can keep that continuity and guys not having to bounce around as much we should be better off for it.”
Regardless, Sarkisian said the early indications are that UW will have more bodies to choose from up front this year.
“Definitely more depth,” he said. “And some of those guys are going to progress more quickly than others, everybody is at different stages. But that doesn’t mean they all can’t be good players, which I think they can be.”
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— Here are Sarkisian’s overall thoughts on today’s workout: “I thought for the first day (in any pads), we practiced with really good energy, really good tempo. It was intense, it was physical, but we did a good job of staying off the ground, there weren’t a lot of guys rolling around and rolling into each other. I liked the intensity, and obviously there was a big emphasis on the red zone today and being down in tight, and I thought for the most part we made good decisions from the quarterback position down in here, where you can make some mistakes. Our defense had their hands on the ball a couple of times and in a perfect world we should catch those — we need to start catching those balls, that’s how we take that next step of even creating more turnovers, so we will continue to work at it.”
— He said NT Alameda Ta’amu has gotten off to a good start in the spring, continuing where he left off a year ago. Asked what a dominant presence at that spot could mean, he said: “Well hopefully it keeps people off our backers, which is the key and why we need to continue to develop our linebacker position so we have good tacklers there. It forces the ball to the edge more so I think the key there is why we are really trying to concern ourselves with maintaining the edges and not letting the ball get outside and funnel it to the inside where he can be having an impact.”
— Asked what might be realistic to expect out of Ta’amu this year, he said: “I’d like to think that he could really be an All-Pac-10 player for us. That’s the way he played the second half of the season and I would imagine to think that he will continue down that road. He has that ability, there’s no doubt.”
— And asked whether the Holiday Bowl was a breakout for Ta’amu, he said: “He was playing better before that, I thought he played really well, had a nice game against Washington State, really well versus Cal, really well against UCLA. There’s a reason we started stopping the run better, and it starts right there in the middle.”
— Kevin Smith had a few noticable plays at receiver, and Sarkisian said he’s not necessarily bigger than a year ago, just playing as if he is. “I just think his confidence level is up and when that is up your presence becomes a little more known and you are seeing it that way that you appear bigger,” Sarkisian said.
— James Johnson, meanwhile, made a couple of plays but also had a couple drops. Sarkisian said he’s healthy but just still trying to find the form he had in 2009. “I think he is competing really hard,” Sarkisian said. “And sometimes when you compete too hard you can try too hard and he’s had a couple of drops here that I know he doesn’t want to have and that we obviously don’t want him to have. So I just want him to step back and relax and just play the game and not think that every catch is the bottom of the ninth with two outs. … He’s healthy, he looks good.”
— Sarkisian, asked to assess positions coming along well so far, and those that still need some work, said: “I like what our running backs are bringing so far, and not just Chris (Polk) but they are all getting their carries and looking good. I think the tight ends are coming along. I like to think that as we move forward in pads we will play even better at defensive end — I think we can play better but we will see. I think they were thinking a little too much today. We need to get them just to play faster. I like what our two corners are bringing. I don’t see a whole lot of balls being complete against Quinton (Richardson) and Tru (Desmond Trufant) right now.”
— Should mention that I simply neglected to list Jordan Wallace in a note on the linebackers the other day. He got a lot of work with the ones today alongside Cort Dennison and Garret Gilliland and definitely appears in the competition for the spot vacated by Victor Aiyewa.
— UW is now off until Tuesday when it will practice at 4 p.m. at Husky Stadium. That workout, like all spring practices, is open to the public.
All for now.