The Huskies hit, and passed, the halfway point of spring practice Thursday with their eighth workout of the 15 allowed.
And it was one of the lighter workouts of the spring, in the sense that the Huskies were not in full pads, going in helmets and shoulder pads and shorts/sweats. They also (thankfully) moved into the Dempsey Indoor for the third time this spring due to the rain (don’t worry, they’ll get enough practice in the rain later).
No huge news to pass along as there were no apparent new injuries.
LB Victor Burnett was absent to attend to a death in the family while RBs Jesse Callier (ankle) and Zach Fogerson (concussion) each sat out after being injured Tuesday.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian, however, said neither injury appears serious.
“Jesse really improved today,” Sarkisian said. “Zach had a mild concussion. Neither of them, it’s not serious as concussions can be, it’s not camp-threatening or anything of that nature and he should be okay and I would expect Jesse to be back very quickly.”
As for the practice, with the team indoors and not in full pads, there was a lot of work on the passing game — a lot of plays began in long-yardage situations, so the defense spent a lot of time in passing-down formations, as did the offense.
And after the offensive struggles of Tuesday, Sarkisian thought the passing game had some good moments today, especially James Johnson, who appears on the way to rebounding from last season.
“I thought today was by far and away his best day,” Sarkisian said. “I thought he did some nice things, especially underneath in coverages. I thought the passing game in general had a really nice day for the offense today, and there was a really big emphasis on that. But I thought James by far and away had his best day.”
Asked to reflect on Johnson’s season a year ago, Sarkisian said it wasn’t just his injuries and struggles but that “he other guys stepped up. And I don’t think that’s a knock on James; it’s a credit to Jermaine (Kearse) and Devin (Aguilar) and Kevin Smith and Cody Bruns. They kept working, and you can’t fault them for that.”
Smith had at least two long receptions during team periods, again making his mark this spring, and DiAndre Campbell also had another nice coach of about 30 yards.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also had another couple catches, providing more evidence of how that position will be vastly improved this year with Michael Hartvigson also in the mix. Seferian-Jenkins stayed after practice to work on blocking with O-line coach Dan Cozzetto.
“I like both those two kids,” Sarkisian said. “I’m not concerned about naming a starter there or anything. We’re going to play with both of them, and both will be big contributors for us.”
Sarkisian also liked the way that the QBs have been spreading the ball around to running backs, as well.
“I think it’s been really good,” he said. “It’s been one of our points of emphasis for us, and our guys have responded. Chris (Polk), and Jesse – when he’s been able to go – and then obviously Johri (Fogerson), those three guys have caught the ball really well. Willis Wilson (a walk-on from Lakes)…we’re getting Deontae (Cooper) going a little bit more when we’re into our 7-on-7 setting, which has been good. To me, in the passing game, what’s been encouraging to me is that we’ve been distributing the ball to five different people. All five potential receivers are threats now; we’re not just isolated with one or two guys where they can get doubled and different things…the ball can get spread around, and in turn we’re getting more singled-up matchups and guys are making plays.”
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— The Huskies will practice at 1 p.m. Saturday following their coaches clinic. That practice sometimes has been a full-fledged scrimmage, but it won’t really be this Saturday. Here’s Sarkisian’s explanation of that: “There won’t be a full-blown scrimmage. It’s going to be a very controlled atmosphere in the sense that we are going to have different scrimmage settings as the practice goes on, but we are not going to just put the ball down and play. We are going to focus on the situations of the game. Again, as we touched on at the beginning of spring, we are a football team that has played quite a bit of football but we are still very young in my opinion and we are really trying to hone in on the special situations of the game and understand those situations, so we are going to have a goalline period on that day that we understand, and some different situations. And then we will move the ball like we do at the end of every practice. Really, when you add it all up, we will have a 100-play scrimmage, it just won’t always appear like that to the naked eye because we break it up in segments and try to give our guys some rest. Because the challenge of it is, in spring ball we are 25 guys short who would normally be playing and it’s easy to just go and scrimmage. But in the spring, that’s when injuries occur because guys are tired, you don’t have as many bodies, you are rotating them quicker and that’s how guys fall down, get rolled up on and get hurt. So our emphasis has been on, we are breaking it up into segments, we mix it up with special teams and individual settings and different things so that our guys are fresh when we are scrimmaging and we get the best and most out of them.”
— Asked if there will be a full scrimmage this spring, Sarkisian said: “Potentially the Spring Game. We’re three injuries away, we can’t have two teams. That’s the way spring ball goes. I’d like to do something like that – it would be good for our fans. But at the end of the day, I want our guys to go out and play really well and be healthy when it’s all said and done after 15 practices.”
— Hard not to notice the punting indoors, especially when Kiel Rasp hits the ceiling. “I think he does that intentionally, just to say that we should be outside,” Sarkisian said. But I guess that’s supposed to mean it’s a good punt – I’m not sure. It does go high.”
— Will Mahan, who missed most of last year with an ACL injury, is able to kick in non-contact settings and Sarkisian said: “He’s been a lot like Deontae. This spring has been good for them just to get back in the swing of things, so when fall camp rolls around, they’re just rolling. It’s just back to normal for them, so I’ve been encouraged by what Will has been able to do.”
— Asked how much he focuses on the punters, Sarkisian said: “I watch them. Every day when they go to punt, I watch them. I’m evaluating them. It’s not just about the striking of the ball, but the times and all the things. We’re a big directional punt team, so are they able to do that? There’s been a lot of evaluation that’s gone on.”
— Speaking of the coaches clinic, Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin attended practice today — he’s one of the speakers Saturday. He was a graduate assistant at Washington State from 1988-90 when many of the current UW assistants were at Idaho, so he has some ties to the Husky staff. He said he paid particular attention to the way UW runs its practice, the pace and tempo, and left impressed. “That (the pace and tempo) really comes through,” he said.
— LB Victor Burnett was absent today due to a death in the family.
— Asked if there are others who can handle the mantle of leadership for the defense beside Cort Dennison, Sarkisian said: “I think so. I like what Everrette Thompson brings to the table. Quinton (Richardson) and Desmond (Trufant) and Nate Fellner. I like what Hau’oli Jamora brings. He’s only started one year but he has a real presence, and obviously Alameda Ta’amu, as well. So we’ve got guys, I just think sometimes the Mike backer (middle linebacker) because he calls our defense is so vocal all the time that it is important to flatten out the leadership a little but so it’s not one pinnacle that if something did happen to Cort, who is our leadership coming from now. So we are constantly trying to spread it out a little bit.”
— Asked if there is a danger of falling into patterns with that, he said: “I don’t think so because each position group has its own natural leaders emerging. And that stuff evolves in and of itself, and those guys when they have their moments in their own meetings or position groups, they have their moments when they can be vocal and speak up, and then as practice goes on they are able to as well. So I’m not nearly as concerned defensively as what I expressed the other day about the offense about getting that leadership right to where we need to be.”
— Speaking of Thompson, Sarkisian said he continues to have a good spring: “I think he’s having a very nice (spring). To his credit he doesn’t play just one position — we move him around quite a bit. I love his strength now — he’s finally got the leg strength needed to play in there and I thought he got better as the year went on last year. Through it all he had a good off-season. He’s a very strong kid upper-body wise and he’s got his lower body strength right and he has performed very well.”
— The passing emphasis today meant a lot of looks at the nickel alignment that has Jamora and Josh Shirley in the game together. Asked what he’s liked of that lineup, Sarkisian said: “I like it all so far. I’m trying to find a downside. Everything we do, not only are we looking for the positives but for the potential negatives. The only thing right now really that has hindered us is just getting Josh comfortable in the pass game when he’s not rushing the passer to where he feels really good because he’s plenty good enough athlete to do it. But man he is a terror coming off the edge along with Hau’oli, and then with ‘Meda pushing the middle it’s tough.”
— Chris Robinson also continues to get a lot of work with the ones at defensive tackle, and Sarkisian said: “Chris has really been showing up, and we’ve been trying to get him more reps. He worked in with the ones quite a bit more today. He’s a factor. Chris is a very strong young man, one of the strongest kids on our team. He’s not one of the tallest guys, so he’s low to the ground. With his quickness and power, he causes some problems on the inside.”
— Asked about seeing benefits from the no huddle period, he said: “I think so. Our guys have responded much better every day that we’ve gone to it – they’ve responded better. We’ve kept our composure much better. The first two days, our composure wasn’t great; we were a little helter-skelter. Now we’re a little more comfortable in the environment, more calm and composed. In turn, we’re executing better … t’s a good kick-start to practice. It gets us going and gets everybody excited. To me, it sets the tone for where we’re headed for the day.”
All for now.